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Ask Belle: A Guide to Suiting for Professional Offices

Hi Belle,

As a mid-level litigator in a national law firm, I need some solid suits for court and depositions — fashionable, but also reasonably conservative in cut, color, skirt length, and fabric.  
In shopping for some new suits, I’ve been incredibly underwhelmed by the quality and selection in stores.  Can you recommend some black, navy, or gray suits (preferably one-button) in the mid-to-mid-high price point? There seem to be so few options!  I’d appreciate any suggestions.

Cheers.

PS: This is the best I’ve found so far, though I have not yet tried it on for fit.  

Stylish suiting is difficult to find.  I’d like to answer this question so that it aids readers in multiple price points.  It’s time to suit up.

Shopping Second-Hand.  If you need a very affordable suit (read: sub-$100 for both pieces), you need to be hitting consignment shops.  Sometimes you can find something suitable in the sale section (ha! unintentional puns), but it’s rare to find them in your size.

When I was just starting out, I would go to department stores and try on suits from different brands to find my size.  Then, I would hunt eBay for suits that fit my needs.  Tahari is a good brand to try.  Lafayette is another.  And you can usually pick up a Banana Republic suit for under-$50.

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Halogen Cross-Hatch Jacket ($148 and $78)

Suits for Under-$250.Halogen is my go-to affordable suit brand.  I have three of these.  They fit well, the quality is good, and the cuts are usually just stylish enough.  The suit also come in petite and plus.

The Limited makes a nice suit.  I really like this white pants suit for something unique.  Banana Republic Factory also has a decent selection of suits.  And Calvin Klein makes the basics.

Plus-size?  Eloquii offers a sleek suit.

Suits in the $250-$400 Range. In this category, you have all the standard choices: Banana Republic, J.Crew, and Ann Taylor.  The only suit from these stores that I will mention here is this AT tweed suit with a notch collar — it’s not your basic suit, but it’s still conservative.

White House Black Market also makes suits in this price point that have a bit of flair.  Dillard’s offers the Antonio Melani line.  Classics Entier is a Nordstrom brand that offers structured suits that fit beautifully.

Plus-size?  The Sejour brand is a good place to start.

Suits in the $500-$1,000 Range. When you get to a place in your career when you can afford a suit that could last a lifetime, you’d think that one would be easy to find.  However, there’s a bit of gap between Ann Taylor and Akris.

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Reiss Plum Skirt Suit ($230 and $445)

Reiss is a brand most people don’t think of for suiting, but it has some chic pieces.  This plum suit is a great option for people who already have the basic colors covered.

Hugo Boss makes a nice suit, but they’re usually pretty basic.  About once per-season, they make a unique cut.  This season, that’s the Jabina jacket.

Nanette Lepore suits are hit or miss (sometimes the styles are weird).  Ted Baker occasionally makes a nice suit.  If you’re looking for something modern but elegant, Elie Tahari is a great brand.

Plus-size?  Lafayette 148 made this lovely oatmeal-colored suit.

LEAVE A COMMENT

    25 comments

  1. montrell says:

    You made great suggestions, many of which I agree. I’m also a litigator so conservative suiting is almost a necessity, though I now lean more towards pants suits than skirts. My go to brands are Tahari, Calvin Klein and Ann Klein, which I did not see mention. I’m short and curvy but not quite petite and these brands always fit me well with little to no alterations required.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  2. Amy says:

    Last year, I invested in a Chaiken suit (with a sale, I believe I paid about $350, total). I LOVE IT SO MUCH!

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  3. Susie Cambria says:

    Brooks Brothers has some nice looking suits. Pants and skirts both. Closer to the $500 – 800 for both pieces.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  4. Annie says:

    I love both of my Hugo Boss suits – quality fabric and cut.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  5. Stephanie says:

    I’m a fan of Theory suits. For awhile, I got one whenever Bloomingdales ran a friends and family code. A couple of times the suit was already on sale, which brought it down hundreds of dollars. Can I just say that I am so sick of grey and black though? And yet I don’t want a purple suit. I think I need a Nanette Lepore or Rebecca Taylor type tweed skirt suit, but I never want to pony up the money. So I just keep wearing my same old black and grey suits for meetings, depos, etc., and then just pants or skirts with blouses or sweaters on other days.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Joanna says:

      I second this- I like theory suits and usually find them on sale somewhere. I also use Rebecca Taylor blazers to throw in some style when needed.

      October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Nancy says:

      Agree on the Theory suits. You can often find them on sale and they are cut very well. Lack of lining on the pants used to bother me but they drape so well even without the lining that I don’t care.

      October 22, 2015/Reply
  6. Crystal says:

    This is my question! Thank you, Belle! These are some good leads.

    Two weeks ago, I bought a dark navy Hugo Boss skirt suit with a coordinating cream Tahari blouse — it’s a bit basic, but the quality is solid and the suit looks great, plus the whole ensemble was 25% off at Bloomingdale’s.

    I tried on the gray Brooks Brothers suit (linked in my question above) that looked so interesting online–wasn’t impressed. The quality was lower than the Hugo Boss for roughly the same price point, and the length of the jacket made the interesting-on-its-own skirt just look weird. (Also, the in-store service was terrible.) Maybe others will have different luck, because I loved the idea of it.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  7. Abby says:

    Theory! Can often find at Off 5th, Nordstrom Rack, etc.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  8. Emily says:

    What’s your thoughts on suits that are colored – for example, there’s a dark purple Calvin Klein one at Macy’s I as looking at. Does it still portray a professional while having a little more personality? I’m trying to build by suit wardrobe as well as I just transitioned into a job where I have to wear one everyday and the blue and black ones are getting boring. Thanks!

    October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Emily says:

      I was looking at**

      October 22, 2015/Reply
    • E says:

      I have a dark purple/burgundy suit that I wear often to court that I love

      October 23, 2015/Reply
  9. Amy says:

    I used to wear JCrew suits a lot, but the quality has gone way down. Nowadays, I buy suits at Brooks Brothers and Talbots (they’ve come a long way.) Pendleton has good quality, too,but definitely try before you buy because I find that some of their suits look more frumpy than professional. I also like Hugo Boss and Hobbs, but only on sale.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Anna says:

      I’m wearing a royal blue ponte dress from Talbots. First thing I ever bought from them, and I was literally just thinking today that I need this dress in every color. It’s structured but seriously the most comfortable work dress on the planet.

      October 22, 2015/Reply
      • HH says:

        Which dress is it?

        October 22, 2015/Reply
  10. Christine says:

    I just bought a basic black skirt suit from J.Crew Factory for less than $125 for the two pieces thanks to strategic use of sales and coupon codes. I feel like I’ve gotten a good suit for the price. The Banana suits are nice too, but the jacket in the basic wool is too long even in petite for my frame. I used to like going to AT Factory, but lately the selection has been poor and the materials wicked cheap.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  11. Erin says:

    Just the other day I was wondering if women ever have luck going to a tailor and having a suit made from scratch. Many of the men that I work with/know do this and it seems like a good way to get a suit that is nice and fits well. I just have never heard of any women going this route… has anyone here tried that?

    October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Crystal says:

      I’ve looked into it. A former colleague only wore custom suits, and if I were back in Hong Kong, that’s exactly what I’d do now. Unfortunately, most of the DC/online bespoke shops I’ve considered only cater to men, and some I’ve spoke with will not even cut a women’s skirt or, at best, profess no proficiency in doing so. That said, I know there are some gems out there.

      October 22, 2015/Reply
    • S says:

      I have not had one made in the USA, but I have one from a trip to Taipei and one from a trip to Seoul that are great. Each cost about $300-$400 (though that was 5 years ago). They have held up well. I have heard that you should ask about good buttons, especially on shirts, as cheap buttons will break in the dry-cleaning process. Time for a vacation??

      October 22, 2015/Reply
    • Amy says:

      For DC folks who don’t mind travelling south, Aspetto in Fredericksburg, VA makes custom women’s suits, though their website focuses more on the men. I’ve not shopped there, but they get great reviews from folks I know, both men and women.As an interesting sidenote, they also make bulletproof suiting.

      October 23, 2015/Reply
  12. Katie says:

    Pretty sure I have commented about this before, but AT suits are really great if you are short and curvy. I am 5’1″ with short limbs, tiny shoulders, etc. but my bust and hips generally put me in a size 12. I have found AT petite suiting to be very comfortable and to require few alterations. I have not had good luck with J Crew or BR suiting, but that is specific to sizing issues, so if you have a different build than me, you will probably prefer something else. I don’t think AT suits worth full price, so would definitely wait for a sale/coupon code.

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  13. Jenna says:

    I have found some great deals on online consignment stores. To me, ThredUP has the best customer service and quality, though shipping can be quite slow.

    Shameless plug but if anyone wants to use my referral code below you are welcome to do so 😉
    https://www.thredup.com/r/WQBAYL

    October 22, 2015/Reply
  14. KLF says:

    Great post and comments.
    I love the Talbots suit. My everyday uniform sees to be their pencil skirt with a crisp white blouse. I add in the jacket for more formal days.
    I’m adding in a color a year – black, taupe, navy, so far. Interested in comments on other colors that are professional and timeless.

    October 23, 2015/Reply
  15. Catt says:

    Basler and Lafayette 148 are my favorites. I still find it hard to find summer weight suits in court appropriate colors (I.e., not tan linen) in fabrics other than polyester (which I find don’t breathe).

    October 24, 2015/Reply
  16. Becca says:

    Talbots and Pendleton suits are good for special sizes. They are conservative, but on the flip side they will be lasting you forever.

    October 26, 2015/Reply