Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Suiting Up

The other day a lovely customer at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work asked me: Where in town could her daughter get a SUIT that wasn't— maybe— horrible. The daughter was applying to graduate school and would wear this suit ONCE (mother's words)— or perhaps as many times as it took to nail the admission. We don't sell business wear per se at the Lovely Boutique, and she knew that. Her question was really asked because she hoped I would have an answer.

The Suit has a bad rap. Once upon a time a black or navy pants suit or skirt suit was the logical choice for playing with the big boys. Add a cotton man-tailored shirt, and you're done. Yep, trussed up like a turkey. A stereotype.

Stereotype in triplicate

Practice! Practice! Practice! It's the way to get to Carnegie Hall or maybe a job at Carnegie Hall. Practice walking in those heels. They may be new; they might be the first pair of heels you've worn in a very long time. Practice sitting and what to do with your legs if you're in a skirt (crossed at the ankles with knees together).

Skirt vs. pants. What to do with your legs is another good reason to opt for pants. You can sit with your legs crossed at the knees and not feel like a hussy. There's no hose-or-no-hose debate. If you hate your legs, you can hate them less in pants.

You have a choice. In re-thinking the suit, think about the who and what. Who are you seeing? An HR rep or a corporate recruiter? The person you might ultimately work for? For what are you interviewing? Banking? Grad school? Primary school teaching? Media Public Relations? Google? As much as you don't want to come across all Bohemian for the bank, you don't want to appear cookie cutter and stiff for a creative endeavor.

You can still show some style. I'm happy to see more women going fashion forward in workwear with pants or a skirt and what used to be called a "dressmaker jacket"— unmatched to the other part and with some style on its own (as if whipped up by your little dressmaker whose name might be Chanel). You can also choose a simple sheath dress paired with a tailored cardigan or jacket. 

While black and grey are no-brainers, you can do color if it's understated (taupe) or rich (chocolate or hunter green or burgundy). Try to avoid navy; it comes across all policewoman/stewardess-like. You can add texture (tweed, houndstooth, checks) as long as they are subtle and in a restrained palette. The idea is to look tasteful and elegant but not bland and boring. 

Not the time to borrow from the boys

Alas there is still a time and a place for a traditional suit.  First— you must select components all from the same manufacturer and style code, ie the same fabric. It's useless to try matching one manufacturer's black with another's.

The jacket needs to fit. Shoulders, sleeve length, waist (try to have one). You may need a tailor. This is why it's not a good idea to buy a suit on Saturday for an interview on Monday. Oh and don't forget to cut open the protective stitching from the vent and pockets.

Daunted by the task? This is where you want to call in the help of a Personal Shopper. All the big stores offer one gratis as do many of the specialty shops where you might look (J Crew, Zara, Banana Republic). At the very least bring a helper. You don't want to be bouncing from dressing room to sales floor searching for sizes.

The suit has an afterlife. Whether you get in/get the job or not, don't let that suit sit a-moldering in the closet. Break it up. Wear the jacket as a blazer with jeans. Or throw it over a party dress (just over the shoulders is the newest way). Likewise the pants or skirt can become a wardrobe basic. They can always meet up when you need them together again.

What to wear with... Notice I haven't gone into that— the blouse/shirt/shell, the jewelry, shoes, makeup, handbag, etc. It's a blog, not a book.

A suit needn't be a prison uniform. In the end wear what gives you the most confidence. You should still be you, the one with your best foot forward.

How fabulous do these chicks look?
(outside the office of course)

Marlene Dietrich
Katherine Hepburn
Photo by Helmut Newton

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