Looking Sharp Without Gutting Your Wallet

I have a job interview tomorrow, so that inspires me to talk suits. Even though we're in the 21st century, skirt suits are still a safer bet for women. However, pant suits are just more versatile for the everyday workplace. What's a girl to do? Mix and match, of course. It's cheaper than getting 2 suits.

Easier said than done. Here's the dilemma--one suit alone is inherently expensive and it's not something you'd want to skim on. Being me, I demand great quality for a mid-tier price (which is more realistic than the usual "rock bottom pricing.") Around March or so this year, just weeks before my first set of interviews for a summer job, I set out looking for a suit. My goal was to spend less than $100. I didn't think it was going to take more than a few trips. I was wrong.

I started rummaging through the sales rack of several department stores in several different cities. It took many hours spread over 2 days. No go. My rail-thin figure complicates matters--even the x-small's at several places, including Ann Taylor, were too big for me. Too bad, since Ann Taylor had a suit sale at the time--theoretically you could get a really nice suit for around $70, or even $50 at the best-case scenario, if you can find a jacket and skirt that matched. Alas, I was not that lucky. The next weekend I went to a huge outlet mall. That didn't work out for me either. The week after that, I went to a smaller outlet mall. I tried on different jackets at the BCBG outlet, which were marked down an additional 40%. They actually fitted quite well! Could have been more fitted, but the cuts were so good that even a size 2 draped over me nicely without looking bulky. Over the next hour or so, I went around the store trying to match the color of the jacket to a skirt. That wasn't easy--dye jobs often don't match. Some are a bit faded and carried a greenish tint. Even if the colors match, the size often doesn't. I was quite surprised that their size 0's were so fitted--in fact, a little too fitted. I had to settle for a size 2 that sat on the hips...low-rise skirt suit, but as long as I kept the jacket buttoned up, no one can tell. It was better to have a "longer" skirt anyways. At the end, an ensemble that could have cost about $400 became $106, including tax. Definitely a good investment.

I went back to the store last month in hopes of finding a good charcoal gray suit, but I was told that suiting won't come in around Fall, which is now! So if you're in a desperate need for a suit NOW and don't mind paying a little extra for the quality (which I can assure you is good--LOVE the fabric), then go for it. Another option (for those from LA) is to just try things on for size and wait for the BCBG sample sale in November. It's a really long wait for the opportunity to rummage through a really huge warehouse, with no try-ons (yes, they actually have people patrolling the aisles), but the deals are excellent. When I went last time, jackets were going for $50 and skirts/pants were $25. If I get lucky this year, I can get a suit for $75 and that complete 3-piece suit for $100! Yet another option is to wait until Spring, when they're clearing out the suits. Also, sample sales and fundrasing sales for high-end clothing is another way to score a good deal. If you don't mind gently-used clothing, you can hit resale stores or other special sales; in LA, TV studios and costuming companies occasionally sell off their wardrobes, which may include expensive suits that have only been worn a few times. See, so many options!

If your plan to build your suit through the piecemeal method, it'll be tricker. Black is the easiest to match, and unless your interviewer has a magnifying glass for an eye, it's hard to discern inexact matches. Make sure you wear your jacket or pants to the store--the downside to these outlets is the "final sale--no returns" stamp on the receipt, so be careful.

Usually buying things online tend to be cheaper, but unless you know exactly which suit you want, or you're just looking for something for work, I'd caution against it. It's better to be able to feel the fabric, look at the seams, and see the fit.

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