Milking the Most Out of Your Suit

I had to look really spiffy in a suit 3 days this week (dress code for 2 of the days was "dress like you would if you were arguing before the [US] Supreme Court"). Unfortunately, being a deeply-indebted student, I only have 1 matching suit set (I have 2 other nice suit jackets that I got for 90% off but I have yet to find matching bottoms for them). However, I was bent on not carbon-copying my look for all those days. I think my plan worked out pretty well. This may sound cliched, but accessories and color can really get the job done.

As long as you have a really nice suit and you're not a partner at a bigshot firm, your dress shirts don't have to be expensive; the shirt will be mostly covered up anyways. It is possible to get decent shirts for $5-$15 from such places as Ross, United Colors of Benetton, and department store clearance racks. White is a pretty standard color and you should have at least 1 white shirt, but getting shirts with subtle stripes and pastel colors will keep you looking fresh. However, when I say "buy cheap shirts," I mean *quality* shirts that are cheap. Feel the fabric, choose a higher "thread count" if possible, and inspect carefully before buying. I bought a white linen dress shirt from one of those small stores at the mall for full price ($15) because I desperately needed a white shirt. It lasted only 1 wash before holes started to form. By contrast, my Esprit shirt, which I bought at least 5 years ago for the same price on sale, lasted for 5 years and counting. Hence, I totally recommend looking closely, and Esprit shirts (and they have free shipping if you buy $30 or more).

Simple jewelry is cheap, which means you can get a lot of them and just rotate the lineup. Faux pearls are readily available, but if you're into making your own stuff, a basic string of freshwater pearls look even better and isn't that expensive. A lot of people like myself wear simple charm necklaces. While it's a bad idea to wear loud shirts, I see no problems with getting necklaces with small jewel-toned charms as long as they complement the colors you're wearing.

As for shoes, designer shoes are nice but wholly unnecessary unless you walk around a lot and need comfort. 2-3 pairs of cheap shoes, at least one being the requisite black, is enough to make you look profession yet interesting. The pair I wear the most with suits is a pair of $28 faux croc kitten heel pumps from Target (from the Issac Mizrahi line). People have mistaken them for expensive designer shoes a couple of times. As a supplement or alternative to Target, Ross and DSW are must-hits when it comes to shoes. The much-maligned Payless is also good for shoes that you don't wear everyday. A few times I was lucky and got Payless shoes that were really comfortable.

I don't recommend buying too many handbags, especially if you need bags big enough to bring work home. You can get lots of small handbags without spending a whole lot, but the bigger ones that won't fall apart after 2 uses are harder to find for cheap. In my opinion, you really only need one (or maybe 2) good work bag(s). I haven't seen female attorneys use briefcases, but I'd like to buck the trend and try it out in the future =)

I almost forgot, but if you have a black suit, you're in luck--it's much easier to get matching black bottoms than to get matching bottoms for other colors. Get one matching set, be it a pant suit or a skirt suit, then buy another bottom piece (the one you don't already have) later. Wear a skirt one day, pants the next, etc., and you'll look like you have 2-3 suits.

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