with Susan Wagner
The Working Closet is your source for the best of what's hip and fresh in fashion and beauty. Susan Wagner keeps you up-to-date on trends and offers tips and tricks for making everything in your closet truly work for you.
You can also catch Susan over at Working Closet.
I grew up in the Yuppie ’80s, when women’s suits were essentially men’s suits with skirts and floppy bow ties (remember those? I had one that was hot pink with white polka dots–awesome). The idea was that in order to be taken seriously by the men in the office, you had to look like one of them, except of course that your suit had to have a skirt because pants were TOO masculine. It was hard to win, really.
Fortunately, women and their suits have come a long way in the past twenty years, but the suit is still a difficult wardrobe piece. So many offices are business casual these days, and so many of us are working from home or part time or in non-traditional fields, and it’s hard to know how to wear a suit, or even if you really need one in the first place.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you are a professional of ANY type, you NEED a suit, for presentations and job interviews and meetings with clients. Choose something with a classic shape, in a neutral color.* I recommend a three-piece suit, one that has pants AND a skirt, in a three-season fabric (a nice wool crepe, for example, or a silk blend). Having pants and a skirt gives you two ways to wear the suit right off the bat, but! don’t stop there. Make the suit–or its separate components–part of your everyday wardrobe. Wear the jacket with jeans; wear the skirt with a beautiful sweater. Wear the pants on their own or with a different jacket. Dress your suit up with a silk blouse or dress it down with a basic tee. Don’t save your suit for The Perfect Meeting; wear it often and well. Instead of your workaday shoes, wear the suit with knee-high boots (with the skirt) or peep-toed pumps (with the trousers). Wear the jacket out on a Saturday night with a silk camisole under it; wear the skirt with a tank and some pretty sandals for a casual day of shopping.
When you need to really look the professional part, put the suit back together, but don’t default to the mannish Yuppie look. Instead of a basic menswear shirt, put a silk tee under your suit, or a cashmere sweater. Or wear your neutral suit with a white shirt and a really fabulous necklace (something with a dramatic design or color scheme). Add a bright belt or stand-out shoes and an incredible bag. Wrap yourself in a big shawl instead of an overcoat. The suit should be basic, but that doesn’t mean boring.
But wait, you’re saying, I live where it is blazing hot in the summer/freezing cold in the winter. How will I ever find a suit that works year-round? Answer: you probably won’t. Cover that one extreme season with a second suit. Right now, my favorite option for summer is a seersucker suit, one with cropped trousers and an A-line skirt and a slim jacket. Where does one find such a suit?
Why, Target, of course. For under $100.00. Not bad for a second suit.
Don’t be intimidated by the suit; when you are building a basic professional wardrobe, a suit is a cornerstone. But in order to function as such, it has to really work for you. Don’t relegate your suit to a special corner of the closet; wear it often and well and you will look as professional as you feel.
*I promise, we’re not going to talk about neutrals and basics forever; we’re laying a foundation here. On Friday, we’ll look specifically at how to lively up your basics and add color and texture to your essentials. Honestly, my favorite part of my closet is the accessories section because that’s where the shoes and handbags live. And you can NEVER have enough shoes. Or handbags! I promise.
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