My Thoughts On Sephora Having Been There Once For Approximately Five Minutes

Context:  I am traveling for work in the Rockies. Somehow it is dry and 60 degrees colder than it is in the Northeast. Plus TSA wouldn’t let me bring my Aveeno. Desperation brings me to this Sephora, because my face is blotchy and peeling like a banana from the hotel lotion and the nearest Walgreens is a quarter mile away through what is basically polar vortex weather.

This place is overwhelming.

I can’t tell where anything is supposed to be. Also the color scheme is intimidating. Do I belong here? Then again, does anyone really belong anywhere?

A nice lady asks if I’m looking for something in particular. Lotions?, I say declaratively but with the question mark.

She leads me through the aisles as if she actually wants to help me. You know, like a pal. It makes me very uncomfortable. I think I’ve been living in the Northeast for too long.

She brings me to the L’Occitane shelf and offers to walk me through the different lotions. She even brings out new little samples from a hidden drawer under the shelf. My mind is blown. Where did that drawer come from. Better yet, where did it go?

Where do we all go?

She places a little jar in my hand. The jar is beautiful. If I was a jar, I’d want to look just like this jar. I would be smooth and pleasantly weighty and fit just right in my own tiny palm.

The jar is 1.7 oz.

It costs $34.

Oh, there must be a mistake, I think to myself. This must be the sample size for the larger jar. That larger jar costs $34, right? Where’s that larger jar? I wonder. I know, it must be in the hidden drawer.

And then I realize: no, this tiny jar really is $34 of lotion.

I’m not going to be here that long, I think to myself. Why don’t I put this tiny jar back and reach for one of those even tinier tubes?

The tube costs $28.

I am now in a crisis. I needed lotion and then came here and then this nice lady placed a tiny jar of lotion in my hand. If I put this back on the shelf and don’t buy anything, will I be rejecting that nice lady’s help? Even worse, will I be denying myself my own needs?

Because, by this point, I have convinced myself that I need this lotion. It has 25% shea butter in it and I’ve heard that stuff is great for your skin. Shouldn’t I let myself splurge on this lotion? Think of all the opportunities, all the shea butters I’ve turned down because of the vulgarity that is money.

Down with capitalism, up with shea butter.

As I wait to be rung up at the register, I am ushered through a tiny hallway of perfumes. Ten different sample size, about four squirts each, for $25. What a deal, I think to myself. If only perfume didn’t make me break out I would buy it. Because, like the tiny jar of lotion, I am now imagining what it would be like to be such a tiny delicate spritzer.

I pay the $34. The cashier seems almost insulted I didn’t buy more. I feel ashamed. The couple in front of me bought multiple bags worth of stuff. Why can’t I be so carefree as they are? I think. I bet they don’t deny themselves shea butter.

I am now sitting at the airport on my way back home. My face is no longer peeling, the red jagged cracks in my hands have closed. A tiny $34 jar of lotion sits in my bag. It serves as a memento of my trip through Sephora. A strange journey through the Twilight Zone that I am too afraid to repeat. A frail human such as myself cannot traverse such spaces so wantonly. I fear it’ll tempt the spirits. I fear I may become lost.

A tiny $34 jar of lotion sits in my bag.

I cannot tell if it is my trophy or I am its.

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All The Clothes I Bought This Year Part 2

This post reflects all my clothing purchases in 2017 after I wrote the post “All The Clothes I Bought This Year.” For the most part, I mostly got winter gear to help with the increasingly chilly season (curse you polar vortex!). There were a couple somewhat unnecessary vanity buys like my new leather jacket (gasp!) and a bucketful of tailoring.

Everything I Bought

Brunello Cucinelli silk tank (tan) – $46.50

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I got this from The Real Real to go underneath my slightly-too-sheer Hugo Boss white silk shirt. It’s also a nice addition to my wardrobe generally since I don’t have any other tanks or camis. It looks really powerful solo with my pencil skirt or with a blazer. Probably more expensive than I needed, but the delta between this (EUC) and a new lower-end silk tank was pretty small.

Patagonia quarter-zip fleece (navy) – $26.50

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This was a replacement for my old North Face shell which after five good years of service ended up twisting all up on its zipper. Being a fleece piece, it can’t exactly be worn alone especially since it gets windy out here. But it’s cozy and nobody blinks an eye when I show up to work with this and a T-shirt.

Coach lambskin leather bomber jacket (black) – $168.00

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Pure vanity buy. I was craving a quote-unquote classic piece and don’t particularly care for trench coats so I decided to go for a leather jacket instead. Seriously, I spent about a full month contemplating whether to buy it. Save for my loafers– maybe including my loafers?– this is the most expensive item in my closet. The leather is super buttery but thin (it’s lambskin so that was expected), so I can only really wear it when it’s in the 40-60 F range and not raining. Which in my New England city is, oh, approximately never. But it’s darn beautiful.

One thing I will say is that I got this off The Real Real and I was really disappointed in their team when checking this item. There were definitely more scuffs on it than the listing noted and there was a half-opened piece of nicotine gum in the pocket. Major ew. They outsource their customer service to Zendesk so I wasn’t particularly hopeful my note to them will reach their garment review team. Though I love the jacket and plan on keeping it, I do not plan on using TRR again.

Neck gaiter (black) – $10.00ng-teal_1024x1024

I lose about two neck gaiters a year so I don’t bother to buy an expensive version, else I’ll be saddened when I ultimately misplace it at a restaurant or whatever. Fleece-lined, does the trick solo or, even better, layered underneath a scarf.

Patagonia better sweater mittens (marled white/black) – $39.25

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A replacement for my old Isotoner gloves which, though they let me use my smartphone, fail miserably at keeping my hands actually warm in the freezing winter weather. I like that these can convert between mitten and fingerless glove style, makes it easier to access my fingers quickly during my commute.

REI silk sock liner (white) – $11.00

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These are to go under my thick calf-high Smartwool socks for the coldest days in winter. They’ll help with the itch from my wool allergy. Also, they’ll add an extra layer of insulation when the polar vortex comes.

Patagonia beanie (navy) – $26.50

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A slightly cuter replacement for my current beanie which looks like a nerdy winter helmet. Made with recyclable materials, which I love. Also covers and keeps my ears warm, which is a major win.

LL Bean silk long llbean.gifunderwear (black) – $50.50

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In previous years, I have used hosiery, thick fleece lined tights, and even yoga pants as an extra bottom layer during winter. All these were fine, but left a lot to be desired in terms of comfort under my trousers– so many layers left my legs feeling like sausage stuffed into its casing. I haven’t gotten a chance to take these for a spin since it hasn’t gotten below freezing yet, but they certainly are thinner and feel more flexible than what I’ve tried before.

Red Coral Necklace – $5.00

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Statement piece to jazz up my otherwise boring neutral-color wardrobe. The picture isn’t of my exact necklace, but it’s pretty similar with the same thick finger-like coral protrusions. I particularly like to layer this over my crew neck Everlane silk tops.

Coach Willis messenger bag (black) – $56.50

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Originally I was going to try to get the lock on my burgundy cross-body from Cambridge Satchel fixed. But this was the third or fourth tie it broke in two years and it costs $25 each time to get the push lock shipped in from the UK. At some point I might bring it to a cobbler to fix and then resell, but for now I’m going with a classic alternative that I know has already been through a couple decades of wear and is still going strong.

Tailoring, dry cleaning, repair – $191.50

This is how much it cost me to hem and take in at the waist four silk shirts and to dry clean and re-line my peacoat. Tailoring is expensive. It basically doubled the cost of my shirts. But now they fit slightly better. Worth it?

Total – $631.25

Next steps

Altogether I’ve spent around $1825 on clothes in 2017. That’s about six to seven times as much as I’ve spent in any other year. While I don’t regret spending that much– I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe and am still in a great place financially– I would like to ratchet it back to my previous spending levels for a good long while.

Now that I’ve finished filling all the holes in my winter wardrobe, I feel pretty set to not buy any more clothes until at least April 2018. I would like to set a budget for 2018 to spend no more than $350 total, or just below $30/month. That includes all alterations, underwear, etc. This does not include my wedding dress, for which I’d like to spend less than $250.

Insofar as I might upgrade my wardrobe next year, I’d like to keep it to cheap basic items. For one, I’d like to get a few V-neck cotton shirts (probably American Apparel or another good quality cheap tee brand) to replace my current suite of crew necks. I’d also like to streamline my work socks so I don’t have a variety of too-large-for-my-feet hand me downs making up half my food wardrobe. Lastly, a good tote bag or backpack would be nice as well. These are all minor wants though and– given how burnt out on shopping I currently feel– I think I can go without for a year or more.

What do you wear for winter? Have you purchased any clothing in Q4?

All The Clothes I Bought This Year

As mentioned in my spending update, I have undertaken a complete clothing overhaul. Stylistically, not much has changed. But I wanted to replace pieces were just stretched, faded, stained, shrunken and generally worn. Also chuck all my blouses with breast pockets because they’re useless, saggy, and the flaps are a pain to iron.

Below I’ve summarized all my clothing purchases for this year plus some of the remaining items in my closet. Together, these pieces comprise my new “capsule wardrobe.”
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I am a big fan of silk shirts. They can be styled for work and casual wear and are great for body heat regulation year round. My go-to brands are Equipment (wonderful quality fabric) and Everlane (quality is only so-so but is cheaper, has better cuts for petites). Both brands have a lot of pieces with terrible boob pockets (avoid these!). I can generally find these in “EUC” aka “excellent used condition” for around $50 on the secondhand market.

The Hugo Boss silk blouse was a steal for $23. The back panel is just slightly too sheer, so I need to find a camisole or tank to wear underneath. But it is so well made and the button placket is just so delightfully luxe. I don’t know why, but when I wear it I feel very Young Pope, but in a good way?

Also, I bought a couple athletic tees. They are a bit more fitted since my usual T-shirts were falling all over my face during fitness classes.

Obviously, I love my neutrals: black, white, grey, cream, and blue. This round, though, I may have gone a little overboard. I do like color!– I was on the lookout for nice golden, brick red, forest green, and blush pink for more variety– but it was just easier to find pieces that met my criteria in, well, neutrals.

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As a petite lady, buying bottoms is a fraught experience. And in the secondhand market, you don’t always have the option to return ill-fitting pieces. The best way I’ve found to find pants without trying on in-person is to buy cropped (wearing them as ankle or full-length) and insist on double-checking inseam lengths.

Before now, I’ve never really been a jeans person. Like, I wore jeans. They were comfortable. But these J Brand jeans are something else. I feel comfortable, they actually fit, and they actually retain their shape through multiple days of wear!? Be still my heart. And they are so, so soft. I’ve been putting off washing them because I’m afraid of wearing them out, but about a month in we may be hitting the limits of that approach.

In addition to the jeans, I got some slacks for work to replace my stretched-out old ones and workout leggings from Lululemon, at full price no less. The range of motion I have in these is pretty great. And, yes, they pass the squat test. As far as I’m concerned, they’re definitely worth the premium.

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It took me a good three years at my male-dominated workplace before I felt comfortable enough to wear dresses. The red and cream lace dresses are not exactly like the ones I have– mine have something closer to an empire waist. I tend to like knee length since it transitions well between work, semiformal events, and casual day wear. Empire waists tend to be more flattering for my personal shape, elongating my (short) torso.

My new Cara Hansen faux wrap is the softest, most flattering dress I’ve ever worn. The model photo really doesn’t do it justice. I managed to find it at a local shop that sells independent designers and does minor tailoring in house for free!

blazers

I’ve added a couple blazers into my rotation to snazz up some of my outfits (also as part of my search for a three piece suit). They’re not perfect by any means– some day I’d like to splurge on a custom suit– but they are nice, versatile pieces to have.

The real winner here, though, is my new Theory sweater. I get compliments every time I wear it. Plus it’s thick, soft, cozy, and adds much-needed texture to my otherwise flat and boring wardrobe.

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No new jackets or coats, my current collection can get me through most weather. In an ideal world, I’d like to add a leather bomber jacket and trench coat, though.

underwear

This category is pretty uninteresting (read: I’m slightly embarrassed to be talking about my underwear).

The Hanes are shaped well enough, breathable, and have never given me issues.

I tend toward wire-free bras because life is too short to be constantly poked in the rib cage.

As for the hosiery, we’ll see if these Wolford tights live up to the hype. They are quite a bit slimmer than my old tights, and definitely smoother. I just worry about accidentally putting a run in them, though. For $50 a piece, I hope they last me a good long while.

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I was inspired by Sherry from Save Spend Splurge and decided to get myself an obi belt to add a little interest to my skirt/dress. In the above picture you only see the cream side of the belt, but in fact it’s reversible; the other side is a lovely powder pink.

Other than that, I’ve been spending an annoying amount of money repeatedly replacing the lock on my Cambridge Satchel cross-body. The purse itself is wonderful– after two years of daily and rough use, the leather is still in great condition– but the push locks are complete garbage. After breaking three separate locks, my plan now is to go to a cobbler to see if they have better hardware I can use instead.

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Each year, I buy one to two pairs of Mizuno Wave Paradox shoes for running. Since it’s starting to get chilly, I probably won’t be outside too often. and I regularly go shoeless in my fitness classes, so I may be able to get away with just the one pair this year.

My tried and true everyday shoe is my pair of Merrell Juncle Mocs. They are comfortable, resistant to pretty much any type of weather, and, uh, gorpcore is in, right? Once I get to the office, though, I switch to my Everlane loafers.

The other shoes in my closet are most activity-specific: the wedge sandals are great for cocktail parties, flat sandals for summertime strolls, and the nubuck when I want to feel my bunions. Just kidding, though I do still need to stretch those out for a more comfortable fit.

Duds

There are a few pieces I bought this year that I’ll be giving away in the near future including:

  • Elie Tahari silk dress ($31.50) – While a beautiful pattern, the cut was supremely unflattering on me. It made me look both formless and bulky on top– not a great combination.
  • Ann Taylor black silk knit short sleeve ($16.50) – Bad, bad quality. Dye faded almost immediately.
  • Madewell dark navy patterned pants ($26) – I actually quite liked these pants, except they were 100% with no elastane which means they stretched out a lot after a single day of wear. I got a few months of mileage out of these, though, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
  • Return fees ($28.50) – Various shipping and return/restocking fees for items I didn’t end up keeping.
  • Amanda Uprichard cream silk blouse ($49) – Remember the blouse for my suit outfit? Well, I accidentally put it through the wash (because I’m terribly lazy with my silks I just throw them in the machine as “delicates”) with a cheap bright red scarf I got as an “extra” in one of my Poshmark purchases. Bad move! The dye from the scarf ran and now there are bright red stains on the back and sleeve that, after two rounds with the OxiClean, I can’t seem to get out. Whoops.

Total amount wasted on duds? $151.50

Total Spent

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I think the graph/table more or less speak for themselves. I clearly have an average item price I stick to and it’s around $40 a piece. As I’ve mentioned before, in previous years I spent around $200-300 on clothes, so this is 4 to 5 times what is normal for me. I don’t plan on repeating next year though; I don’t think I could justify another re-haul so soon.

Just for the record, these are not all of my clothes. Of course there are a number of items I wear that are not included in the above photos like: shorts I wear only in summer or indoors, all my cotton T-shirts, various undergarments I bought prior to 2017, and jewelry including my statement piece necklace and engagement ring.

What Do I Still Need?

Unfortunately, every time I jump down this rabbit hole, I realize something’s missing from my collection. Right now, my wish list includes the following:

  • Nude silk tank top – to wear with my cream Hugo Boss shirt or by itself
  • Leather bomber jacket – classic look for a classic lady
  • Collection of Anvil T-shirts – five years ago I bought a batch of Gildan tees that haven’t aged a day. Which is kind of a bummer because they all are neck-strangling crew cuts that I want to switch out for a more flattering, softer V-neck look.
  • Trench coat – not sure when I’d actually wear a trench, but they look nice? (this is obviously low on the priority list)
  • Leather tote purse – sometimes I want to carry things bigger than my purse without breaking out my company-logo’d backpack
  • Real belt – something to sit at my hips, ideally in an interesting print. Possibly snakeskin.
  • Streamlined socks – I may still be wearing some of my parents’ old castaways
  • Jewelry – I have some good classic pieces now, but I want to funk it up a little bit. You know, do with the accessories what I can’t with the base layers.

There are also things I need to do to take care of my current clothing items, like:

  • Basic shoe maintenance, resoling, stretching
  • Get my Everlane silk shirts tailored for slightly better fit (adding darts)
  • Relining my pea coat, which is currently torn. Maybe I can put in something funky / upgrade from polyester.

Once all that’s completed though, I’ll be done clothes shopping.

Probably.

I hope.

What clothes did you buy in 2017?

What Is A Good Cost Per Wear?

According to the internet, how much you pay for a garment is secondary to its cost per wear. Chuck the cheap and low quality H&M since they’ll cost you more to replace in the long run, so the story goes. Those $200 jeans are worth since you can wear them for two years straight. And that $500 leather jacket will last you the rest of your life.

I personally have never found that my expensive clothes last longer than my cheaper ones. Sure, they are nicer (and that’s why they’re worth buying) but it takes far fewer wears and washes for a nice Equipment silk blouse to pull than a cheap cotton one from Eddie Bauer. Fancy clothes are beautiful, but also can be terribly finicky. Which means not only am I spending more up front for nice clothes but also have a faster replacement rate, thus a catastrophically higher cost per wear!

And besides what is a good cost per wear?

At the very least, your cost per wear should align with your clothing budget. So if you set aside $1500 a year for clothing, your outfit(s) of the day should cost no more than $4-ish. Or, contrarily, if you’re daily clothing averages only $2 a day, you only need to set aside $750 or so for clothes each year.

I would say this is, on average, how much I spend on a garment versus how many wears I expect to get out of it:

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In a typical week, I’ll wear five work outfits: three times blouses and slacks ($3.51) and twice dresses with leggings ($2.26). I’ll also wear my dress shoes all week ($7.50).

During the evenings I’ll wear a T-shirt and pajama shorts to bed ($1.40). On the weekends it’s half the time nice blouses and half the time T-shirts, coupled with jeans and casual shoes ($1.77). Finally, I’ll work out in a T-shirt, sweat pants, and tennis shoes around three times a week ($2.94).

So, based on these back of the envelope calculations, I depreciate my clothes an average of $19.34 per week, or about $1007.76 per year. Which seems high, given that I only spend around $250-300 on clothes a year altogether including undergarments and socks. Maybe I’ve greatly underestimated the number of wears I get out of my clothing. Or maybe it’s a sign of a lot more spending to come.

What do you think is a good CPW per garment? How much does your clothing “cost” per day if you calculate by CPW?

Perfectionist Consumerism

I hate buying things only to have them fall apart. I remember once seven years ago buying a cutlery set from Target that rusted over in about three months. I think the fact that I am still sore about it to this day is a pretty good indication of how obsessed I can be about wasting money on non-optimal things.

When I make a purchase, I try to buy at the top of the inflection in the price vs. quality curve. This often requires hours of research. I have on my bookmark bar Wirecutter, Sweethome, Consumer Reports, and Reddit’s BIFL forum. I spent days trawling Angie’s List, Houzz, and NextDoor when trying to find contractors to work on our renovations. Even with food, there are few places I’ll eat that I haven’t already thoroughly vetted either through my foodie friends or Yelp.

Often, when in search for the “perfect” thing, I come to find it doesn’t exist. Or that it’s too expensive. And rather than compromise on my standards, spending or otherwise, I choose not to buy anything at all. Which is, I suppose, one method of frugality.

Because of this analysis paralysis, I didn’t buy a blender until we could afford a Vitamix (which is awesome, by the way). And we still don’t have a vacuum because Miele canister vacuums, like the ones Wirecutter recommends, are expensive. If I’m going to shell out $100+ to do, ugh, chores! then that vacuum better not leave a crumb and last twenty years to boot.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether this makes me mindful in my spending or just a very particular consumerist. In any case, it seems to keep money in my pocket and junk out of my house.

Are you a buy-it-for-life-er? Do you hold out for the “perfect” purchase?

My Kingdom For A Suit

Every fall starts with a sudden uptick of work. I don’t know why– maybe people come back from vacation feeling renewed, ready to make some money. The workers fill their mugs with fresh coffee. The sales team starts scheduling dinner meetings. Calls stream in from potential clients who realize, frantic, that projects that “aren’t due until October” have seen little progress in the warm, lazy, summer. Just like clockwork.

Usually, if I’m to travel, it’s in October. Nowhere exciting, always in the lower 48. But when I go I work solo. I talk to few people on-site and am often left alone to do my work as I please. If I happen to meet a client, I may wear an ill-fitting blazer and a sheath dress to a first meeting. My role is to get the project done, not hobnob with the C-suite. Since my client contacts are usually other mid-level employees, our managers already having negotiated our work over thick wooden tables and a few fingers of bourbon (though perhaps that’s only in my imagination), it’s rare either I or they saunter into a meeting in a bespoke suit.

This year, though, things are different. Instead of my usual work, I am edging into a more formal field. My contacts will be senior. Instead of my usual, quiet, peaceful solo work, I’ll be spending a lot of time interviewing folks in my day-to-day. I won’t have a senior manager to rely on to make the good impressions, this time I’ll really be on my own.

Because of this, I find myself reconsidering my wardrobe. Am I due for an upgrade? I have some good pieces, but everything is starting to get tired. After five years of almost weekly wear, my trusty sheath dress is starting to warp, my black slacks have faded, and the chipped buttons on my silk shirts need replacement. Is it time, I think, to invest in a three-piece suit?

Until now, I have gotten away without this wardrobe staple. No little black dress or pair of kitten heels either, for what that’s worth. But as I climb the professional ladder it becomes more apparent to me that sometimes it’s easiest to go back to the classics.

For the most part, I shop almost exclusively by thrifting. Consignment is basically my middle name. But, after months of search, I find very little that meets my criteria trawling the shelves. Everything is either too seasonal, doesn’t match into a cohesive formal outfit, doesn’t fit (nothing fits), or too ragged for use. I finally relent: it’s time to go for new.

With that in mind, I make my way to the MM. LaFleur pop-up in the city. I show up to my appointment in baggy cotton pants, a pair of stained hiking boots on my feet, and my company-logo’d backpack in tow. The stylist who is wonderful and offers me a glass of champagne, throughout the hour pulls for me different outfits that fit my very specific requirements for pieces that are “business formal, machine washable, and maybe look good on me I guess?”

Here’s what I end up getting:

 

The Lagarde shirt is soft and white. While a bit sheer, it has enough heft to it to not feel entirely transparent. The gold buttons and cufflinks are subtle statement details and add an elegant touch. The Eldridge skirt, which falls about two inches below the knee, has a lovely side slit and paneling that gives it shape and makes it a little more interesting than the typical pencil skirt. And the Sant Ambroeus jardigan, oh how have I gotten this far in life without a jardigan? Clean cut, but also substantial enough to take the place of a blazer, it helps finish up the outfit for a nice three-piece look.

Now, for those keeping score at home, I paid $575 for my new suit. To put it in context, that’s more than twice what I usually spend on clothes in a year, just for three pieces! I feel itchy just thinking about it.

But, at the same time, this is also an investment, giving myself new wardrobe staples and making myself presentable for the next stages of my career. Alright, “investment” may be a bit of an overstatement. But, certainly I am not headed down the path of penury with this one purchase, am I?

I wonder how much women generally spend on work clothing. MM. Lafleur has its own guidelines, telling women: “As a general rule, plan to spend 5-10% of your monthly take-home income on clothes.” Which vaguely reminds me of De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” campaign that got everyone to spend three month’s pay on diamond engagement rings. According to the BLS, mean clothing spending for the 25-34 age range is $1832, which albeit close to the 5% figure, strikes me as being slightly more reasonable. Not all of that spending is on work clothes, mind you, but enough that I feel more at ease with loosening the purses just this once.

Plus everything is machine washable. So, uh, definitely worth it?

Update: Unfortunately, it seems that the delicately up-tilted mirrors in the shop gave me a different understanding of the outfit than wearing it in my bedroom under less flattering lighting. Oh well, the search for the perfect petite suit continues!

How much do you pay for work clothes? How about for a suit?