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?

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