Great Clothes at a Fair Price: Women’s Suits

"It's still raining", fashion plate from La Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915, showing (left to right) tailored suits by Paquin, Lanvin, and Doeuillet and a coat by Paquin.  Scanned from Steele, Valerie: Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-1950-4465-7

From Wikimedia Commons

I have the good fortune to have been raised by my mother who is tremendously knowledgeable about clothing.  How knowledgeable?  She can make clothing from her own drawings.  That’s skill.  I thought I’d pass along some of the clothes shopping tips she taught me to you, so that you too can get excellent clothes at reasonable prices.  Here are some tips for finding great women’s suits:

  1. Before you go shopping, do a little thinking.  What type of suit are you looking for?  What’s your price range?  Do you have blouses that call for a certain color of suit?  How will it go with other pieces in you closet.  Do you have a cut that you prefer?  Once you have an idea of what yo want, head out to the store.
  2. Your best bet is shopping at an upscale department store, such as Dillard’s or Macy’s, or shopping at an outlet store if you have a preferred designer.  These are women’s-suit-of-good-quality rich environments.  If you know of another, better source for high-quality women’s suits, please let me know in the comments.  I’m trying to upgrade my wardrobe.
  3. Find the right department for your style and size.  Are you Petite?  Contrary to popular use, Petite doesn’t mean small.  Petite means that you have shorter arms an legs relative to your torso.  If you find that Misses are usually too long in the arms and legs, you probably should give Petites a try.  Juniors usually doesn’t carry suits.  Misses will have a nice selection of suits that are generally in smaller sizes and are more stylish.  Women’s will carry suits that are more mature, will be cut to accommodate a greater range of body types, and will come in larger sizes.
  4. All right, by now you should have found the suit section of the right department.  Good.  Start browsing around, if you don’t already know which designers fit you best.  Fist, eyeball the suit to see if it’s a good match to your expectations or style, cut and color.  If the cut, color and style are good, it’s time to give the suit a good groping.
  5. Feel the fabric.  Does it feel coarse or smooth?  Does it drape nicely?  Is it lined?  Unlined suits will fall apart much more quickly than lined suits.  I, personally, will only buy lined suits for this reason.  Does the stitching look even and correct?  Check the seams, do they look like they’ll hold up?  Is there any pick stitching (Google it)?  Note: pick stitching used to be a sign of quality, and in men’s suits it still is.  In women’s suits, I’ve seen picking that is machined on purely for looks and on suits that were junk otherwise.  Also check the shoulder seams for a seam that stands up a bit where the sleeve meets the yoke/shoulder area.  see if there is any puckering on the lapel of any of the hems.  You have to check all this because clothing manufacturers are in a race to the bottom as far as quality is concerned.  They also seem to think women don’t need excellent quality suits.
  6. Eventually, you’ll find a preferred designer or brand that is easily available in your size and meets your quality requirements consistently.  For me those designers are Tehari and Jones New York.  You’ll have to find what suits you best, though.
  7. If you don’t know your size in a preferred designer, then get a few near-sizes and hoof on over to the changing room.  Start with the largest size first.  Does it fit?  If not, move down the next size until you find the size that fits you best.  Once you have suit that’s in your size, then check the cut and drape in the mirror.  Is it satisfactory, or are there a few weird gaps where there’s too much fabric?  Then you’ll probably need alterations.  Is it too tight in the waist or hips?  Go up in size.  Remember, you can always alter down, but it’s almost impossible to alter up.  Common problems are sleeves and legs that are too long (easy fix), a waist that’s too large, causing bagginess in the front of the thighs (medium to difficult fix), and bagginess above the bust in the shoulders (very tough fix).
  8. Buy a suit that is either satisfactory or easy to alter to satisfactory.
  9. It’s alterations time, because suits rarely fit perfectly off the rack.  This is where you make a good suit look great.  Find someone who’s skilled and a perfectionist at altering clothing, and take your new suit to them to have it fitted.  Pay them big bucks, and you should have yourself one fine looking suit.

The cost of this is usually (for me) between $150 to $250 dollars for the suit, and about $80 to $120 worth of alterations.  This will fluctuate with sales and the season.

So, do you have any suit buying tips?

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One Response to Great Clothes at a Fair Price: Women’s Suits

  1. Brandon Sheman says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

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