Well Suited?

“Well suited?” A two-part question that requires two right answers. The first part of the question is obvious, “Are you well suited for the job, industry, promotion, client engagement, speaking opportunity, start-up funding, etc.?  And, while your education, communication style, personality, experience and grit will prepare you to answer the first part correctly, it is the second part of the question that is too often ignored and consequently missed.  What is the second part of the question ‘are you well suited’ asking? “Does your appearance, grooming and wardrobe convey confidence, ability and power?” Your professional wardrobe is answering that second part of the question for you, so make sure you agree with what it is saying.

Building a confident, powerful, corporate wardrobe takes time, is expensive (no matter how many sales you shop and resale boutiques you frequent) and requires ongoing maintenance (hello steamer!), alterations, attention and revision.  So, where to begin?  I started with a suit.

A decade ago, with a business degree almost complete, and confidence that I could effectively answer the first part of the question, I began my search for something to wear to upcoming job interviews. My previous work experiences required polo shirts, aprons and swimsuits so I was starting from scratch,  but having seen other students at the business school career fairs I knew there had to be better options out there.  That de rigeuer dark, ill-fitting, two-piece suit that everyone opted for needed a serious update in my inexperienced opinion.

Upon beginning my quest for the perfect suit, I quickly realized why the dull option was the norm. While it wasn’t hard to find suits, it was almost impossible to find suits I’d be willing to wear / could afford.  In the back corner of a department store behind Juniors, lit with humming fluorescents (hints of soul-less offices to come), in an area devoid of decoration so seasonal items could be moved in and out, racks were crammed with matching jackets, skirts and pants made in shiny plaids and pinstripes. While they looked a dime a dozen and there were dozens exactly alike, they were hundreds of dollars each! “I’m not paying that, for that…”  The shopping continued and at the end of the day I concluded:

 

  • This option at store X is affordable… and it… will cost me a fortune in alterations (which aren’t free for women!) / is made so poorly that the lines of the plaid don’t match at seams / looks so boring.
  • The skirt is great, but nothing goes with it. And actually that pleat in the back is a little high.
  • Oh this will work if looking for a career spent servicing… (humor helped).
  • I like this, if I’m only expected to lunch in it.

Women’s professional clothing was then and still largely is (where’s the women’s suit department in stores) limited in choice, not very professional, and certainly not time (or budget) sensitive to shop for.

Frustrated by so few options and recognizing even then the importance of a well curated wardrobe to ensure the second half of the question is always right; I have spent the last 10 years improving my response to question part one, refining my answer book for question part two by building a strong professional wardrobe of suits, pants, and accessories, and formulating my answer guide to help make completing the question ‘ are you well suited’ easier to get right.

Backstory: More on that first shopping trip …

After an entire day of traipsing around the Houston Galleria and a few other locations with my mom, feeling completely deflated by the lack of options that fit me and the budget, we finally discovered IT!  Buried in the castaways of a sale rack at Saks, mark down on mark down for a final 70% off was a gorgeously tailored, classically elegant with a lot of verve (it’s chocolate brown with super thin purple and lime green pin stripes) pant suit.  It looks just as good 10 years later as it did then – It was meant to be as I’ve yet to find something as fabulous and as discounted. We found a button up blouse to go with it at another store and replaced the inexpensive buttons with ones from my great grandmother’s button box, added darts to fit/look better, and finished the look with beautiful shoes that my mom bought to celebrate my first suit and hopefully job.

This suit became the foundation on which I have built my professional wardrobe and consequently my career, editing both strategically through the years.

That first shopping experience taught several great principles that I’ve used to inform the rest of my wardrobe purchases:

  • Wait for the right choice, do not settle.
  • Buy investment pieces, cost amortization over time.
  • Choose high end, well-tailored options, but shop sales.
  • Mix and match high end with good basics.
  • Upgrade basics when necessary.
  • Appreciate good tailoring, and have pieces altered to fit when needed.

Buying work clothes isn’t always fun… but it’s the best investment. Your career is how you make your money, and if you want to continue making money, then dress like it.

Tom Ford said it best – “Dressing well is a form of good manners.”  I agree. Hanging in my room is a framed article from WSJ titled ‘Always Dress To Impress’ by Annette Tapert.

Clothes don’t make the person. But your clothes are what you wear while doing the work necessary to accomplish your goals. So answer the question, “Well suited?” with intention, attention and confidence.

All my best,

Outfit Details: Suit: Escada Shirt: Express Shoes: Christian Louboutin, gift from mother Necklace: Pearls, Christmas gift from sister found at Houston resale store – The Guild Shop Earrings: Pearls, purchased from antique heirloom jewelry store – Houston Sunglasses: Louis Vuitton Bracelet: David Yurman, 25thbirthday gift from parents Watch: Apple by Hermes, Christmas gift Purse: Ignes (custom made), gift from mother while searching for great quality leather (no longer in business) Perfume: Velvet Orchid by Tom Ford

 

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