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Business Dress x 3

March 18, 2011

This is a 3-paycheck month for me (yay!), but it is also a “3 important presentations in 3 days month”.  I don’t want to overstate my importance – my 3 presentations are short and one them is so insignificant I sort of tried to get it taken off the agenda (no dice).  It is just bad luck that I happen to have to stand up on 3 different days.  The dress code has been set at “suit and tie, or the female equivalent”.   I translated that to a woman’s business suit, or as someone mentioned “a structured dress with a blazer”.

I currently own one nice black suit I bought last year.  I was hoping to expand my wardrobe to include gray (slightly less harsh), so I wasn’t upset at the thought of using part of the extra check to do that.

Still, I need a 3rd outfit.  I didn’t know if there was a way around it – can you really accessorize enough to make the same suit look like a new outfit?  My answer is no, I personally cannot.  Will anyone notice if I wear black, gray, then black again?  Is it a different outfit if I put on pants instead of a skirt? Or should I bite the bullet and get a 3rd suit in a nice brown color?

By the way, I actually already have purchased the gray AND the brown – but tags on and it is returnable.  I can afford it all, but it just seems so wasteful.  I like the look of all three outfits, but my work is generally business casual, leaning heavily on casual (at least for me).  Three suits is overkill, in general.  I feel if I own THREE suits, I practically HAVE to start pursuing a management path.  😉   I wish I could rent a suit for a day.

Black Suit/Pants: Previously owned, Banana Repbulic
Gray Skirt/Suit combo
(Nordstrom – full price): $206 (+$88 if I want to add pants)
Brown Skirt/Suit Combo (ann taylor – buy 1, get 1 50% off + 15% off add’l):  $236 (no pants option)

Or any recommendations for a “structured dress” that could work with a generic black blazer –  or do they have to match?    Any other ideas to lower the total cost?  Or do I really get to spend about $500 on formal business wear this month?

I’m looking for ideas, but ideas that won’t hinder my professional image.  Please don’t tell me to buy a cheaper suit – I don’t have a lot of time to bargain hunt (stupid me, but I don’t) and I need decent quality.  I’m willing to spend the money if need be, but it is kind of painful to add it up.

I seriously considered asking a coworker to present a small portion of my stuff.  It would save me over $200!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2011 3:33 pm

    Instead of the suit jacket, would it be acceptable to wear a really cute and polished cardigan with a different blouse and the blank pants from the suit as a third outfit? If so, that could be a cheaper alternative and allows you to remix the pants a second time!

  2. Stephanie permalink
    March 18, 2011 4:37 pm

    I seriously doubt anyone would notice even if you wore the black suit three times in a row. I have absolutely no idea what any of my coworkers were wearing yesterday. I’d just change the shirt and the jewelry and call it good.

    • SP permalink*
      March 18, 2011 5:21 pm

      I don’t notice what people wear in general… but when people are dressed out of the norm (i.e., dressed up for a big presentation) I definitely do notice. I wonder if I’m alone there?

  3. March 18, 2011 5:23 pm

    I agree with Stephanie. I used to have to travel and wear business attire, and I would usually just bring two suits for three days (so that I wouldn’t have to check my bag). You could try buying a gray skirt and gray pants, which most people will think is two separate suits. Or, just wear a different type of shirt underneath your black suit (e.g., a collared button down one day and a dressy fitted sweater the other). No one will notice, really!

    I couldn’t find a good structured dress, but I like this top:
    I think paired with a black pencil skirt it would have a pretty formal look without the jacket.

    • March 18, 2011 5:35 pm

      Thanks – I think I will return the brown one and make up an outfit that has more re-use value!

  4. March 18, 2011 5:38 pm

    Also – I want to note that i do not think dress pants and a nice top are good enough, as a couple people said they use when they do presentations. They specifically said business formal. They aren’t nearly as dressy as a suit and tie. That’s what i wear on an average (less casual) day.

    But a pencil skirt with the right shirt and no blazer might work.

  5. March 18, 2011 5:45 pm

    I agree with the other commenter. You can wear the same suit over and over and just change the shirt underneath. That’s what men do. Basically all they need is one black suit and change the tie–they could even wear the same plain white shirt.

    But you can always mix it up by doing the blazer with a dress or skirt combo. They don’t have to match exactly.

    • March 19, 2011 9:18 am

      I really do NOT think the men wear the same suit all week. In fact, I noted that few men even wore black suits – for men, black = funeral. Most men had gray/charcoal or navy. I noted this because it surprised me (but it agreed with what I had previously googled).

      But I’ll pay attention – I’m sure the senior people have closets full of suits, so I’ll look to others at my level who have to stand up for 2 or more days.

  6. March 18, 2011 7:18 pm

    I doubt anyone would notice if you wore black-grey-black – as Stephanie said, I doubt they’d notice if you wore black all three times. Do you need to wear a suit, or do you need to wear a jacket? There’s a difference for women at many companies.

    Another thing to consider is accessories for your neutrals – I don’t have any navy or brown neutrals in my wardrobe, because I don’t have any accessories to match them (shoes, bags, belt, whatever). Rather than getting duplicates in different colors, I stick to black and grey for my neutral colors. If you already own a black suit, I would guess you own black accessories, which work for the grey suit but not the brown. Do you have accessories that would work with the brown?

    FWIW, I don’t own a suit. I’d wear a structured LBD and a structured jacket (already owned) for the first presentation, black pants and a black jacket for the second, and grey pants and the structured jacket for the third. Lots of mixing and matching there, and all from my closet (which also leans heavily towards the casual end of business casual. Do you have anything you can mix and match like that?

    • March 19, 2011 9:12 am

      Your first question – I am not sure, but I think i probably can get away with just a jacket. There really aren’t a lot of higher up females that i can take point from.

      I tooootally agree about the brown – I do not own many brown accessories, save the shoes. I was very nervous about the whole thing and it was a mistake to even consider buying it! Thanks for the reality check.

      I don’t have a structured LBD, but that would be nice. I really don’t have mix/match options that i think will be dressy enough, unfortunately. They also did encourage the men to wear suits specifically, not sport coats and dress pants. I think the bar is a little less certain for women.

  7. Janet permalink
    March 18, 2011 7:27 pm

    I think it depends if your audience is more men or women. It’s sad, but true that women judge each other much more harshly then men. I find for me that it does not matter much for my mostly male dominated presentations. There are women there, but they aren’t really in a position of influence. IF the women did notice, would likely be sympathetic that they also don’t own three suits (since they aren’t really very high on the food chain).
    I also think the skirt makes it different, especially with a different shirt underneath.
    Also, I have no affiliation with this website (, but I sometimes browse there because I think it is generally relevant for women (I am not a lawyer) and you might want to see if they discuss how to make a suit seem “different”.

  8. March 18, 2011 9:01 pm

    I think that your black suit would be fine for two days if you wear the pants one day and the skirt the other day with different tops and accessories. I have to wear suits almost every day and I will often pick them up at second hand stores. Its not usually something that you can set out to find but you just have to find the right ones. It might be something to keep in mind going forward.

    • March 19, 2011 9:28 am

      That is a really good tip, but obviously I failed on that. :/ I should at least be thankful that i don’t have to wear them every day!

  9. March 19, 2011 9:34 am

    Tips from corporette, for anyone who is interested.

  10. March 19, 2011 10:24 am

    Ah ha, I only did formal business wear for a while. Not well, mind, not on that crap money they were paying me but yeah.

    So, Banana Republic is having their 30% off sale this weekend, I don’t think you need an invitation to the Give and Get thing but I can send you one if you want. The promo code looks like it’s right on the site, so I imagine the sale is public and your size should probably be carried in store, right?

    If nothing else, you might consider picking up a nice dress to wear under the black suit coat for one of the days, and that would be formal, in addition to the full suit combo. If anyone notices, it’ll be the black suit blazer combined with a dress, which is a full piece in itself.

    So I had a look around to see what you could potentially do in the way of different pieces. I’m crap at accessories personally so I won’t even go there.

    Dresses, depending on your blazer fabric: [Might be too ruffly to sit right under your collar though, up to you]

    Over at Ann Taylor:
    [Maybe under the grey blazer or if you even just picked up a nice colorful one that could segue into business casual later… (still thinking about this combination for myself)]

    Blouses or tops to help differentiate your suits (lame as I didn’t find much):

    • March 24, 2011 7:23 pm

      Thanks! I definitely tried on the BR dress and liked it, but worry I wouldn’t get enough use out of it. I also used the coupon for a blouse!

  11. March 24, 2011 10:37 am

    What about wearing the suit for one and then just the pants with a nice dress top for another? That way you don’t have to buy a whole new suit but rather just an extra top which is generally less expensive?

    • March 24, 2011 7:26 pm

      In general, I think this is fine, but I don’t think a nice top is the “female equivalent” of a suit and tie – so for this particular thing, it isn’t sufficient.

      There were only 2 other women that presented, but they both wore suits w/jackets. A mix and match, like you indicated in your second note, I think would also be acceptable for this – men have the advantage of adding a tie and being “officially dressed up” 🙂

  12. March 24, 2011 10:40 am

    Oops… sorry I have more. If you do get the gray suit, you can always wear the gray pants with the black jacket from the other suit. Or vice versa. And just switch the top.

    I wear suit/suit equivalents every day and I just have two suits (black and blue), one gray pair of pants and then 2 jackets that go with any of the pants (including suit pants) and a crap ton of tops. I just mix and match all these items to keep it “fresh” every day.

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