Women’s Business Suits

Sunday, 1 June 2008 | Tags:

Once a businessman's uniform, suits have worked their way into women's wardrobes over the last few decades. We find out more about women's business suits and whether we need to make a big investment when it comes to looking corporately stylish.

The Basics

  • Most suits consist of a jacket and pants, a jacket and a skirt, or all three. Most women’s suits don’t include vests.

  • Suit jackets come in three basic shapes.

    • The straight cut jacket has only the most subtle of curves to flatter the body.

    • The fitted jacket is more drawn at the waist and hugs closer to the body.

    • Finally the cardigan style tends to be a more relaxed style that is worn open.

  • Be very picky about fit when buying a jacket. If it doesn’t fit in the shoulders, it can’t be altered, so don’t buy it. And you should be able to hug yourself comfortably in a suit. Sleeve lengths can be altered but they should not hang longer than fleshy part of thumb.

  • Suit pants also come in a variety of cuts, which give you more control over how dressed up, or down, you want to be.

    • Pleats make pants dressier and provide more room to move around.

    • Flat front pants are slimming and pockets should lie flat to reduce bulk.

    • Cuffed pants are more formal while pants without the cuff elongate the legs.

  • Suit skirts can also change the look of a suit:

    • When shopping don’t forget that the simpler the skirt, the longer it will be in style.

    • To find your perfect skirt length: stand in front of a full-length mirror and note the places where your legs naturally curve. For most women, one spot is about four inches above the knee; another is about one inch below the knee and the third falls about two inches below the widest part of the calf. A hemline that skims any of these three points gives the illusion of slimness above it.

  • The fit of the pants or skirt is also important:

    • Pants should fit like dress slacks and not be too full or fit like jeans.

    • The crotch of the pants should be perfectly flat against the body.

    • You should be able to slide two fingers under the waistline of pants or skirt and pull about 1 inch of excess fabric at the hip. A bit of elastic in the back can help ensure good fit.

    • Skirts should fall straight.

    • Back zippers help a skirt fall more smoothly than side zippers.

    • Eliminating the waistband of a skirt can elongate the body and narrow the line across the hips.

    • If you are short-waisted, try wearing your skirt one inch below the waist; or one inch above if you are high-waisted.

  • Some suit styles are more flattering on certain body types. For example, if you:

    • Have wide hips, avoid jackets that are too short for you (i.e. stop mid-rear), which accentuates the hips. Single-breasted jackets in an A-line or straight cut look best. Any detailing should be high on the jacket (e.g. breast pocket, lapel or collar). For pockets, choose slash or diagonal pockets for a smaller looking hip. Avoid patch or cuff pockets, and also avoid belted waists.

    • Have a full bust, choose a single-breasted jacket with a deep V-neck. Avoid breast pockets or any details in that area. A dark colour or thin vertical stripe helps downplay size. Jersey and crepe fabric choices are both optimal.

    • Have a small chest, look for double-breasted jackets with breast pockets and/or detailing on the lapels.

    • Are petite, choose a crop-style jacket that stops at the hip. Jackets that are too big will only make you look smaller, and too long will make your legs look shorter.

    • Are tall, look for a longer length cut and ensure the arms are long enough.

  • Experts recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the following small details that can make the difference between a suit worth taking home and one that should be left behind:

    • The lapel should have a third layer of fabric inserted for reinforcement, promoting both the soft roll of the lapel and its ability to press flat.

    • Buttons should be sewn on so that the thread is wound around itself between fabric and button to make the connection stronger. The button’s stitching should be hidden inside the lining, and buttonholes should be cleanly finished.

    • Shoulders should not pucker or be bulky, even if padded. Avoid suits with visible waffling (it won’t steam out, even if they say it will.) Shoulder pads should feel natural and not be visible through the fabric. Seams should sit straight and smooth across the shoulders.

    • The lining helps the pieces hang well. Look for lining that is folded and pressed under by about a half-inch, which enables extra movement. The lining shouldn’t be sewn down anywhere other than the perimeter and armholes. Cheaper suits may not be fully lined as a cost-cutting measure.

    • If the fabric is patterned, make sure it matches along all of the seams. Check lapels and pocket flaps for symmetry, and examine how the pattern looks down the centre of the back.

    • Stitching should be even and well-tied. On more expensive suits, stitching is often done so that it is almost invisible. Top-stitching can indicate lower quality.

  • To help narrow your choices, think about the following before you buy:

    • Are you buying a suit for work or another occasion? Is it a showstopper or workhorse or for travel?

    • What colour co-ordinates with things you already own? You can always mix and match!

    • When shopping, be prepared to try on the whole thing – not just the jacket. Remember to wear slip-on shoes and a neutral blouse that will look good with a suit.

    • Always check all the angles in a three-way mirror.

    • Most suits can be altered up to two sizes if there is enough fabric in the seams.

    • Ask the price of alterations in advance.

    • When buying accessories take the suit with you.

  • Fabric is another essential factor to consider:

  • Linen or cotton may be good for a garden party, but they’re terrible for traveling.

  • To find something in everyday wear, look for a micro-fiber-wool combination, which resists creasing, holds its shape and allows freedom of movement.

  • Cost is not the only indicator of quality. You should invest as much as you can afford but don’t believe you have to pay top dollar to get something that flatters and serves well.

    • Try on an expensive suit, especially if you never have, just to serve as a reference point. This suit will let you see how it should really fit and fee.

    • Then you can go find a suit within your budget that fits almost as well.

Other Considerations

  • You’ll very likely need to alter your suit somewhat, either the top, or the bottom, or both. It’s better to find a good tailor than to rely on department store alterations. Alterations should be done perfectly for your own body.

  • Tips on caring for your suit:

    • When you take a suit off at night, hang it in an airy room and put it in the closet the next morning, instead of directly putting it in a packed closet. This will allow it to air out and re-establish its shape.

    • Use curved wooden hangers rather than wire; use hangers with clips for pants or skirts.

    • Always clean the pieces together to make sure they wear evenly.

    • Don’t clean so often, as chemicals harm modern fabrics; twice a season is recommended (it also depends on how often you wear it of course).

    • Ask that rare buttons be wrapped when cleaned.

    • At home steamers are a great way to get out the wrinkles without adding the shine that a dry cleaning press can.

    • Don’t store wool suits in plastic because they need to breathe.


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