Meet My Tailor

I really should wear more suits to the office. Not every day. But, at least a few times a week when I have meetings with outside people or am with my boss. My female boss wears a suit every day. Her female boss wears a suit ever day. I don’t.  I look nice. I look creative and I look fun. 

A few months ago I was at a meeting at the Pentagon. I was the youngest person in the room by 20 years. Not only was I one of a few women in a room of 50 people, I was the only woman of color. And, I was the only person not in a suit or uniform. I felt incredibly conspicuous.

I realized I was just not going to sew the suits I had in my mind. On my way home from that meeting, I stopped at the outlets and stocked up on about six suits for under $100 each. They all needed altering. I’m not a standard bust, I have muscular legs and a massive swayback. My purchased suits needed fitting.

I thought I would do it myself. But, last week I realized it wasn’t going to happen and took them to my tailor, Liliya. She’s a former neighbor who started an alteration and custom clothing business. Liliya is originally from Odessa, Ukraine. She told me she was so surprised to come to the US and see that women didn’t fix their own clothes and that a living could be made making alterations.

Now to be fair, she gets annoyed with me because she thinks she’s taking me for a ride. But, the truth is, I don’t have the time or desire to do alterations. As we’ve discussed, it’s a different skill set. I’m way more in to the creation of a garment. Not the fixing of it. And, my time is worth paying for.

And so now I can be far more relaxed in my sewing! Everytime I sewed something not work appropriate I would be a little mad at myself. But, now I’m free to sew what I want! I don’t have to stress every morning about what I’m going to wear. It reminds me of when I had a part time job at Lord and Taylor *just* to buy suits. I was a speechwriter in the Governor’s Office and everyone wore suits. Even the support staff.  That was well over 10 years ago and I’ve grown out of every single one of those suits. But back then, I sewed much more for fun rather than function.

Liliya takes my pants and blazers in at the waist and hems my skirts and trousers. These pants took in nicely. There are a few that now dip at CB, but they fit!

I’ve also invested in disposable dress shields. Sexy, right? I do plan on making some fabric / cotton ones in the near future.

But, I will need a lot more shells and blouses.  This sequin tank is from J.Crew on clearance. At the end of the day, I also feel much more put together at work. When I wore this suit, I had four different people tell me how nice I looked and my boss specifically said, ‘professional’.

Last night I was asked if I consider suits to be more professional than dresses. No, I don’t. Especially woven dresses. But, I think other people do. This person noted the Hillary Clinton pantsuit as his example of it being more professional.  What do you guys think? Are dresses as professional as suits?


  1. Yes, dresses are as professional as suits, especially if you wear a jacket with the
    dress. I like your blue suit with the sparkly shell — says “I’m here to work but I am ready to play when the time is right.” Suits as uniform for work are entirely okay with me — makes it easy to get dressed in the morning, don’t have to worry that you’ll look odd or out of place. Wearing suits as uniform, though, can easily slide into the realm of bland and boring and “that woman might as well be invisible.” You’ll find a happy medium that suits you and your workplace, I feel sure. Unless you WANT to be invisible … sometimes I do.

    • I’ve felt a little pre-package the last few weeks I’ve been in a suit. But, I’m getting far more notice being in a suit than I have in a dress. The sparkle tops get me ‘pretty’. So, I felt like I was retaining a part of me. But, I definitely want to avoid the rut.

  2. I do think suits say ‘serious grown-up’–and that can be very important if you are at an event where you are younger, or more junior in position, than the other attendees. Yes, the right dress can say professional, but there are times when a suit is absolutely the most appropriate thing to wear (I always think if one has to talk money one should wear a suit).

    And congratulations on finding a wonderful tailor!

  3. You look great! And I did the same thing years ago. I bought suits at outlets, took them to be altered and gratefully paid the bill. At one point I lost weight and went down a dress size. It was cheaper to have all my suits altered than to buy all new clothes.
    Eventually, I learned how to do my own alterations by peeking inside and studying what had been done by the pro. I learned about jacket and skirt construction that way, too.
    Oh yeah, that was back before we wore pantsuits! Ha!!

    And yeah, I think suits do look more professional. It’s just an observation, not a value judgement, if such a thing is possible.

    • I did start to take in a jacket. But, realized I had no idea what I was doing! I have an additional skirt and pants that need some work. Maybe I’ll try them myself.

  4. No, I think that dresses are not as professional as suits. The main reason being…don’t hate me…they are more feminine. Women have worked long and hard to make it in the corporate world. The suit is the uniform. I can’t say that it is right, or that I like it, but it is the truth. I actually had a boss tell me one time that “a cardigan (or sweater set) screams secretary. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” So, suits it is. I wear dresses for church and have some casual ones for play. But for work…always a suit..and preferably a neutral color.

    • “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” So, suits it is” This is really my motivation recently. I’ll dress the part if it helps me be taken more seriously.

    • I’ve always felt that “a cardigan (or sweater set) screams secretary,” but don’t recall hearing or reading it anywhere. Whenever I see one of those work-wardrobe guides that include twin sets, I assume it was compiled by a fashion industry person consulting for business rather than a business person advising for business.

      I think there’s a dress code just about everywhere, even if it is unofficial. At one place I worked, small-scale plaid, button-down shirts and khaki pants were the unwritten uniform of the engineers. I’ve come to believe that people who wear non-norm clothes are still wearing a uniform, just for a different group affiliation.

      I agree that dresses seem less professional in most circumstances. Trying to think of counter-examples, the first thing that came to mind was surrogate mother. I’m not sure a dress would be more professional even in that role.

  5. This has always been a sore point for me. I don’t wear suits. But my mother insists it’s the only professional option. It’s all she wore when she worked as a librarian. I own 5 suits. My mother buys one for me every Christmas. I rarely wear them. I find them uncomfortable and ill fitting. I am top heavy and a suit will never fit all the parts. And I refuse to wear them, preferring to wear dresses instead.

    If your job says suits are required then wear them. I am not of the belief that suits are the only option. If so, then define “suit”. A dress and a jacket can be considered a suit. So can a dress and a cardigan or matching separates. And most folks see something matching and think it is a suit. Seems like if you are covered appropriately and folks have time to notice and comment on your attire, then they aren’t working, are they?


    • “If your job says suits are required then wear them.” I think this is part of the office dilema for me. There are people who wear jeans on Friday (I NEVER do). In fact, I’ve had people ask me if I own jeans). What I do notice is that the entire professional team wears a suit every day both male and female. I’d noticed it and ignored it. But, it was a big reason I started focusing on woven dresses instead of knit dresses. I also started buying longer lengths of fabric so I could make jackets with my closthes.

      Ideally, I’d like to have about ten suits. I would wear them two or three times a week but intersperse with dresses.

  6. I really should wear suits too. Right now I use pregnancy as an excuse ( I get way too warm to wear a jacket all day ) and make sure I at least wear a dress or cardigan. But I feel awkward in a room where everyone’s wearing a suit and I’m the only one with any color on.

    • I had someone at a meeting say to me, ‘You’re always in a bright color or print, aren’t you?’ I do think it was a neutral observation. But, I looked around and it was totally true. She then went on to say, ‘I just wear neutrals so I can mix and match.’ I think there’s got to be a happy medium!

      • There’s a point system that nuns used to teach in deportment classes many years ago. You get points for wearing a dress, for gloves, for pumps (more for high heels), for matching accessories (shoes, belt and gloves), full skirts, earrings (more for dangly earrings) and so on. Negative points for jeans and poor grooming. Each type of occasion has an approriate number of points. Brides should pretty much max out on points, but too many points are inappropriate for work. It’s quite an economical system because rather than focussing in how beautiful you are, you focus on how appropriately you present yourself. You can add or subtract points to/from a single basic outfit. (Accessories don’t match? No problem, do your hair and wear some lipstick.)

        At work you need to present yourself as being able to fulfill your function. My doctor is a three-dimensional person, but I’m not in her office to talk about her snowboarding habit. Wearing snowboarding clothes would be distracting and unprofessional in that context. Her presentation at work is consistent with her personality, but somewhat self-effacing.

        Much of professional presentation is about concealing personal information. One doesn’t want to look “young” so much as to inhabit an undefined spot somewhere between thirty and fifty-five. The less easy it is to pin down your age, the better. That’s one reason dyed hair is so popular. Not only do you automatically get grooming points without any effort (well, daily effort), nobody can see whether you have grey hair or not. Women conceal either the fact that they have grey hair *or that they don’t,* making personal information about age less obvious. Wearing a suit doesn’t conceal your sex, but it reduces emphasis on it.

        So anyway, figure out what adds and subtracts points at work. You might not be able to get to the right number with a dress. (Maybe in a sober colour, with a collar and a jacket, low heels, neutral makeup? Sounds dowdy, not professional.) Starting with a suit, though, you should be able to get some flexibility. Sober-colored suit, neutral makeup, nails and hair… and a bright patterned blouse and flashy glasses! Or platform heels!

  7. Disposable dress shields….hm, a good idea in some respects, but I wonder about the adhesive build-up on the garment itself…kind of the same problem I have with those lint rollers. If you use those you will get rid of the lint, but deposit adhesive glue on your garment fabric whether you do it once or multiple times over time. Better to brush off the stuff on your suits? Back to the dress shields: I’m sometimes inclined to check out MiraDry, a treatment to stop excessive sweating but I have no idea how much it costs. Has anyone been treated?

    As for prices being whited out on the receipt, I’d curious what the actual costs were just for comparison. What’s expensive/cheap in Baltimore might be totally different elsewhere.

    • There is adhesive left behind. But, that bothered me less than the permenant BO that some of my clothes now suffer from. I was using cert-dri for a while. But, I didn’t notice an appreciable difference. Oh, I also used rubbing alcohol on the lining and it was fine. But, my preference would be to have fabric. I think I got these in NY last year and have only just gotten around to trying them out.

      • Have you tried fabric stores (like I guess maybe Joanne’s? – I’m in Canada so unsure) for cloth, sew-in dress shields? I get them at the chain fabric store we have up here. They’re fabric on one side and sort of soft plastic-y on the underside. The fabric side goes against your skin. They’re very soft and comfortable and inexpensive.

        • I would think they’d be pretty easy to make, in that case (although boring – I guess it depends on your priorities). I made my own reusable nursing pads, which obviously have to work a bit harder to wick up milk and not leak through, and it’s as basic as overlocking together a few layers of absorbant fabric (or one of cotton and one of fabric-backed PUL, available online).

  8. It depends on the dress. There are business dresses that are equivalent to suits, and dresses that are more casual.

  9. Both my sister and I had to wear suits every single day of our working lives. I might be biased here, but I think suits are more professional. I am an attorney so I had to wear more dark, boring suits with kind of “serious” blouses, which mostly were not that attractive. My sister, however, looks like a million bucks and even somewhat sexy in her suits. I think it’s mostly the fun tops she gets to wear.

    I think you are doing suits the right way, MC, both by having them altered professionally and the way you wear them. By the way, I share your aversion for doing my own alterations and usually all I require is a shortening of the jacket sleeves, which should be easy.

  10. I think the key is the tailored jacket. I must say, that blue suit is lovely on you! You positively sparkle in it.(and I’m not referring to the top).
    In the business world we are very much judged by our garments, grooming and unfortunately our weight.
    Take advantage of every edge.
    And…a well fitted garment looks much more expensive, whether it is or not.
    I’m much older than you but I remember an old addage…dress for the position you hope to achieve. I think it still holds.
    At least in some circles and it sounds as though you do travel in those.

    • FITTING TIPS is ON THE MONEY 🙂 Dress……………UP 🙂
      ALSO….Make sure it FITS…100%….Good for you Ms C for ASKING 🙂
      Doesn’t matter~~ your size or age…. A suit with a tailored jacket ALWAYS looks nice…. Ok, USUALLY…. I have seen some attorneys at the local courts who DESPERATELY NEED my tailoring services 😦 DROOPY DRAWERS are ALWAYS BAD…….

  11. When you’re the only — in a room, you definitely need a suit. And you’ve said yourself when you’d need one in general, outside meetings and/or with boss.

    Also, a dress can look professional. BUT not a print dress, in the kind of loud prints and flashy colors you and I love. And only with a jacket, which stays on (ie not just to get to work, an indoor jacket).

    You look stunning in that suit. Get a silk shell to wear instead of the sequins, and you can go anywhere :-). Do you read Excellent work-related advice there. You can tone things down a bit considering you’re not a lawyer, but at least you wouldn’t have a doubt about what you need to wear to go to the Pentagon. One easy trick: keep a simple black jacket at the office. You can toss it over whatever and look at least 75% more professional instantly for an emergency.

    • Corporette – I thought of that site immediately, too. I’m sure the issue of suits vs dress, woven vs knit, job you have vs job you want, what the boss wears, etc. have been covered to death there.

    • I forgot to add:

      Your tailor did a good job. You look terrific.
      And I agree with M-C, keeping a black jacket to throw own if necessary is a good idea.

  12. You look great in your suit! …and I love that you got it altered. When somebody looks great all the time and you can’t figure out why, it’s often because their clothes actually fit. 🙂

    I’m midwesterner (we’re notoriously casual), and don’t work in a particularly formal situation, but I have to say I agree, suits read as most professional to me, followed by jacket with odd pants/skirt. As someone who’s very often both the youngest person in the room and the only woman (and usually the only person without a PhD), I find that dressing more conservative/professional gives me a little edge of ‘respectability’ in their eyes.

    And I hate that.

    But I do it, when it’s important to me. At least I get to decide when I kowtow. 🙂 I guess that’s progress.

  13. Gotta agree with most of the others. Nothing says ‘serious professional’ like a suit. Perhaps you could add prints in as shells or scarves? And you look like a woman to be reckoned with in your blue suit. Fantastic.

  14. This is a really dumb question, but since I don’t work outside the home I don’t know, is a suit always considered trousers and a jacket? Can there be a dress or skirt and matching jacket option?

    You look great in your new suit and I totally understand why you took them all to the tailor.

    • Matching or coordinating suit jackets or cardigans and dresses and skirts and pants have been popular for decades. For a uniform, it’s a versatile look.

      It depends on the situation, but most women I know would only put on the jacket to go to a formal meeting or out to lunch, similar to the way most men walk around in shirt sleeves after hanging up their jackets in their offices.

      • I always wear skirt suits to work. I find them more comfortable. If nobody else is wearing them where you work though, you might have to tone down some other part of your presentation to get away with them.

  15. ok..just my two cents here. Women never get the attention they need or deserve in a business/organizational setting. The only way to change that is to look less girly and more formal. Suits are more formal than dresses, except when it comes to color. A suit in a color like purple, red, lavender, light grey, will never look as formal as a tailored dress in navy blue, burgundy, forest green, or grey. And I emphasize tailored. Long sleeves, cuffs, collar, No lace, no ruffles, no froufrou. It is sad that it requires our getting into ‘uniform’ in order for anyone to take us seriously, but that is the way of it. It is not only gender, it is also race and size. Women over 5’6″ get more attention and are taken more seriously than women below 5’5″. That’s why I never wear golf shirts, short skirts, etc. and I always wear something with shoulder pads in it to give me height, square up my shape and make me look a bit more serious.

    • I agree with almost everything you say. I do think a woman can get away with some lace and ruffles if the rest of her outfit is “hard” to balance the “soft.”

      I have also known short women who have been assertive and respected without resorting to 3-inch heels. (Being able to walk quickly and with confidence is a better fashion accessory than artificial and dangerous height). But they tended to dress very professionally, which undoubtedly boosted their confidence.

      In the past, I’ve seen a few instances of African American women lawyers dressed in suits, talking lawyer talk who still were mistaken for secretaries. That’s pathetic, but at least they knew that the mistake had nothing to do with how they were dressed.

  16. Just a couple of thoughts. I’m a teacher, but was teacher/administrator at my last school. I wore dress pants and a top and a fitted jacket all of the time. Changed it up to “nice” jeans on Fridays and often ditched the jacket part way through the day. But I’m VERY petite/young looking and felt I needed a “uniform” to assist me in gaining authority particularly when meeting with parents/school board, etc. However, I made most of my tops (love me a knit top) and some of my pants. Jackets, not so much, but kept my eye on the outlets and picked up some basic ones. I considered it a uniform and it made getting ready to go in the morning easier. A dress with a jacket or cardigan might work as well, but often I preferred pants/trousers.

    That being said, if you love what you wear and no-one higher up has said anything then carry on. But I think there’s a way to have a happy medium that you can wear suits/something suit like and also show off some personality and creativity.

    Very interesting post and love the royal blue on you.

    • If you go to a meeting at a place like the Pentagon and you are the youngest person by far and the only woman of color and everyone else is wearing suit, you should probably be wearing one too.

      People have different tastes, but I think a sparkle top is too much for a daytime office look. It’s what you’d wear to transition an outfit to evening.

      • The one thing is that I do work in a predominatly African American work environment. A little bling goes a long way here and my boss’ boss (the head person) wears a sequin top under her suits. So, I definitely took my cue from her.

        • Again, as long as you know your environment. Just dress in the manner you consider the most conservative for visits to places like the Pentagon.

          Whether we like it or not (and I do not like it), the way we dress is often used by others in more conservative places to assess whether we understand the protocols involved and are willing to do what it takes to fit in.

        • in any event, I thought you drew the right conclusion about the best way to dress for that particular meeting.

  17. I think that suits look more professional than dresses. But I confess that I like unmatched suits, eg a houndstooth jacket with plain skirt or pants, tweed jackets worn with dress pants and tailored shirts, plaid jackets with plain skirts. And interesting scarves thrown in to mix it up. I really like when people can pattern mix with panache.

  18. How interesting. I read “The culture of home sewing” recently and there was a chapter about another entrepreneurial woman from the Ukraine with a home sewing and tailoring business, accompanied by her wedding photo (wearing a self-made suit).

    I send my alterations out, too. I just don’t like doing them, and the lady at the dry cleaners does it so much faster than I could. She told me that their investment in the new, more eco-friendly dry-cleaning method cost a lot of money. And that people are dry-cleaning fewer clothes. To make their rent, she needs to increase her alterations business. She used to work in a suit factory in her native Korea and really knows her stuff. So it’s a win-win for both of us.

    Yes, I’ve been in meetings where I was the only female civvie and the female officers are always in uniform. A dark suit definitely helps lend gravitas, especially when it is my turn to speak.

  19. As someone who started working in the 70’s I also ascribe to the dress for the job you want adage. I used to work in No Va. and kept a suit and accessories on the back of my office door. It was not uncommon to plan for a relaxed, casual day and be called to the Pentagon at the last minute. Once I even bought a suit at lunch time to wear to a last minute meeting when I’d taken the suit home to change it and forgot it! Maybe one day dresses will be considered as professional as suits, but right now suits win hands down. I notice more pant suits on the racks than skirt suits, is this the trend everywhere?

  20. I love dresses and think that they are professional, especially woven ones like you said. Unfortunately if no one else is wearing dresses then you don’t look “profesional”. To me wearing suits on a daily basis is boring. Theonly thing you can change issue the top. Shoes still have to be traditional BC its a suit. I say keep at wearing your dresses and be an individual. Obviously you not wearing them so far has not hindered your career. Just wear the suits around your boss and dressier dresses to meetings. Love the suit you showed! Still being an individual with the color and sequins!

  21. I think it depends on your industry. My employer has gone to casual Monday-Friday unless you are seeing clients. One of my clients switched away from business formal about 4 years before I started here and suits are getting less common over time but not so rare that they stand out. My other clients office, lots of suits for upper management types, no suits for lower ranks. At my last job, if I showed up in a suit, people would wonder where I was interviewing.

    Personally, I don’t care for matched suits for me. It’s too formal for my environments. I like jackets but find them hard to wear under coats in winter. I often do jeans and a jacket so it’s a little more formal even on Fridays. I wear a lot of dresses.

    You, however, look awesome in that blue suit. Very good call.

  22. “I stopped at the outlets and stocked up on about six suits for under $100 each.”

    Those must be some outlets. The last time I bought suits — quite a while ago — a nice Tahari or other bridge designer suit was about $600 and the best I usually could get for that price was rayon, not wool crepe, but at least it wasn’t polyester. Quality is more important than quantity. If you buy a jacket and matching or coordinating sheath dress, skirt and pants you will get a lot of mileage by changing tops and accessories.

    I think suits are more professional. As at least one other person has said, a dress alone is too feminine. It needs structure. As Giorgio Armani once said, if a woman is wearing a dress without jacket, you know exactly what she looks like. I would always add a jacket or a professional-looking cardigan. A dress alone creates vulnerability.

    Think about Mad Men (AMC has been showing reruns). If you are an ambitious woman, you want to dress like Peggy (in the later episodes) or Faye, the psychologist, or even Joyce (?) the young lesbian character, not Joan. Joan’s over-the-top flaunting of her body is undermining to her own ambitions.

    There’s a reason that men wear suits; it’s a form of body armor. They say: “Listen to what I say, don’t focus on my body.”

    It doesn’t have to be a mannish John Malloy Dress For Success suit. A Chanel-style suit or similar silhouette can be very flattering.

    If I were you, I’d consider getting a suit sloper made. A tailor or dressmaker can make it up when you have a need. If you’re going to wear suits, why not have them look and feel perfect?

    • I confess that my suits are not wool / silk or natural fiber. They are Kasper, Anne Klein and Nine West. But, I shop where the head boss shops (the store was her suggestion to me). Trena went shopping with me and as an attorney she was far more concerened about fiber content than I. In her world, the quality / expense speaks far more than in mine.

      • True, I have worked in law firms and it matters a lot. As long as you know your environment. Still, if you ever see a good deal on a nice wool suit, see if you can buy it and take it to your tailor for an assessment on whether it can be altered.

        BTW, my suggestion about the sloper or basic block was not a reflection on your tailor. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of money getting things altered that never hung correctly. I’m sure it wasn’t the tailor; rather, there was a limit to what one could do before distorting the silhouette.

        The frustration is one of the reasons I’ve learned to sew.

  23. I think tailored, simple dresses can be just as formal as suits, but when in doubt I go with a suit. I too have a job where I have to wear suits almost every day. I HATE doing my own alterations and I really don’t think I have the skill set to do it properly, but lately I’ve been considering making one. We’ll see — it seems daunting! You’re so lucky to have a tailor for a friend!

    As for pants suits, I love them, especially in winter. But an elderly judge once told me in a pretrial conference (during which the court lays ground rules for an upcoming trial) that during trial I was to “leave the Hillary gear at home.” I would have been outraged but I was laughing so hard from pure shock! (Incidentally, there was a dress code for men too, but at least they were allowed to wear pants!)

    • When I was in grad school, a friend who was invited to interview at the FDA was told by her job-search counselor that women should go to government interviews wearing a dress suit only (suit dress? What are they called?), definitely NO PANTS SUITS. She thought it was ridiculous, arcane advice… but she followed it and has been working with the FDA for 10 years now.

    • “But an elderly judge once told me in a pretrial conference (during which the court lays ground rules for an upcoming trial) that during trial I was to ‘leave the Hillary gear at home.'”

      Unbelievable. I hope he’s gone, or that this was reported in one of those anonymous surveys.

      PBS recently ran the first part of an American Experience program on the Clintons. The endless public picking on Hillary’s wardrobe and hair is fresh in my mind.

  24. I’ve recently changed roles at work and go to a customer site 3 days a week and choose my RTW pantsuits every time. Boring but professional, what’s a girl to do? I need some more of them really, but don’t (yet) have the jacket making skills to make my own. Maybe I too need to go buy some.

  25. You look really good in that suit. I’ve been torn about suits and dresses in the workplace, because I hate wearing suits but I recognize the authority behind a suit. I think that if you’re a woman and young (or look young) you have to over dress to be taken seriously. There is only one female director in my office (there are 5 male directors), and she is always put together while the men wear khakis, jeans, and button downs. Luckily, this doesn’t mean suits, but she looks quite buttoned up in the office. It doesn’t help that there aren’t many women in my field (never mind office) but I think that women always have to dress the part more than men.

  26. Thanks for your thought-provoking post. I wonder what a man (in a business setting) who dressed nice, creative and fun would actually wear! That leads me to think that in many office environments the clothes we wear are deliberately advertising the opposite message.

    I currently work in a creative field so there is still a corporate uniform of sorts, just a different kind.

    • When I think of men in “creative” fields such as graphic design or architecture, I think of sports coats, turtlenecks, or slim merino and cashmere sweaters.

      In some ways a suit is easier. Most men who wear a nice suit that fits them properly look decent.

      I don’t think a woman can go wrong in a Chanel-style suit, but the jacket has to be the right shape. I prefer the longer, fitted version to the boxy, cropped shape.

  27. I love your style and you look marvelous in your altered blue suit! Unfortunately, sumptuary laws are still in effect in the corporate world; your dress can classify where you are in the pecking order without you ever having to speak. If you’re in a meeting at the Pentagon and you’re the youngest person there, a suit is a must – unless you’re the secretary taking the minutes… It seems like you’re bucking for a promotion. I say if everyone around you is wearing a suit, you need one too to be taken “seriously”. I think you have the right idea fashionwise to get where you want to go in your career.

    I abhor suits. As a 5’11” black woman, I command attention even if I don’t want it and suits make me look like a linebacker. In my field and my current position, there is no way I can wear a suit. Even the dresses and cardis I’ve upgraded to is “dressed up” here. Oh, the peer pressure to wear jeans!

  28. Your suits look great! I think dresses can be professional if you wear a jacket with them and the right shoes.

  29. On an average day my job really has no dress code. If I dress up, I do it for myself, for fun. So I’m not much of an expert on what looks “professional”. But I wonder if you could make some of your work dresses look more professional by putting a blazer over them?

  30. I too think suits are, overall, more professional-looking than a dress on its own. That being said, I’m not at all a fan of pantsuits (although your’s does look fabulous on you!). I far prefer skirt suits, and ones with a vintage flair/vibe to them at that (1950s-ish to be specific). I have very little reason to wear one – yet, and may never have (I’m going into a professional-like area, but will be an academic or museum person – suits are rare in my experience of both). I’d really like to have more occassions to wear one, and may find myself one day in the opposite position of being the only person in a suit among others more casually dressed, lol.

    • I did also get some skirt suits. One with a very 1950s vibe to it. The second has a chunky gold zipper accent (it needs to be taken in still). I found the skirt suits much harder to fit for me than pants. Which is odd considering how hard it is to to fit pants. But, I guess the beauty of the pants is I couldn’t see how my tush looked from the back!

  31. I am a creative type, who, when I worked in an office, would not want to wear suits, BUT, I think you are taken more seriously in a suit, than in a dress. There are exceptions, and you can make a dress/jacket work really seriously, but I think having more suits is a good idea, if that’s what your boss and her boss both wear. And you can rock a suit creatively with color–love the blue pantsuit! And you always looks so smashing anyway! I hate alterations, too, especially on a lined jacket. That’s great that you decided it’s not worth it, took your suits to a tailor, and now you can really enjoy your sewing!

  32. Unfortunately, I think how you dress at work in many fields mostly has to reflect how your boss, and the most conservative of your clients expect a ” (insert occupation)” to dress, not one’s own style or even comfort. If you are taken more seriously wearing a tailored jacket or button down shirt, surely it is better for your career to dress that way. I agree that dressing for the job you want really helps you to get that job. I find my work clothes very boring, and am not sure there is a happy medium other than retirement. I can wear what I want on the weekends.
    I think you would do a great job at sewing a suit though – and would it have to be a trouser suit?

    • Definitely not a pants suit, LOL! But, I would like to do dresses with matching jackets. Also, as it’s gotten harder for me to find good natural fiber sweaters, I’ve started thinking of blazers as a better alternative.

  33. I think the fabric choice makes all the difference. A nice woven dress can be more professional than a suit say made of cotton but it is hard to find a suit that isnt professional looking. I too am one of a total of two women of color in my entire company (125 employees), odd I know in this day and age. I can relate to the business meeting with everyone being older than you and your the only women of color in the meeting. I mostly wear suits on those days but I do have a couple of professional dresses too. The dress has to be the appropriate length for that professional touch. IMHO

  34. What a nice post. I think you look lovely in whatever you wear. Being confident in whatever you have on is the most professional in my opinion but I think I am in the minority. I LOVE your eye makeup!

  35. Interesting post and comments. It’s only recently that I’ve felt comfortable in a suit, before that I always felt like I looked like I was playing dress-ups. Now that I’ve hit 30, I don’t seem to care about things like that so much. I’m a town planner by trade, and if I need to promote the company in a bid to a client or the development to the community and/or council I will generally wear a suit (being jacket and skirt). Depending on the seriousness of the meeting, I might wear something quirky to show my personality. People judge each other instantly, and I like to err on the side of caution if it’s for something serious or important. It’s also a respect thing I suppose – showing people that interacting with them is worth presenting oneself well.

  36. I fall solidly in the “wear a suit if you’re a professional” camp. Oldest dd who is currently majoring in accounting has gotten that advice (lecture!) for attending job fairs and for future job interviews. Seems stupid…but also the way of the world. People are judged based on their professional appearance. I also told dd to not wear dresses because well, they look like you’re going to church. She thought I was nuts until she started attending those job fairs and until she became interested in gainful employment for something other than part-time/minimum wage!

    I like wearing bright colors like you do, so my first thought was fun linings! You can do a lot with that “secret” part of your suit–bright, colorful fun linings that no one but yourself will ever see! I guess it might add a bit more to the alterations cost to have those replaced, but that little happy boost might make it worth it 🙂 Good luck!

  37. I have done alterations for a living before, I don’t want to be doing it again! 🙂 Respect to all who earn their living doing alterations. Your suit looks fantastic!

  38. I think a dress with collar and sleeves says “professional” as well as woven dresses that fit well with tailoring details are also professional.
    Great looking and fitting suit!

  39. Coming from a work environment where the girls here wear low cut tops, I would take you more seriously if your boobs don’t fall out when you bend down to talk to me at my desk!! There is this new girl that wears a pantsuit to work everyday and she gets more work than those girls than have been working there longer than her.

    No one wears dresses here… not even casual Fridays which is weird!!!

  40. I have to agree that a suit says professional. Bright, patterned dresses say girly, and if you want to be taken seriously than let’s face it, girly doesn’t cut it. At your Pentagon meeting you were the only one not wearing a suit which is as much a uniform as a uniform and first impressions are a fact of life. At least buying them gets you out of sewing things you don’t want to sew. A good tailor is a godsend and you are lucky to have her. Those pants look fantastic on you.
    That doesn’t mean you don’t look great in your favorite prints, but just not at the office.

  41. Shortening a hem is one thing, and even then you might need help. More radical alterations are another and should be done by a tailor unless you have extensive tailoring experience. A small change here and there may affect the entire balance of the garment.

    There is no shame in it.

    The more I learn about sewing and tailoring the more I respect professionals.

  42. Another suggestion … Jumpers with blouses underneath can be a really pulled together option (somewhat between a dress and suit) and fun to sew. I have one in black with a deep v in the front and the back that I wear with a range of blouses underneath. I have a matching jacket but also wear this with bright jewel tone cardigans (with or without a narrow belt on top). Plus … no need to fiddle to keep the blouse tucked in and if the blouse is a bit big or buttons gape slightly, the jumper keeps things streamlined. The next one I’m making will be in a very subtle plaid.


  43. I think a suit in a meeting environment is more professional than a dress. I also agree with dress for the job you want. That said, I wear skirts and cardis almost every day and a few knit print dresses in between, but I have the job the I want (yay!) and what I wear is completely appropriate for it. The higher level women in my office (the non-lawyers in a law firm) wear suits. Not always matchy-matchy but still a jacket and pants/skirt. The lawyers, of course, wear suits. I’m with you on the jeans Friday thing. I don’t like it. Sometimes I wear them, sometimes I don’t – but that’s more so I don’t seem to be stuck up-ish to my coworkers than for what I want to do.

    You are rocking that blue suit, and you do look more serious in a work way but I love the bit of bling that makes it not boring.

    • This reminded me that four of the five senior team members are all attorneys. My boss wasn’t allowed to wear pants in court when she was a law clerk less than 10 years ago. And, when you don’t wear jeans occasionally for work things, people do get an idea about you. There aren’t a lot of women in the ‘middle’ like me. But, of the say four of us, the one who wears a suit daily is the one who is a deputy director. And, she came from a very corporate environment.

  44. Your suit is lovely, and I love the sequin top! I’m with you about alterations – hate them, and avoid them as much as possible. That being said, as a SAHM, I don’t really have a lot of tailored outfits in my wardrobe. But when I need to go to a meeting for whatever reason, I always wear a suit – usually a pants suit. I may be overdressed for, say, a school meeting, but the clothes do carry authority and garner respect! BTW, you can solve the BO problem in old garments with a good soaking in white vinegar – even just a spot soak for the area in question – and then launder or dry clean as usual. It works every time!

  45. What about a dress and a jacket? That’s the option I’m taking now that my job is much more corporate than before. The dress makes me feel like me and I can stick the jacket on over the top when I have meetings or bosses come down from the mainland. You look really lovely in this shade of blue. Is there anything you can’t wear and look gorgeous in?

    • I was thinking that myself! But, that is one thing I will not change. There is no way on this green earth I’m going back to a relaxer. For real. I have been told of women who felt pressure to keep their hair straight. I’m not one of them. And if I got even a peep of it, I’d lose it. I also think it keeps me looking ‘younger’. People assume I’m about five years younger than I am. But, I don’t care. I lose the natural and I become a woman who doesn’t work out and spends half her weekend in the salon. Nope.

  46. I hate having to say this but after 30+ years of working in corporate America the importance of a suit in undiminished. They are not about fashion but about power. That said, only time I wear one is when executives from our corp HQ are in for a visit. And for anyone who is not a white male they are still most potent means to and en. We have a VP who is African American and he *always* wears a beautiful suit. Do the white VP’s dress as well as he does? Nope. Likewise notice that Robert Reich (who is 5′ 3 ” tall) always wears a perfectly made custom suit. Fortunately the days of everyone looking like a Brooks Brothers clone are gone but anyone serious about a career in government and certain industries really needs good one good suit in their wardrobe

  47. Meant to add that if you have a RTW jacket and it just needs the sleeve shortened that’s easy and pretty fast to do yourself. I just did a tutorial for that on CourdeMODE.

  48. Dresses can be just as professional as suits depending upon the style. When I wear a ‘professional’ dress I will wear a jacket with it. You are right on to wear dress shields with your suits because it protects the inside underarm lining from deodorant stains. I buy nice camisoles made with the dress shields made into them from They are easy to wash and dry. Kleinert’s have different types of dress shields. Check them out and let me know what you think! I love the blue suit on you!

  49. Two thoughts.

    First, would you consider sharing the contact information of the woman who does your alterations for those of us who live in Baltimore?

    Second, this conversation is fascinating, especially from the perspective of someone who works from home in a “creative” profession. Rarely do I have to consider what I wear in a professional setting. That said, last year, I had a fluke job interview for a non-traditional position with a state agency (it also had an academic component) and I was completely flummoxed as to what to wear for the interview. The only suit I had didn’t fit any longer, and I hated spending money on a suit I would rarely wear. The lovely, lovely women at the Nordstroms in Columbia assured me that a conservativ dress and a cardigan would be appropriate, but now I wonder. None of the people interviewing me were dressed as formally as I was (black dress, yellow cardigan, pearls, heels), but after reading the comments, it sounds like a suit is a no-brainer even if it makes you the most formally dressed person in the room.

    • Oh, yes. A Sewing Place, (410) 661-5925. It’s in Overlea in Baltimore County. She’s GREAT. I refer her to everyone. My bosses get their clothes tailored there too.

  50. Reading your blog sometimes makes me miss home so much, is that the shop out there off of Bel Air Rd? I have driven past it a few times if it is and always wanted to stop in. Any way I remember when I was a business student at Howard how they always had us wear either black or navy blue suits, humm don’t miss it either. Love your blog

  51. Opps I see you answered that in the post before mines. sorry And Oh I have been in that situation a few times being the only Black American in the room, once someone asked me if I had ever been called an oreo cookie.

  52. The blue suit looks fantatic on you. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on your post. Most interesting. I feel that a dress can be just as professional as a standard suit. Now, I do feel it depends on the design and that it should be woven. I think as women we sometimes forget that we really have alot more flexibility in the professional dress area that what we think. What it gets down to is finding balance and learning how to accessorize your wardrobe. I have worked in super ultra conservative environments and I didn’t stick to the standard blue, black and gray. I wore color, dresses with/without jackets, skirts/pants suits. (now when I say color, I not talking about neon brights) I was able to progress and was taken seriously.

    Currently, at my job we are able to wear jeans the first Friday of each month. I do participate. But I keep it at dressy business causual level. I alway wear a dark demin pair it with a nice jacket or sweater jacket, nice accessories and pumps.

    I remember my career mentor saying that the dress is only a part of the professional image. In order to have a complete professional image you must back it with confidence and integrity.

  53. Your pant suit looks fabulous and I think you’re very smart to have an alterations pro help you. I confess, I would rather make an outfit from scratch than to take up the hem in a pair of pants!
    If you’re at a Pentagon meeting, the Chanel style suit won’t make it — it’s just too feminine. I really think only a skirt suit – with lapel jacket – is the best thing for those meetings. Hopefully you don’t have to meet there too often. I liked the post about keeping a Pentagon-appropriate suit & accessories in the office for surprise meetings!

    I can’t go to work without a blazer or jacket — I feel EXPOSED! It all depends on the office/industry culture!
    Keep on sewing & smiling!

  54. On the job, it’s not so much about what you wear as how smart you are and how well-liked. And I’ve noticed that the likability factor has a lot to do with how attractive you are. I feel very comfortable in suits and like to wear them but dresses are just fine too. Of course, your environment matters. If you were the only one wearing suits while other colleagues dressed more casually, you would not be impressing anyone. To me, it’s more important that I am conservatively and well-dressed. That means no extra tight or short clothes and no showing of cleavage. That’s just tacky and inappropriate for work.

    In my office, there’s a young lady who wears crisp, white or pastel colored shirts with tight fitting pencil skirts every day. That’s her uniform. Is that appropriate? I don’t know but she looks good. Somehow, I don’t think that would work against her in terms of getting where she wants to be in the company.

    I don’t buy the idea that one must wear a suit to be taken seriously.

  55. Great post. Great comments. I know exactly where you’re coming from and have been thinking about this exact thing recently. As a lawyer I probably should wear a suit (or at least a jacket) every day. But I don’t. I wear dresses, twinsets, pleated skirts, flat shoes, florals, polka dots, and sometimes suits. I already have the job I want and I genuinely feel that the people I work with, including my superiors, take me seriously.

    Perhaps I’m the only one who feels you can still be taken seriously wearing something other than a suit. It just needs to be appropriate for the circumstances and look good on you.

    I don’t think any less of Michelle than Hilary. I know who I’d rather sit next to at a dinner party.

  56. As a professional, I often wear a skirt and coordinating jacket or structured cardigan. I wear a formal suit (skirt suit, not pants suit) for very official activities. Alternatively, I often wear a dress and jacket. I occasionally wear pants and a coordinating jacket. I don’t own any pants suits since I rarely wear pants to work. I prefer skirts for leisure wear, too. But, because pants are the norm for most women at work I think my skirts with coordinating jackets or structured cardigans lend a professional but slightly more informal air. They definitely come across as more formal than pants with a coordinating jacket would. I never wear pants without a jacket, and rarely wear a dress without a jacket even in the heat of summer. Then I wear a very lightweight summer jacket, but always at least a 3/4 length sleeve.

  57. Love your clothes, love your suits, and your hair. Natural is the way to go; whether it’s your chic short crop, or my pin-strait, spiky pixie (after happily moving on from bad perms).

  58. While I don’t normally wear suits to the office because it’s generally “business casual”… I do believe whole-heartedly, suits are much more professional than dresses. When we have guests in the office, the attire is changed to “office professional” and the majority of women wear either dresses or tops & a skirt (a little nicer than they normally wear). What I notice, is how much more attention is initially paid to the women in suits. It appears they’re approached first as managers or leaders (even when they’re not!). This basically echoes what was said here about dressing for the job you want…not the one you currently have!

  59. Suits are definitely more professional in certain situations. TV shows and certain cable news programs are showing women wearing wearing dresses that would look more appropriate at a cocktail party. I want to be known for the job I can do.

  60. You look fantastic. Your tailor did an awesome job and the suits fit you perfectly. It bums me out in general, though, that such a big part of our definition of “professionalism” for women comes down to suits vs. dresses, twinsets, and the like. I understand why you would feel uncomfortable and conspicuous in certain work situations. Clothes *do* matter. As a person who drafts and sews a lot of my clothes, I certainly believe that clothing and style are important both personally and to how we are perceived by the world. I suppose I wish everyone’s perceptions of clothing and professionalism were as nuanced as your average home sewist’s! Maybe that’s the thing; it all means more to a person who sews. There’s just something about the whole professional attire for women debate that doesn’t sit well with my feminist, home sewing self!

    But none of that is to take away from how bangin’ you look in those suits. Also- love the hair. 🙂

  61. I remember one of the things the fashion world was abuzz about was that our First Lady made the dress the new suit. Perhaps that was just the sentiment of the more fashion forward? Maybe it has yet to trickle down to the masses?

  62. Tailored business suits are more professional in my work world, where women in managing partner roles like mine are very, very few in numbers…much less young women. On occasion, I might wear a tailored, solid colored dress (in a wool or woven, i.e., black linen) . I would wear the dress for a meeting at our offices, but if I went out to a client, it would be in a skirt or pants suit. I typically “invest” in a few high-end, very well made suits in neutral colors (black, charcoal gray, stone, dark plum) but with a bit of feminine detailing. For in office days, I usually have a group of tailored pants with beautiful tops or loose-fitting cashmere sweaters along with a tailored jacket that I could take off while I am working on my own in my office. I do sew some of the pieces that I wear to the office, but they tend to be very tailored and time intensive pieces. I have found a few good TNT top patterns that work well under suit jackets. A change of fabric or a little tweak and no one would know I did not buy it along with the suit. Also, I have a few simple tailored column type dresses with matching jackets for the warmer weather. I have believed in dressing for the job you want idea. You look wonderful in your suit.

  63. Fascinating post.
    My (psycho and thankfully) ex-boss wanted me to wear a tie with my postal uniform polo shirt. The mail is very rough on clothes. One has to enjoy whatever humor you could take from the situation – a tie to dress up a polo about did me in.

    That and listening to that boss make multiple and increasingly strident phone calls on if there was a tie to wear with the polo shirt. lol

    So glad I am not having to make decisions about wearing a suit.

  64. I feel the same way about alterations. I enjoy sewing to create a garment, not to alter one. I think your money was well spent. I also think that even though a dress can be VERY professional (think the current First Lady all the way back to Mrs. Bush), but it still doesn’t hold the same weight in the working world as a pant suit. There is still a glass ceiling that women have to push through in the workplace. I’m trying to get a good balance myself.

  65. You know how I feel about suits. I was trying to recall the last time I wore a full suit and honestly cannot. Must have been for a deposition 5 years ago. I need to get on altering the suits I bought, just in case!

  66. Hi, I want to say your tailor did a great job, especially on the pants. I want to say I love suits; but this topic touches on something more important than a work outfit, it ask can a woman be taken seriously dressing in strictly female attire. As to clothing when it comes to the term professional instead of the word meaning to present yourself in a serious and work ready way, it often means masculine. For men especially in our casual culture the suit equals formal and thus important. For a woman today a dress, every wear except at work, is considered more formal than a pant option. I think this goes back to early feminist thinking that they had to imitate male clothing to be taken seriously on the job. I am grateful for the hard won open door, but we must progress, this thinking is counter productive. It reinforces the thought that men, with their clothing being a extension of them, are to be taken more seriously than women. As has been stated people often view strictly female attire as the uniform of support staff. However, aren’t these women also at work? Is it ok for them not to puppet male attire because they are not doing supposedly masculine things like making decisions, or managing? These are just my thoughts, but please keep in mind that you were already in that board room in a Dress, having been a person who wears dresses and not in any way compromised because of it. Old school thinkers (some of them female) will say do as I have done to get where I have gotten. You though have a chance to be part of the next wave; who don’t stoop to answer the question (vocally or by attire) are women as competent as men, but rather know that the intelligent understude there never was a valid question of it.

  67. Your suit looks great Like the alterations question did you make the dress you have on in the pic inside the alteration shop. It looks nice on you if you made it what pattern did you use? Just my 2 cents pant suits are more professional but I like dresses better

  68. I work in the public sector (and I have an inkling that you may too) and the dress code is more relaxed than in business. But having said that, the thing that distinguishes the managers and those who want to be managers and the rest are suits. A suit needn’t be a matching top and bottom. I team lighter jackets with dark pencil skirts or trousers.

  69. Whoa! “Pre-packaged”? I think not! Very, very fresh! Hillary should be so lucky — honestly, she’s put me off suits entirely, since hers are so dowdy and so often in insipid colors. (Not that she has much of a choice.) But your version is incredible, and you look so smashing in it!

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