It's amazing what you can do with one suit, a skirt, a blouse, a few colored t-shirts and accessories. There are so many combinations. You probably have a few shirts already that you can put with a new pant suit or skirt. With suiting, when you're just starting out it's important to stick with simple black or a dark navy as your base. Black is such a common color in our society it virtually goes unnoticed, no one will notice if you've worn a piece more than once a week. Most importantly: Black Goes With Everything.
Getting Your Money's Worth
As for cheaper options, it is important to shop around but you'll find, unless you're buying big designer names, suiting is basically around the same price. It's important to think of it as making an investment in yourself. And you'll probably be wearing the items once a week or more depending on whether you're working full time. So you'll be getting your money's worth out them.
Functional not Fashionable
Think style not fashion. You can add fashionable pieces later once you have developed a wardrobe base. It's important to remember fashionable pieces go out of fashion quickly. When it's gone so is the money you invested into it. "Remember the difference between fashion and style: fashion is trendy and faddish, whereas style is about classic choices that will stand the test of time. Style is about what looks good on us" (Rita Farro, Life is Not a Dress Size).
Save Me the Money
Depending on your size, going second hand may be extremely hard especially in the plus sizes although it is starting to become better. I found a pair of jeans a few weeks ago for $14.99 (CAN) from Value Village. They were brand spanking new and a size 28. They would have cost $40+ new. I was thrilled. But there was nothing else of interest. It doesn't hurt to shop around the second hand stores but make sure you stick to nearly new items and the clothes fit. Don't buy something with the "I will lose a few pounds" mentality. It's a waste of money and a bruiser for your self-esteem.
Another option if you're really pressed for cash is Dressed for Success. Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that assists low-income women transitioning from unemployment to self-sufficiency, starting with the donation of one suit and continuing with ongoing support and career development.
The Sales Associate is Your Friend
Before you go shopping, make a budget of what exactly you can afford. Most clothing stores have in-store training for their sales associates and it's not just about making a sale. They learn the ins and outs of their products, body types and co-ordinating styles for the best looks. The best time to shop is during the day, during the week so you can talk to a full-time associate who's had the most training. Don't be afraid to ask for someone elses help if you doubt the abilities of the one you have.
Let them know your budget and that you need their help to stretch it. You'll be surprised how many outfits they can put together for you with just a few items. If they aren't willing to help you then you're in the wrong establishment and should take your money elsewhere. Don't worry about offending. This is your hard earned money. Be polite and leave.
How many outfits can you make with 10 pieces? Let's see:
Pants/white blouse/colored t-shirt
*note: Please don't use some FOL t-shirt. Buy a nice colored one. The cotton spandex ones are dressier.
What You Can Expect to Pay
Suit jacket - $79.99 - 169.99
Pants $49.99 - 79.99
T-shirts 9.99 - 40
Scarfs $5 - 15
Necklace $5 - 20
So you're looking in the range of $230 - 400 ($180 - 330 US). A hefty price at first glance but you don't have to go all out at once. Luckily, suits are sold as separates now with different pant types so you can buy one piece now and another piece later. You must have something in your closet to pair with a suit pant and jacket.
Assuming you only work five days a week, you really can go far with just a few items. As mentioned before. Start off with the black dress pants or skirt and blouse to get you through your interview. If you can splurge for the jacket, pants and skirt you should be able to make it through your first pay period. On pay day you can add a new blouse or some coloured t's to get you to the next pay period and so on.
Later you can expand with another suit, a dress or two and a few more blouses. Maybe even a few fashion pieces. My final tip: When you find something that fits well and you like, spend the extra money to buy a few in different colours. Now you can relax because you know you look good. Smile and focus on your interview questions. Good Luck!
Online Stores With the Working Woman in Mind
* Addition Elle - I'm a little biased as most of my suiting is from here. I love their clothing for style, cut and quality. It's a bit pricy so sale shopping is a must. Sizes start at 14-24 in most styles, some 26. This is a Canadian chain.
* Catherines - They have a nice assortment of career jackets and pants in plus size, petite plus and extended sizes. The prices are reasonable for suiting. Site is easy to manoeuvre and order from. Keep an eye out for free shipping.
* LL Bean - Sizes go up to 20. I know you wouldn't expect much from them in plus sizes but they are trying. There isn't a lot of career wear, mostly casual. There is however a really nice wool/cashmere jacket that comes in 4 colours. It's priced for $138. I didn't mention it earlier but camel (colour) looks awesome with black. This would be a nice piece to add down the road. They also offer the virtual model experience which is really cool.
* Ulla Popken - You have to do a lot of searching to find the deals and matching pieces.
For a piece of fashion:
* Avenue - Cheeky, girly fashions. Bright colours, flowing fabrics for work or play. You've never seen models look so happy.
* Lane Bryant - Limited basic suiting but lots of fun fashion career wear.
* Kiyonna - Sophisticated and trendy tops and dresses for sizes 12+. Higher end.