(This question may not be what you think it is. Or maybe it is!)
The lovely Gin writes:
I am at an attorney in Northern California. I am constantly on the look out for court and office appropriate attire: suits, professional dresses, separates, etc. But with my trial schedule and my location (wine country which is beautiful and I love it! But woefully deficient in the shopping department!) it’s difficult for me to find the time for an all day excursion to the mall.
Could you please help a girl out and point me in the direction of some websites where I can stock up on professional clothing, at a price that won’t make my husband sigh in resignation thinking that we will have to delay our planned retirement? Further, as summer approaches, do you or your regular readers have suggestions for professional work wear that isn’t going to have me toppling over in court from heat stroke?
First of all, please take a moment to imagine my look of horror at the idea of an all-day excursion to the mall. Okay, thanks. Lord, I never spend all day at a mall. I’m pretty sure that’s either the third or fourth circle of hell. And the good news, Gin, is that you don’t need to! There are plenty of ways to outfit yourself for work so that you’re not 1) overheated, 2) broke, or 3) obligated to hit the mall.
Let’s get to work.
Okay, first things first: As much as I love shopping online, the reality is that it’s very difficult to order clothes without trying them on and get a perfect fit every time. Unless it’s a store/brand that you know tends to fit you, there’s a bit of guesswork involved. And sometimes stuff simply isn’t going to fit. So I, personally, love to order from stores where I can get free shipping and return stuff locally. I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than once that I almost always order several different sizes at once from Kohls, because I can get free shipping and then just return the extras to the store. (I’m still making a trip, but I don’t have to try things on in a cramped dressing room under ugly fluorescent lights.)
Aside from Kohls, other stores with which I employ this strategy, all of which would probably have clothing meeting your needs, Gin, and likely have local brick-and-mortar version, too: Ann Taylor Loft, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Target (yes! Target! They have some really cute stuff), and (occasionally) Coldwater Creek. All of these stores (with the exception of Dillard’s, which often has clearance prices so good I’m willing to pay shipping) have frequent sales and specials and free shipping available, and tend to have local outlets.
To a lesser degree (and their “business” options are fewer), I’ll also look to Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End, though I don’t have local outlets of either of these stores. (Oh, wait. I guess you can return Lands’ End stuff to Sears.)
If I want to go shopping, though, I avoid the mall altogether. I will never stop singing the praises of the ubiquitous cut-price fashion “outlets” like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, SteinMart, and the like. These are always my favorite places to snap up big bargains on fancy brands.
Hopefully that gives you some ideas about where to shop. As for what to buy when you’re dealing with the heat, well, this is where you can be all about layers, baby. Even an attorney needn’t wear the standard suit all the time. But if you do wear a suit, obviously you can wear a sleeveless shell or other warm-weather-worthy top under your jacket, so that out of the court room you can remove your jacket and cool down a bit.
Knee-length skirts are flattering on just about every body type, and a classic pencil skirt can be business-level dressy in a jiffy with very little help—the right blouse, shoes and accessories will get you about 98% of the way there, and then a tailored cardigan or blazer or even a little swing jacket can do the rest. Those short-sleeved and elbow-length topper jackets are very in right now, and they’ll add polish without being too hot.
Similarly, a sheath dress is easily dressed more business-like or less depending on what you pair it with, and shouldn’t overheat you even in the summer.
Look at it this way: Men (poor men!) pretty much have to wear a suit to be business-dress ready. They have to have a tie, too. That’s hot and constricting and boring. As women, we have a lot more options (thank goodness!), and can stay cool in skirts and dresses and even look perfectly business-like in a nice broad scoopneck top or whatever. (But no cleavage for the court room, please! Also, sandals aren’t ever going to be business appropriate, but a cute slingback or peep-toe with a moderate heel will keep you cool and still keep you looking like a pro.) (And shoes are easy; be sure to order from a free-shipping, free-returns store such as Zappos, Shoebuy.com, Endless, or Shoes.com—then order a couple of sizes and return the ones that don’t fit.)
And my very favorite part of business dress in the hot weather? If you have long hair, wearing it up always seems more formal (as long as you don’t do it with a banana clip or whatever), and also keeps your neck cool. Win-win!
Readers? What am I missing? Help Gin out, because we don’t want her to melt or go bankrupt!