A friend's husband recently referred to me as a "big chick." I suppose I should have been insulted--those words are generally not the way to a woman's heart. But really, I can't argue. I am a big chick. I stand just a hair under six feet tall in my stocking feet. I have wide shoulders, wide hips, a big ass, huge legs. I'm sturdy. Solid. Big. And, as I've mentioned here before (at length, actually), this leads to a world of issues when it comes to buying clothes.
Lately, my problem is suits. I've had several occasions where I needed a suit, and I didn't really have one. I had a few skirts and a few jackets, none of which were a matched set. Those crutched me along for a bit, but really, given my profession, where I'm at now, and where I aspire to be, I needed a suit. At least one, and preferably several.
So I shopped. I started with discount stores (Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Burlington Coat Factory). Moved to the outlet mall. Then department stores (Nordstrom, Macy's). Then more specialized clothing stores (Ann Taylor, Banana Republic). I found one skirt suit, at Ross. In what has to be the most random good luck ever, it fits well. However, it's cheaply constructed, from polyesther fabric, and it's not a long-term suit, it's a novelty suit. I've worn it a couple of times, and I don't hate it, but I don't feel great in it either.
What I really want, I decided is a basic, classic, pants suit. If I had that to fall back on, my motley assortment of professional duds could fill in for the rest, and I could even take my time and wait for other suits to find me. But I need that basic fall-back suit. And every store I could think of had already failed me, mostly in that nobody had pants long enough--if they carry talls in the stores, they don't carry them up to my size (because a 0 Tall is so much more likely than a 16 Tall, apparently). The best course of action, I decided, would be to order a suit from every online retailer I could think of that carried a non-synthetic version in my size, and then compare them all. One would surely work.
I expected to be ordering ten or so. I found five. For the sake of easy comparison, I tried them all on with the same shirt (the slim stretch shirt from J. Crew, also available in tall) and shoes (the Dayna from Circa Joan & David, which used to be available at Nordstrom but isn't anymore).
Suit 1: The Limited
Cassidy Luxe Bootcut Pants in black, $98 (mine were on sale for $39.90)
Lux Narrow Peak Lapel Jacket in black, $198
Total with shipping, tax, and the promo code I found: $203.30
I wanted to love this suit. I liked the idea of being able to wear clothes from The Limited--it seemed hip. And the price was right. But it doesn't work. The pants are too tight at the thigh and the 35" long inseam is not quite long enough for me with heels. The jacket isn't a long, and you can tell that it's not quite long enough on my torso, nor are the sleeves quite as long as I'd like them to be. The rise of the buttons is also a bit low for me. Finally, there is some detailing around the collar that Mark liked, thinking it gave visual interest, but I thought made the suit look cheap.
So this one is going back. However, as a reader FYI, The Limited is now having their semi-annual suit sale, where you get free pants or a skirt if you buy the a jacket. I really love the look of this jacket,, if you have a body a bit more suited to The Limited's styles and sizes.
Suit 2: Eddie Bauer
Blakely Fit Wool Gabardine Trousers in black, $109, $119 for tall
Wool Gabardine Blazer in black, $149, $159 for tall
Total with shipping and tax: $310.00
I was already pissed at Eddie Bauer for charging extra for talls when this arrived. I just think that's chinzy. But the suit didn't help matters any. The pants are strangely big in the crotch, making them bunch up in a really unattractive way. They're also the not-quite-long-enough 35" inseam. The jacket, while long enough, has this ridiculous double-pocket thing that makes it look like a waiter's uniform. Eddie Bauer has other jacket styles, of course, but this the only one they have in wool. So it's going back.
Again, as a reader FYI, Eddie Bauer has a promotion going on now where you get 20% off your entire order if your order includes any pair of pants. The code is FR2PANTS.
Suit 3: Banana Republic
Martin fit black suit pant, $98
Tall lightweight wool black blazer, $198
Total with free shipping and tax: $310.80
This BR suit was definitely the best quality of the ones I tried. It felt the best on, and looked to be the best made. The jacket fit perfectly--just the right length, right button stance, good sleeves. And the pants, with a 36" rather than 35" inseam, were the perfect length. But once again, far too tight in the thighs for me to be really comfortable with.
Going up a size isn't an option here--I'm at the top of the size range for the majority of these retailers, and I also know from experience that going up a size will result in a huge waist gap (which can be tailored, but that's one more step and one more expense). However, something told me there might be other pants options at BR that would work better, so after I tried this suit on I took another look at the website, and found the online only Jackson fit lightweight wool suit pants. Since they're intended for curves, I'm hoping these will give me a better fit than the Martin fit. If they do, I'll keep them and jacket and this will be my new go-to suit.
Suit 4: Talbots
Heritage Fit Seasonless wool-blend boot cut pants in black, $119 regular, $95.21 with coupon code
Seasonless wool-blend jacket in black, $199 regular, $159.19 with coupon code
Total with shipping and tax: $272.37
Talbots isn't somewhere I would have thought of on my own, but somebody suggested them to me as a place with nice suits that come in long lengths. I really liked what I saw on the website, so I thought I'd give it a try. The pants aren't lined. Really? Suit pants that aren't lined? Scratchy wool? Um, no. Plus they're too tight in the thighs (sensing a theme?). Plus they're 35" inseam and thus too short for heels. Fail all the way around. And the jacket is, if anything, worse. I loved it on the model, but even though it's supposed to be a tall, it hit me 3 or 4 inches higher than it does her, making it look cropped and boxy. No thanks. These are both going back.
Suit 5: Ann Taylor
Tall Tropical Wool Modern Lined Trouser in black, $128 regular, $108 on sale
Tall Tropical Wool 2-Button Jacket in black, $198
Total with tax and shipping and a coupon code: $240.98
Once again, this one got close. I like the jacket--Mark found it too conservative, but that's what I was going for. It's a nice classic shape and it's long enough, with buttons in the right place and sleeves that actually fit. The trousers are long enough, too--36" inseam--but the thighs once again are too tight. However, I did the same thing at Ann Taylor I did at Banana Republic and went back to the website, where I found a curvy fit style. Since the curvy ones were only available in my size in gray, I ordered those and another jacket, the same style, in gray. If they work out, I'll keep them.
All in all, this exercise wasn't a complete failure--three suits were totally out of the question, but two were possibilities, with modifications. If either (or better yet, both!) the Banana Republic or the Ann Taylor pants in the curvier fit work for me, I'll have a suit! And then I can quite happily go back to hoping I'll never have to wear it.