Shopping for Your Best Business Attire

Posted July 25, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in Building Your Brand

A big shopping trip before a round of job interviews or before a business trip can be a lot of fun, but it can quickly turn frustrating when you can’t seem to find anything that fits.  You stand in the dressing room looking at the pile of clothes, wondering: Did I gain weight?  Are this season’s styles just not fitting me right?  Is it this particular store?

Chances are, it’s not all you.  When I go shopping for professional clothing, I find that I’m a different size in pants and skirts at nearly every store I go to.  I’ve purchased anywhere from a size four to a size ten.  At one point, I had to accept I had put on a little weight, but even when I slimmed back down, my sizes were all over the board.  Unfortunately, this is very common. explains why:

It’s no mistake.  The American apparel industry has created an intentional system of ‘Vanity Sizing.’  The increasing use of the smaller sizes–a size 12 in 1970 is now in the size four-six-eight range–is meant to make consumers feel better about buying clothing.”

I’m sure we’ve all had that moment when we put on a pair of pants and rejoiced: “Wow, I’m a size four now?”  Well, not quite, but it does give us the boost of confidence we might need for an upcoming interview or meeting.

So how do you find the right business attire, when your sizes are different everywhere you go?  During graduate school, I worked for several months at a professional women’s clothing store, and I learned a thing or two about finding the right clothes.

  1. Try Different Brands.  I know many women like to stick with one store and one particular style.  Unfortunately, styles change with the seasons, and what might have looked good on you last year at a store might not work for you this year.  Try different brands before you buy, or buy different items from different stores so that you can mix and match.
  2. Try Different Sizes.  Since your size can be different at any store, don’t just reach for the size you usually are.  If you take only that size into the dressing room, you decrease your chance of finding a good fit.  You will probably get frustrated and walk out, and miss something that would have looked great on you in the next size up.  Or worse yet, you’re in a time crunch and end up buying and wearing the wrong size.  Walking into a meeting with something that’s too tight or too loose can make you look sloppy and unprofessional — and no one wants that.
  3. Try Different Styles.  Some women are lucky and can wear many different cuts and styles, while others look better in certain types.  Just because you’ve always worn pencil skirts doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try an A-line skirt.  Branch out of your comfort zone a bit and try different styles — you might be pleasantly surprised.
  4. Try Different Materials.  Pants and suits come in all sorts of blends — knit, wool, linen, cotton — usually depending on the season.  Try out many different blends to see what lays on your body the best.  I’ve taken home a lot of suits and worn them, only to discover that within five minutes, the skirt is wrinkled and the lines don’t smooth themselves out without using an iron or steamer.  Some materials are more prone to wrinkles or pulling, so beware.
  5. Get Alterations!  Just because a pant is too long doesn’t mean you should buy the next size down.  It’s much better that the pant fit you in the waist.  You can always take the pants in for alterations.  If you take the one home that’s just a little too tight, you’ll end up leaving them in the back of your closet in favor of those pants that don’t hurt you.

We all know how important it is to present the best version of ourselves to clients and potential employers.  If something doesn’t fit you right, you will be conscious of it, and it will become a distraction.  As much as we don’t want to be vain, the truth is that when we look better, we feel more confident.  So don’t be afraid of the size on the label and don’t be afraid to spend a day at the mall figuring out what looks best — it will pay off for you in the long run.

Read more about “Vanity Sizing” here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website

One Comment


    I love taking my suits to the tailor. I have long arms, so I often have the arms on jackets lengthened an inch or two. Having garments that fit perfectly is priceless–and usually costs less than you would think. An extra $10-$15 can go a long way.

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