Have you ever spent a few weeks on a Ramen noodle diet just to indulge in a fashion moment? (Yes, me too.) But it’s actually okay to blow your budget once in awhile, as long as it’s on the right pieces: the classics that make you look like a million bucks (and ultimately cost you only pennies per wear because you’ll have them forever).
So put down the $150 leopard-print skinny jeans (sorry, those won’t last), and pick up a pair of perfectly-tailored black pants instead. Here’s how to shop for the three investment pieces that belong in every working girl’s closet.
A Haute Handbag
According to a British survey, the average woman owns 17 different handbags! (I admit, they’re my own obsession.) If you’re on a budget, though, consider swapping a closet full of disposable purses for one classic investment bag. The cheaper bags may be fun, but if they’re made with a shoddy quality or follow a fleeting fad, they’ll probably only last a few months. But a great purse? You’ll reach for it year after year, interview after interview, knowing it will always make the right impression.
So, what should you choose? You don’t have to go label crazy, but choose a brand that’s been around for a while, since a more established designer will likely use better materials and put more craftsmanship and care into their pieces. To save on your splurge, check out sites like Last Call by Neiman Marcus, where you can often find brands like Michael Kors, Furla, and Botkier for 60% off their retail price.
When you’re looking to make a long-term commitment, choose a neutral color (like black, gray, or brown), and an enduring shape—the styles that will look just as modern 10 years from now are often the simplest, like a tote or hobo.
Go with a material that will resist ripping and fading, too. If you’re a neat freak who can keep a handbag looking immaculate through everyday wear, you’ll be fine with a smooth, polished leather. But if you’re tougher on your bags, choose a textured or embossed leather (like those that look like alligator) since they won’t show scratches or stains as easily. As for size, take the Goldilocks approach: not too big, not too small, just right. You should feel comfortable carrying your purse from the office out to dinner.
And take care of it to make sure it keeps: When not using your gorgeous new bag, stuff it with tissue paper to hold its shape and store it in its dust bag (or a pillow case).
A Power Suit
A successful DC attorney recently told me that when she was working as a secretary at a prestigious law firm, one of the higher-ups gave her the best advice she’s ever received: Dress as if you already have the job that you want. That’s why a matching jacket and pants (or skirt) set is more than just the sum of its parts—it’s a power suit that has C-level written all over it. An investment in your career? Well, that’s arguably the most important clothing purchase you can make.
Choose a high-quality fabric you can wear year round, like 100% worsted wool or cotton twill. These natural fabrics look and wear better than polyester blends (and tend to be constructed with more attention to detail). Each piece should be fully lined with straight hems, and all pockets, collars, and buttons should lie smooth without any gapping. A perfect fit is the most important element of a suit, so try on as many as possible—this is not the time for online shopping.
Stores like Banana Republic have a wide selection of separates in different cuts, so you can really customize your look. When you try on a jacket, look for shoulders about an inch wider than your own with the sleeves ending at your wrist bone. Button it up to make sure there’s no pulling or gapping over the chest. Consider skipping pockets in pants, as they add bulk to your hips rather than following a smooth, elegant line. And always shop with the heels (or at least heel height) you plan on wearing to ensure the right length.
And if you’ve never had your clothing tailored, start now. The extra $30-50 is more than worth it for a custom-fit suit that gives you interview-acing confidence.
While we all lust for a closet of Louboutins, most of us can’t plunk down a car payment every time we fall in love with a sexy sandal. But when you’re picking the pair that you’ll wear almost daily, it’s worth working some overtime.
Skip fabric (and especially pleather, which makes your feet sweat and never looks like the real thing), and choose a good-quality leather that will only look better with age. The softer and suppler the leather, the better it will mold to your foot. Look for cushioning or padding under the insole and ball of the foot so that shoe you spend most of your waking hours in is as comfy as possible.
As with any investment, forgo faddish embellishments and colors and opt for a classic. A high-quality riding boot will always look elegant in a Gwyneth Paltrow kind of way. So will a ballet flat, or a simple, sophisticated nude high-heeled pump you can wear to work or a wedding. A huge platform? As hot as it looks right now, chances are you won’t be reaching for it next year—or even tomorrow, if it makes walking a chore.
Next time you’re looking for a splurge (is your tax refund burning a hole in your pocket?), indulge in a timeless, classy staple. You won’t be sorry—and you’ll probably still be wearing it years from now.
Photo courtesy of Maegan Tintari.