Keep it MBAchic: in pursuit of a classic black suit

In pursuit of the classic black suit

As a newly-admitted MBA student, one of the first sartorial challenges you will face is finding the classic black suit that will take you from networking events to recruiting interviews and beyond. This week, we’ve collaborated with incoming Fuqua student Saule Agdauletova, to try eight popular brands and give you the low-down on what to expect from their suit offerings. Stay tuned for Saule’s insights from the dressing room, and let us know which brands you’d recommend!

Saule: As an incoming full-time MBA, I’m looking to invest in the basics, and that means starting with a classic black suit. I have not needed a classic business suit before, so I have never had one. However, MBA is a transitional experience for not only my career but also my wardrobe. I need a suit for MBA recruiting, and want something that is classic, so I can wear it to most formal events. I’m 5’11” and wear a size 6, but my reviews will capture more than just what you need to know if you’re looking for tall suits. Join me for an honest review of these popular brands!

What kind of a business suit I am looking for?

The suit has to be black because black works with anything. I prefer pants, but I wear skirts as well. Even though I need the suit only during recruiting I’m going to wear it intensively, so it has to be comfortable and have good quality. Preferably 100% wool. As mentioned, I am tall, and I like when sleeves and pant legs have a full length on me.

What is my budget?

I don’t have an exact number and I don’t want to pay for a brand name, so I am not going to try luxury brands. All the options I found are between $200 ($ in the ratings below) and $750 ($$$ in the ratings below).

How I picked stores to visit?

I created a survey on my Instagram where I asked my girlfriends to share their favorite business suit brands (I have about 50 female subscribers working in banking or consulting). I tried only those suits that I found in New York City stores.

Finding that classic black suit

This search took me to eight different stores in New York City – let me know which ones you’ve tried, which you’ve liked and what others you would add to this list!

Banana Republic

Price Range
Quality of Material

The suit models at Banana Republic are classic. I like them because they are universal and can be worn for all recruiting events. I can’t tell if the suit fits me perfectly, because the pants in the store were ankle length (which I don’t like). Skirts were ok. Every piece has a simple cut but the quality is surprisingly good. I tried this blazer and these pants, but ankle-length really isn’t for me.

Lengths: Petite, Regular, Tall

Elie Tahari

Price Range
Quality of Material

Spoiler alert: I got my classic black suit from Elie Tahari! I haven’t seen sizes in Tall or Petite, but its standard sizes fit me perfectly, which is great news for anyone in the market for a suit. I bought the Darcy jacket and the Jillian slim pant.

Material is 95% wool and looks and feels great; I know this will last me through all sorts of recruiting and networking events.

Lengths: Standard fits me at 5’11”

Ann Taylor

Price Range
Quality of Material

Ann Taylor suits have models for different heights, which is great, and super inclusive. However, the suits’ quality did not impress me. The suit material is 50% polyester, and the simple cut of the suits didn’t fit me well. I tried the One-Button Blazer in Seasonless Stretch and the Seamed Pencil Skirt In Seasonless Stretch. It might have been the particular suit I tried, that wasn’t the best – I’d be interested to hear if you’ve had success with Ann Taylor suiting, and which styles you would recommend!

Lengths: Petite, Regular, Tall

Calvin Klein at Macy’s

Price Range
Quality of Material

I liked the curve of the Calvin Klein suit and the way it looked. I tried the One-Button Blazer and the Cropped Skinny Pants. The silhouette is great, however, the material was 100% synthetic. There were only ankle-length pants in the store, which, as mentioned, I am not a huge fan of wearing, so I didn’t invest in a classic black suit at the Calvin Klein at Macy’s.

Lengths: Ankle length in store

J.Crew

Price Range
Quality of Material

The classic black suit I tried at J.Crew was slightly disappointing. The simple cuts were encouraging but the material was low quality, and “puffing” in places. Was looking forward to trying these but the 100% synthetic materials left something to be desired. Would love to know if perhaps it was the specific suit I chose, and if you’ve had better experiences? I tried the Regent blazer in four-season stretch, and the Edie full-length trouser in four-season stretch. Please let me know!

Lengths: Petite, Regular, Tall

Everlane

Price Range
Quality of Material

I like the idea of a less formal suit, but Everlane did not have exactly what I needed. Its models don’t seem right for a classic business interview, but I’d recommend it for a more casual office, or to pair the separates with more formal pieces to bring them up a notch. I tried The Cotton Linen Blazer and The Work Pant, but ultimately, they’re not what I’m looking for right now.

Lengths: Ankle, Regular

Theory

Price Range
Quality of Material

Theory has a huge variety of business attires. However, length does depend on the model. Some jackets have longer sleeves and some shorter. Both material and fit are perfect, and all of their suits look very neat. I loved this Good Wool Carissa Blazer, the Stretch Wool Relaxed Straight Pant and the Good Wool Classic Skirt.

One thing to keep in mind is that some collections will never go on sale, so don’t expect to find their iconic Good Wool Classic line in an Outlet (believe me: I tried, and failed).

Lengths: Petite, Regular, Tall

Suistudio

Price Range
Quality of Material

Suistudio has a huge variety of classic black suits, and business suits in general. I really liked their Cameron Black Suit. Models are available in Petite, Regular, and Tall. What’s great is that the store also has its own tailor, so you can alter your suit right in the store. The store has many more pants than skirts. I liked a suit here. The curve fits me perfectly. Both sleeves and pant legs were a bit too short, but the tailor might help to fix it.

Lengths: Petite, Regular, Tall (and an on-site tailor)

In pursuit of the classic black suit, without breaking the bank

If you are trying to save some money in your pursuit of a classic black suit, I recommend checking Theory and Elie Tahari Fashion Outlets. You can easily get 30-40% off their regular price and save a couple hundred dollars. Keep in mind, however, that not all the models (i.e., Theory’s Good Wool Classic line) are available in the Outlets; I went to Theory’s Outlet in Woodbury Common and even though in the regular Theory store I found plenty of options, the selection at the Outlet was quite limited (only one pant that worked for me and none of their jackets did — everything was way too short). Additionally, in the Outlets most of the sales are final, so you can’t always return your purchases – make sure you love it!

Good luck with your business suit hunt! Once you find this key part of your wardrobe, prepping for interviews becomes less stressful — it’s really comforting to know that a classic black suit is always ready to go (be sure to keep it clean and make sure it’s always well-tailored). Once you have your outfit ready, you can focus on wow-ing them with substance in your interviews.

What fashion staples do you want us to cover? Which style icons would you like to see translated to office workwear? Let’s collab!

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Images from Saule Agdauletov and online stores

About the author

Saule Agdauletova Duke Fuqua
Saule Agdauletova

Saule is a full-time MBA student at Duke University, the Fuqua School of Business class 2021. She also has a degree in Molecular Biology. She worked in Research, Sales, Value and Access, and Medical departments for Big Pharma in the US, Russia and Germany.

Saule has a strong interest in Healthcare and Life Science and wants to bring medico-scientific expertise together with business to make a meaningful impact in healthcare.

Outside of work she enjoys traveling, yoga and intellectual games.

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