I’m standing in the three-way mirror of Banana Republic, and it is not my finest hour. My dressing room is a veritable graveyard of black-suiting separates. This room, my friends, is where pencil skirts and slim-cut trousers came to die.
“I have my first real job interview on Thursday, so I’m, like, stressing, you know?” I whimper to the sales associate. “Everything has to be perfect.”
I have her cut pocket threads and bring me different blazers as I rotate in front of the mirror, smoothing seams and deciding which one makes me look the most employable.
I try on the same suit at least three times before I ask to put it on hold so I can look in other stores. I avoid glimpsing at anything that isn’t black wool, despite the fact that spring florals are far more fun to shop for.
“Your interview is on Thursday? Kind of late notice,” the lady at J. Crew mumbles to me. Note to everyone: Don’t wait until the week of your first important interview to find the ideal suit.
An hour later, I’ve found nothing better. I return to Banana Republic, pick up the suit I left on hold and wince as I swipe my check card. Fashion Catch-22: Suits are expensive. You need a job to pay for these suits. You need these suits to get a job. Someone should start a revolution where tunics and leggings are appropriate business attire.
As I walk back out to Walnut Street, I keep thinking about what that J. Crew associate said to me. “Your interview is on Thursday? Kind of late notice” rings over and over in my head. Was I wrong to wait until I actually needed a suit to bother buying one? Suddenly, I find my sartorial carpe diem — “Don’t buy what you don’t absolutely love or need” — severely challenged.
In recent years, I have been openly self-congratulating about my will power for saving my dollars for the clothes I really want. I do not have drawer upon drawer of things I don’t wear. My wardrobe might not have substantial variety, but I’m also not calling my mother once a month to ask for more money because I couldn’t resist scooping up H&M’s sale rack every weekend.
My mother, also a fashion lover, grilled the “buy what you can’t live without, leave the rest” mentality into my malleable brain at a young age. She taught me to choose quality over quantity.
There were a few years, admittedly, that I ignored her advice. Upon getting my first job (I worked at a sporting goods store. I know. The irony that I once knew how to fit people for shin guards is not lost on me.) and subsequently my first income, I spent an unreasonable amount of money on crap at the King of Prussia Mall. Once I realized what a pain it was to dig through piles of ugly retail mistakes, I vowed to keep my pennies until I decided what they were worth spending on.
Another lesson that my mother has continually tried to teach me — which I am just now realizing I should follow — is that it is always worth spending money on the perfect classics when you find them.
Many people insist, my mother included, that it is worth buying things like evening gowns when the deal — rather than the occasion – strikes. The likelihood of stumbling upon the perfect dress when a black tie event pops up out of nowhere is slim to none. Plan ahead and peruse the racks every now and then until you find something you love and you’ll likely be the best-dressed attendee.
But where do you draw the line between purchasing something “because it’s a steal and you’ll need it in the future” and buying something “because it’s a steal and you only think you’ll need it in the future?” “I’ll wear this all the time” is the mantra of the over-indulgent.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some occasions that are worth shopping for in advance — job interviews obviously being one of them. I also would have appreciated buying some summer clothes before the weather suddenly became unbearably hot a few weeks ago. I was completely unprepared to switch out my winter staples.
Shopping is, essentially, a gamble. The only advice I can offer is buckle down, calculate your odds and be as honest as possible with yourself when you ask, “Will I really wear this?”