Workplace Fashion on a Budget

As long as I can remember (thinking all the way back to pre-k) I would plan my outfits ahead of time, laying them out each night for the following day.  This became my night time ritual. Then I would fall asleep thinking about what other outfits I could create from my existing wardrobe, counting sheep was just too boring!  I had a passion for fashion that couldn’t be tamed.  Almost 30 years later and my love for fashion has not waned, in fact it still burns with a fervent intensity. The only difference is that now I lay out my clothes for a productive day at the office, instead of the childhood classroom.

This love of fashion is something I share with a lot of women. We flip through fashion magazines and search Pinterest to get ideas and see what’s on trend, always keeping our eyes on what celebrities are currently wearing. As we transition into the working world, we realize we suddenly need an entirely new wardrobe to fit into this professional culture and be taken seriously.This transition can be hard, hard to navigate and hard on your wallet. Through a lot of trial and error, I have picked up a few tips along the way to look polished and professional while still stylish and on a budget.

Never dress too sexy, too casual or too sloppy:  This is pretty self-explanatory (at least we hope).  Never show too much skin, leave the ripped skinny jeans home on casual Friday and please iron the wrinkles out of your clothes.  Pretty simple rules.

Take cues from what other people are wearing in your office: Sometimes it can be hard to decipher the dress code written in your company handbook.  Pay attention to what other people are wearing and follow their lead.  You are not going to impress the boss by not following the company’s guidelines for dress.  It’s there for a reason.

Getting dressed for the office doesn’t mean leaving your personal style behind:  Realize what works for you and identify your style.  I work in an office with designers and a lot of creative people.  We share shopping tips, coupons and even pass around clothing but we all manage to keep our own style identity.

Invest in “staples” for your wardrobe: Spend more on neutral colored (black, white, gray and navy) base pieces that you can dress up with accessories.  Your base pieces should fall in to the classic/timeless category, not trendy.  Some examples are a crisp well fitted white button down shirt, black dress pants, solid colored wool sheath dress, blazer, tailored suit and nude or black heels (not too high).   You can wear these often and switch up the look with different accessories, bags and shoes.

Buy trendier styles and colors at discount stores:  If it’s really in right now but will probably look passé by next year and you still want to try it (bubble necklaces, peplum tops, high-low hems), shop at discount stores.  Stores like Forever 21 and H&M are perfect for these trends.

Make sure your clothes are tailored and hemmed:  Appropriately fitting clothes can be the difference between put- together and sloppy. You don’t have to be a seamstress to pull this one off.  The girls in our office are big fans of “Stitch Witchery” a heavy duty fabric tape that sells for under $4.00, to alter the hems on their pants.

Shop Sales:  Hit up the sale and clearance racks first.  This way you can find quality pieces that you may not otherwise have been able to afford.  It also helps to stock up on summer pieces in the fall and winter pieces in the spring.

Shop Off-Price Buyers:  Stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s are called off price buyers because they benefit from ordering mistakes made by mainstream retailers and over-production of items by the clothing makers. Off-price companies buy that excess merchandise.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that T.J. Maxx’s inventory is from last season. They promise that at least 85 percent of it is in season.  These items also include fine jewelry.  Bet you didn’t know that!

Don’t be afraid of thrift or consignment stores:  I cannot tell you how many times I get complimented on something I’m wearing only to see the look of horror on the person’s face as I respond “thanks, I found it at a consignment shop”.  Ladies, one person’s trash can be another’s treasure.  I have found many designer gems this way.  Especially while I was trying to dress my “baby bump” while working.  Plus it’s such a rush to find something so inexpensive.  Next free weekend take some time checking out your local thrift stores.

Whether just starting out in your career and living in a studio apartment, or climbing the corporate ladder while juggling the financial responsibilities of a house and family, it’s always nice to get more bang for your buck. With a little practice and some savvy shopping you too can stretch your dollars while dressing for success!

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