Build a Better Affordable Work Wardrobe
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You made it through the interview and landed that new job! But now you have to figure out what to wear to work. And you don’t want to spend a ton of money building a whole new work wardrobe.
Of course, your clothes should be appropriate for your job. Yet it’s essential for you to be comfortable and feel good wearing them!
Research suggests that when you feel positive about what you’re wearing, it can affect how you think.
Though you want your work attire to look and feel good, that doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money.
The good news is your new work clothes don’t have to break the bank. With a bit of planning and some time, your closet can be home to a great, professional wardrobe — on a budget.
How to Dress for Work on a Budget
Before you start shopping, take time to think about your wardrobe-building strategy. Write down your budget and list what you need. This is especially important when you're going for a minimalist work wardrobe.
Plan before you shop. Ask yourself:
- What’s your work environment? Is it business professional or business casual? Is there a dress code?
- What are you most comfortable wearing?
- What’s your starting budget?
- What are your essential pieces?
- How many things do you (really) need? (I.e., maybe you only need two bottom pieces to pair with ten tops and a pair of shoes)
- What do you already own that you can wear to work?
Focus on the basics first.
First, build a foundation of key pieces that you’ll wear often. These are timeless pieces that allow for a wide variety of looks and maximum flexibility.
These staple pieces can be dressed up or down and pair well with anything. These items should also be in the same color family; neutral and solid colors make this easier.
Since these essential pieces are what you’ll wear most often, make sure they’re simple, quality items that fit you well. They should last through wearings, washings, and cleanings. You might need to spend a little more money on these classic pieces.
Some items to consider:
- Black or navy trousers
- A-line or Pencil skirt
- Black dress
- Jacket, blazer, or cardigan
- Neutral color shoes, flats, or pumps
- White blouse
- Cami or layering top
Consider a capsule wardrobe. You’ve probably heard that a capsule wardrobe is a great way to downsize and simplify.
But capsule wardrobes aren’t just for minimalists. They help you focus on the essential items you need for work and ensure that every item coordinates.
The idea of a capsule wardrobe is to have a small number of clothing items that work together. You can mix and match all the items in your closet to create a variety of looks.
Minimalist wardrobes work best when the clothing items are in coordinating color families. Throw in accent pieces, like scarves and jewelry, to mix it up.
Find “free” items for your wardrobe.
Shop your closet. Before you start shopping for an entirely new work wardrobe, look in your closet and pull out pieces suitable for your job.
Sure, a ripped pair of jeans and a graphic T are out of the question. But you might have some plain blouses, camis, other tops, a black dress, and a dark pair of pants appropriate for work.
Many of your accessories, like scarves, jewelry, and belts, could also be useful. And you might have a nice pair of comfortable shoes that will go well with your work outfits.
Borrow clothing. If you have friends or family members your size, ask them if they have any items you can borrow.
Borrowing can help bridge the gap between your current wardrobe and a few new pieces until your work wardrobe is complete.
Host a clothing swap. Most people have clothes sitting in their closets that they never wear. They would be happy to exchange them for “new” clothes.
Organize a clothing swap by inviting several others. Set some rules, like the number of items to bring, and limit it to quality or neutral pieces of clothing.Set up the swap by size to make “shopping” easier. Most of all, make it fun!
Have any ill-fitting pieces professionally tailored. If you avoid wearing certain items because they don’t fit well, consider getting them altered.
Sometimes it’s much cheaper to get your existing clothing tailored than to buy new.
Shopping on a Budget
Finding affordable work attire doesn’t mean you have to buy your entire wardrobe off the clearance rack. Focusing only on the lowest cost items takes the spotlight off what you need (and what you’ll actually wear).
You want to avoid a closet full of cheap clothes that don’t fit you or your personal style – or fall apart after the first wash. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy all the name-brand clothing at full price either.
Below are some tips for finding quality pieces at a reasonable cost.
Shop discount stores. You can find quality clothing for a reasonable price at many discount stores, like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Kohls, Target, and more. Department store outlets, like Nordstrom Rack, sometimes have quality name-brand essential pieces for less too.
Look at consignment shops and thrift stores. Buying used clothing is a great way to save money and is the most sustainable option too. Consignment and thrift stores have quality clothing – for a fraction of the full price.
Consignment stores often organize clothing by size, making it easy to shop for what you need. And, though you might have to spend more time sifting through clothes, thrift stores offer the best deals on used clothing.
Check for deals online. Shopping for clothing online can be a little tricky since it seems like every brand has different sizing.
When you’re shopping online, know your size and check the sizing charts. Also, make sure the retailer has a convenient return policy.
The great thing about shopping online is comparing pricing and using cashback sites like Be Frugal or Rakuten.
Look for coupon codes to save even more money. And once you find the perfect pants or shirt, take note of the brand and sizing. Then, watch for that item to go on sale and stock up when the price drops.
Buy used clothing online. There are also several excellent options for buying (and selling) used clothing online. And if you have some clothing to sell, you can put it toward your new work wardrobe!
Sites like Thredup, Poshmark, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace are helpful for finding quality, used items. Sometimes, you’ll even find entire lots of clothing at a great price.
Don’t buy everything all at once.
Take your time adding items to your work wardrobe. After you have your foundation pieces, spread out the cost by adding a new article every few weeks.
Start with enough clothing to get you through at least a week of work.
When you own coordinated pieces, you can mix it up, and no one will know you are wearing the same clothes week after week (people don’t pay that much attention anyway!).
You won’t be as likely to waste money on pieces you initially thought you needed yet rarely wear when you spread out purchases. Also, sometimes you don’t know the best clothes for work until you’ve worked there for a few weeks.
Once you see what your coworkers are wearing and get a feel for what feels best on you, you'll be better able to determine what else you need.
Assembling a Budget-Friendly Work Wardrobe
Keep in mind, though you want to put your best foot forward and dress for the job and professional environment, the goal isn't to be the best dressed.
Your clothes need to suit your job, comfort, lifestyle, and budget. Your work and personality express who you are more than your clothes. That said, plan out your wardrobe and figure out what clothing makes you feel at your best.
Start small and focus on the essential basic pieces. Remember quality over quantity.
With a bit of time and preparation, you can assemble the perfect capsule wardrobe or a closet full of work attire – without busting a limited budget.
Need a new pair of prescription eyeglasses or frames to complete your new look? Consider Costco Optical for budget-friendly options.
Article written by Amanda, a team member of Women Who Money and the founder and blogger behind Why We Money, where she enjoys writing about happiness, values, and personal finances.