Whether you’re starting your first job or you’ve been promoted to a new position, you may need to update your wardrobe before your first day. If you can’t afford to spend a lot doing that, consider these 10 tips for how to look your best without breaking the bank.
1. Set a spending limit and stick to it
Based on your monthly budget, decide how much you can allocate toward new work clothes. (Learn how to create a monthly budget if you don't have one.) Cut back on other, nonessential expenses if it’s helpful. It’ll be hard to enjoy your new look if you go into debt creating it!
2. Know your workplace dress code and buy clothes accordingly
- If the dress code is business casual – Skip the often more expensive business formal wear and buy affordable items that pair well with work-appropriate clothing you already have. For example, invest in shoes you can wear with jeans or slacks.
- If the dress code is business formal – Stay within your budget by choosing a few moderately priced pieces in classic styles. For example, white button down shirts are available at many price points and are versatile.
- If there is no official dress code – If there is no dress code, you may not need to buy anything new. Keep in mind, though, that no matter what the dress code is, your clothing should always be neat, clean and fit properly; following that rule is free!
3. Buy high-quality, versatile pieces and wear them frequently
Invest in a small collection of versatile, well-made clothing in classic styles that can serve as the foundation for several outfits. Be prepared to spend a bit more to ensure you get quality items that will last. Here’s a list to get you started:
- White button-down shirts
- Black blazer
- Black slacks
- A pair each of comfortable heels and flats (women)
- A pair of loafers or oxfords and matching belt (men)
4. Build your wardrobe over time
Once you’re ready to start shopping for your new work attire, use these tips to make the most of your budget each month:
- Don’t buy everything at once.
- Create a list of items to buy (see number three) and prioritize it based on what you don’t already have and anything that needs to be replaced.
- Limit your shopping to one or two pieces per month.
5. Limit the size of your wardrobe
There’s no right or wrong number of pieces; the point is to choose a limit and then maintain it. This will save you money and make it easier to get dressed each day.
6. Know what not to buy
Avoid clothing that can end up costing you more in the long run.
- Clothing made with low-quality materials and/or construction – It’s likely this clothing won’t last long and you’ll have to spend more money replacing it.
- Dry-clean-only fabric – At least until you have more disposable income, avoid clothes that require the added time and expense of dry cleaning.
- Wrong size, style or price – Don’t be tempted to buy something you really like but that doesn’t fit well or is too expensive.
7. Find the best deals
Bargain hunting can help you dress well at prices you can afford. There is a vast array of options available, online and in physical locations.
- Apps designed for online bargain shopping; Poshmark(opens in a new tab), Shein(opens in a new tab) and ThredUP(opens in a new tab) are just a few of the most popular apps
- Internet browser extensions–for example, Honey(opens in a new tab) or Amazon Assistant(opens in a new tab)–that automatically find and apply coupons to online purchases
- Less expensive partner stores of high-end retailers, like Nordstrom Rack(opens in a new tab)
- Clearance sections in any department store
- Outlet stores that offer discounts on name-brand clothing from past seasons
- Consignment and thrift stores
8. Learn some basic sewing skills
If you learn how to hem pants, take in a skirt at the waist, replace buttons, or repair a ripped seam, you can make your clothes last longer without the expense of a professional tailor or seamstress. You may find that you enjoy sewing and hone your skills enough to make some of your own clothing.
9. Make casual clothes look more professional
Upgrade your casual look to a more formal one while spending little to no money.
- Wear solid, neutral colors.
- For women, make any outfit more formal by wearing heels instead of flats.
- Press a center crease down the leg of casual pants or jeans.
- Avoid anything with pleats, logos, cargo pockets or a worn/distressed finish.
10. Understand that dressing for work isn't just about the clothes
Adopting the following habits doesn't cost you anything, but they're arguably the most important part of your appearance.
- Your clothes should always be clean, in good to excellent condition and fit you properly.
- The style you’re wearing should be the right one for you personally.
- It's critical to always maintain good daily personal hygiene.
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