Your Guide to a Budget-Friendly Work Wardrobe

Who doesn’t love pencil skirts and crisp button-ups?

As a bright-eyed college graduate, one of the greatest allures of a first job lay in its wardrobe: I could hardly wait to line my shoe rack with kitten heels and spend my Saturdays ironing blouses.

Needless to say, that allure faded once I began the job search and especially once I started working as an administrative assistant, when I became more concerned with the value of the work I was producing than the hem on my tailored slacks.

However, a professional wardrobe is a staple of a careered life, even if that life is a freelance one. I have spent many years gradually realizing this, despite a thin wallet and a distinct lack of fashion sense.

I’m here to tell you that your budget-friendly work wardrobe does await, provided you approach it with savvy and (as always) a bit of light-hearted flair.

Know what suits your shape.

I am always wary to categorize my body in any capacity, but I cannot emphasize this point enough when establishing a work wardrobe (budget-friendly or not). Identifying your general body shape can help you select artful pieces most likely to flatter and impress, even if your office’s dress code is stringent.

You may feel silly doing this, but visit style guides like these to catch a glimpse of what’s likely to suit you. Such articles helped me elucidate the value of a professional wrap dress or jumpsuit, pieces I used to never consider (but which now make up the bulk of my work attire).

They can also coax you–as they coaxed me–out of my mindset that a work wardrobe is naturally dull and limited. (I mean, you can only go so far with collars and slacks, right?)

Having a precise image of what pieces you’d like to add to your collection can also minimize the risk of purchasing something that is 1) less likely to last and 2) not suited to your work needs. Minimizing these risks ultimately means more money in your pocket.

Identify a budget.

This may seem obvious, but how often do you pinpoint an exact expenditure value for work attire purposes? I found that I was in the habit of what I call “vague budgeting:” i.e., walking into Nordstrom every couple of months with the intention of “getting a few blouses.”

Yes, this wreaked havoc on my credit debt, but it also made for a more inconsistent, unsteady relationship to my wardrobe. As a vague budgeter, I spent more in the long run–because I wasn’t establishing specific aims and realistic spending caps.

Sit down with your finances and budget the following: 1) how often you would like to “add to your work wardrobe” (i.e., monthly, every six months, etc.) and 2) a feasible dollar amount you can spend per trip to the mall.

Then stick to these commitments.

Consignment stores are your friend.

You don’t have to be relegated to the discount racks at the Gap or Salvation Army thrift stores to build a budget-friendly work wardrobe (although these can act as solid Nordstrom stand-ins).

Consignment stores hold it all: “thrift” stores that sell upscale, like-new attire, often with a professional bent. I have relied heavily on consignment stores to build the bulk of my wardrobe.

If you don’t have one nearby, you can revel in the magic of consigning by visiting an online store. Poshmark is my current favorite online consignment store.

The secret lies in your accessories.

You don’t need ten different blazers to have a diverse, versatile work wardrobe. The secret lies in having several “classic” pieces–and in having the right accessories.

I used to roll my eyes at this sentiment; I’m not one to hunt out the perfect clutch or hair clasp. Yet accessories can enable you to “re-use” certain items in clothing in the same week and still appear as if you’re wearing something fresh on the daily.

They also permit a smaller (and less expensive) overall wardrobe.

What can accomplish this? Jewelry, for one thing, particularly long necklaces or colorful pieces. Scarves can also transform Monday’s work meeting jumpsuit into Thursday’s happy hour attire.

The same goes for shoes, particularly boots, and even headbands.

My favorite current accessories? Long-chain geometric necklaces (that are hypoallergenic, too!) and silky head scarves, all found via online consignment.

Don’t neglect your comfort.

When browsing budget-friendly wardrobe items, keep fashion and comfort at the fore. In general, the higher the quality, the greater the comfort.

This puts many working women at a potential disadvantage. How do we find the funds to afford a consistently high-quality professional wardrobe? I’ve learned that it is possible to purchase more high-end items, provided I do so with long-term value in mind–and do so every now and then (rather than every week).

Recognize the value of investing in comfort and quality. You may just notice a change in your work performance as a result!

About the Author:

Kate King is a writer, artist, and insatiable wanderer. Her work focuses on mindful living, awareness, and power. When not keeping up with her blog (A Lighter Earth), Kate is a freelance editor, professional tutor, and digital marketer. Follow her on Instagram.