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How to dress professionally on a budget: 5 savvy style tips

A woman holding up a shirt while shopping at a store.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes 

Whether you’re fresh out of college and heading into the office for the first time, or you're an experienced professional with decades of experience, dressing professionally is a must to make a great impression in the workplace. 

However, professional attire can come with a hefty price tag that not everyone can afford. From shopping strategies to styling ideas, follow my top five tips on how to dress professionally on a budget so you can achieve a polished look without breaking the bank. 

5 tips to dress professionally on a budget 

1. Create a plan.

Before you bust out your wallet to splurge on a new wardrobe, you need to make a game plan. Think about what you can wear to the office and how you’ll pay for new clothing.

Get answers by:

  • Reviewing your company’s dress code policies.
  • Understanding the physical environment where you'll be working.
  • Seeing what your peers are wearing.
  • Saving up some cash before you buy a whole new wardrobe.

Keep in mind that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. It’s OK to have some pride in your appearance.

2. Build a capsule wardrobe.

This can be a tough one when you love to follow the latest trends, but like they say – some things never go out of style.

Find classic staple pieces that can be put together in multiple ways to create several cohesive outfits. This often includes clothes with neutral colors or simple patterns, such as:

  • Jeans, if your company allows them, without rips or distressing.
  • Slacks – one light pair and one dark pair.
  • Dress tops, collared and non-collared, that fit with your environment and the changing seasons.
  • A blazer, cardigan or light jacket.
  • A dress or skirt.
  • Pumps, loafers, casual dress shoes or sneakers.
  • Simple jewelry or a watch.

3. Invest in quality items. 

As you think about how to build a professional wardrobe on a budget, I suggest filling your closet with quality pieces that will last a long time. Remember, quality over quantity!

Plus, if you use the capsule wardrobe method to pick your clothing, you won’t have to worry about them going out of style next season. Just be sure you’re caring for the clothes you invest in properly.

4. Go thrifting.

We all don’t have the luxury of opening our older sibling’s closet to grab a nice blazer before a big interview or meeting, but if you do, use it to your advantage. I know I was lucky to do this when I was still in college and didn’t have my professional wardrobe built out yet.

Here are some other places you can find affordable work clothes:

  • Garage sales.
  • Local thrift stores, like Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul.
  • Secondhand websites, like Poshmark, thredUP, Mercari or Ebay.

You can also ask to borrow clothing from friends or family members, especially pieces you may only need once.

5. Shop the sales rack.

Why pay full price when you don’t have to? Many companies run sales and have rewards programs that will allow you to receive discounts on items you’re looking to buy.

Here’s some tips on timing out your clothing haul:

  • Shop during major holidays when sales are likely to be running.
    • Memorial Day, Independence Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday – the list goes on!

  • Be intentional about what you buy, and when.
    • If you’re looking for a winter jacket, can you wait until the end of the season to buy it on clearance?
  • Use free rewards programs of specific brands to take advantage of earning points for future discounts.
    • Most stores offer some type of loyalty program you can sign up for.

  • Add browser extensions, like Honey, that can help you find the best prices by scanning other websites for the same item.
    • Consider downloading cashback apps like Ibotta or Fetch.

There are many ways you can effectively put a professional wardrobe together on a budget, while still maintaining your own personal style.

Happy shopping!

Wondering what to wear when working from home?

You likely won’t wear the same outfit while working from home as you would when going to the office. Check out our blog to learn the dos and don'ts of what to wear when working from home. 
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Julia is a graduate of St. Norbert College and started at Schneider in 2018 as a Driver Recruiting intern. Currently, she works in HR Compliance. In her free time, Julia loves being with family, volunteering, playing tennis, singing and playing guitar.

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