What to Wear to Work: Creating a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget

The Repost series reposts awesome articles from The Budget Fashionista archives. This post first appeared on TBF in February of 2009.

When heading into (or in many cases, back into) a professional environment, it can be hard to know what to wear to work.  Here’s some quick, budget style tips for those of us, whether it by choice or by force, currently out there interviewing for a new job.

Wear to Work Budget Tips

-Some of the key clothing pieces for a professional wardrobe are a black suit, black pumps, tote bag, a couple of camisoles/ blouses, a nice black or brown pencil skirt,  and two very nice dresses (one a little black dress and one dress in another color) that you can wear to work and to business related evening events. There’s a reason why I believe you should purchase items in black and brown—you can wear these items several times a week, making sure to change up the accessories/ tops, without anyone noticing that you’re wearing the same item over and over.

- Your job hunting wardrobe isn’t the time to start to Express What to Wear to Work: Creating a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget yourself through clothes, although I do think you should wear an interesting (but not gaudy or trendy) accessory near your face to draw the employers attention to what you’re saying. For the most part, start with the basics: a nice black suit, a pair of closed toed black pumps, and a basic camisole or shell. Yes, it’s boring, but when you’re job hunting you want folks to focus on your skills and not on your clothing. If you’re in heading into a more creative field (advertising, pr, etc), you should wear the basic black suit to the first interview, but pair it with a brightly colored, on trend shell.  You can then branch out to other colors/suit styles in secondary interviews.

For more information, read this article on how to dress for a job interview.

- I don’t believe in setting percentages as to how much of your income you should spend on clothing to wear to work, because there are times when you may need to spend more and times when you shouldn’t spend a dime. Focus on items that can serve double duty, like a tote bag that can be your weekend shopping bag and your briefcase or a black dress that you can wear to the office and for an evening event.

-The goal is to buy the best quality items you can afford. However, realize that quality and price are not synonymous.  You can get some great, high quality items, the same items you find at department stores, for much less at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Ross. You want to use the 70/30 rule- meaning 70% of your closet should be classic pieces (your perfect ten) and 30% trendy fun pieces.

- Avoid dry cleaning. This is such a money zapper. I know dry cleaning is easier and few like to iron, however this is not the time to be lazy. Buy a bottle of Febreze or make your own, and squirt your suits down after each use.