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How to Dress Down Your Clothes

Wondering how to dress down your clothes? You’re not the only one. The question is a common one, and not just because so many of us are now working from home. Years ago, one of our readers wrote in to ask for advice on this very topic:

I’m a twenty-something who worked for the past two years in a job that required business attire. Now I am in a job where the wardrobe requirements barely exist. The problem is, I still own nice pieces from Banana Republic and J. Crew. I want to keep wearing these pieces, but I need to dress them down to fit in. Can you give me some pointers?

M.H., Budget Fashionista reader

Whether you’re now WFH permanently or you’ve switched jobs, there are times in life when dressing down is your top priority. You don’t want to buy a new wardrobe after all — especially when you have perfectly nice pieces hanging in your closet. Nor do you want to be that person who’s always overdressed.

Fortunately, there are easy, reliable ways to dress down your higher-end pieces. Read on for three strategies and three reliable looks.

How to dress down fancier labels

1. Find your shabby-chic.

Woman wearing baggy sweater and hat smiles in street.

Combine vintage pieces with your business-y garments. You might have some retro tops in the back of your closet already, for example. Pair those with your J. Crew trousers.

Or, work the other direction. Team your Banana Republic tops with distressed jeans and sandals.

If you’re not sure how to make these combinations work, go with your gut. The balance you find between your business and vintage pieces is an expression of your individual style — which is never wrong.

2. Go thrifting.

If you have nothing vintage in your closet, go thrifting. You can pick up shoes, shirts, scarves, sweaters, pants, and jewelry for a few bucks each. It’s cheaper than buying a new wardrobe.

3. If you’re clueless, follow the 70/30 rule.

If you’re gut isn’t speaking to you when you’re trying to build outfits, follow the 70/30 rule. Seventy percent of your outfit can be casual/vintage/thrift and the remaining 30% can be chic (that is, your fancy work clothes). For example, pair a silk blouse with jeans and flats. Team a sheath dress with sandals and a droopy cardigan. Wear heals with casual pants and a t-shirt.

3 no-fail, dressed down looks

1. Jeans and heels

Kristen Bell pairs pumps and a blazer with roughed-up jeans and a t-shirt. How perfect is that? She looks smart and sassy — but not in the least bit overdressed.

2. Dresses and flats

Sheath dresses always feel like the epitome of work. But, if you slip on some flip fops or flats and you immediately tone down the look. Even better, add a slumpy-but-cute sweater (and maybe a belt) to evolve this office look from suit-and-tie to kicked-back and relaxed.

3. Tanks and trousers

Take the most tricky and hated item in your collection (dress pants!) and turn them in to a look of comfort. Match any color slacks with a cute tank or cami, and you have a useful way to not leave those pants hanging. A tip to make this look work for you: Go as casual as you can on the shoe. Your slacks might look funny with a sneaker, so try a sandal or wedge instead.

At the end of the day, learning how to dress down stylishly has one key theme: Whatever look you create, be confident and own it. Sure, you won’t be like everyone else, but when you take the time to mix-and-match old and new, people will notice.