How to Create a Professional Work Wardrobe on a Budget

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.

work wardrobe

It’s All About The Key Pieces

-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 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.

Keep it Simple

– Your job hunting wardrobe isn’t the time to start to express 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.

Find Items That Can Serve Double Duty

– I don’t believe in setting percentages as to how much of your income you should spend on clothing 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.

Practice Your 70/30 Rule

-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.

Limit Your Dry Cleaning

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.

Perfect Ten: Creating The Perfect Work Wardrobe

How many times have you looked into your closet and thought, “I have nothing to wear” If you hear yourself uttering this statement more often than not, you have a dysfunctional closet. It is probably missing several key pieces that allow you to easily transition from one outfit to the next. It’s time to stop the insanity and get a functional closet.

The Perfect Ten, ten classic pieces that should be in every woman’s wardrobe, is the best remedy to a dysfunctional closet. It’s truly amazing the number of outfits that can be made when these ten items rest in your wardrobe: at least 32 different combinations. Along with your signature item, the majority of your shopping dollars should be spent on classic, well made versions of these items that fit your personal style.

Perfect Ten: The Ten Things Needed for a Functional Closet

Black Suit—Purchase at least one basic two- to three-button black jacket with either matching black skirt or black pants. Make sure it’s made of a lightweight, seasonless material like gabardine or rayon and contains a small amount (no more than 5%) of spandex/lycra to ensure a quality fit.

White Dress Shirt – -This is an important closet staple and can be both trendy (wear underneath your favorite t-shirt) and classic (wear with a business suit). Head to stores like the Gapfor high quality, basic cotton shirts well under $50.

Plain Black Pumps—Make sure your closet has at least one pair of 1- to 2-inch plain black pumps that takes you from the office to dinner. Use shoe jewelry from stores like Torridto change the appearance of your shoes without breaking the bank.
A Pair of Great Fitting Jeans—Every closet must have at least one pair of great fitting jeans. Two are even better. Discount leader offers a custom jean service.

Black Dress—A closet staple, the “little black dress” should be made of a sturdy but lightweight fabric like a cotton/rayon blend. Avoid heavy wool fabrics that counteract the slimming effects of the color and limit wear during the warmer seasons.

Three Spandex T-shirts—Purchase three cotton/spandex shirts in the following colors: black, white, and another, brighter color (that suits you well). These shirts help stretch your closet and are perfect for layering as well as wearing alone. The Perfect Fit stretch t-shirts are the best.

Tote Bag—One of these bags serves double duty as a briefcase during the week and a shopping bag on the weekend.

Sneakers—You’ll need one pair of sneakers that can be worn both for workouts and casual activities like shopping.

Trench Coat/All-Weather Coat—A classic trench coat can be worn as an all-weather coat and a dress (make sure the buttons of the coat extend to at least 3 inches above your knee). Look for coats with a removable lining to increase usage.

Khakis/Chinos/Brown Pants—A weekend staple, chino-style pants add diversity to your outfits.

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Catherine Brock

Catherine Brock is a writer, editor and marketer who's been sharing wisdom online since 2002. She's been featured on, and ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis and KCAL9 Los Angeles. Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter. Learn more about Catherine.
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