|Looking great in a smart wardrobe|
It’s a common situation. A person gets hired for a job but doesn’t have the money to buy an appropriate work wardrobe. To keep down those credit card bills, here are a few tips for getting started on that career wardrobe. These suggestions are for women, but some work for men also.
Do you really need a purse that costs $500? Probably not. Do you need a suit that costs $3,000? In most cases, no. The rule of thumb is to try to dress the way your immediate boss/supervisor dresses. You don’t have to look like the CEO to advance your career. In fact that could work against you.
1. Hit the resale shops.
You can find some great basics there. Look for items in really good condition that fit you well. You can find designer names and good quality clothes for about $3 each at Good Will. Other resale shops may charge a big more, but expect to pay $10 or less per item. If you find a real steal that doesn’t quite fit, take it to a tailor to get a custom fit. That would be great for a high quality suit. You can even find high quality jewelry at a resale shop. I found a gold-plated silver necklace at Good Will for $1. My mom got a 100% silk designer shirt there for $3. If you are self-conscious about shopping in your local resale shop, go to one in another area.
2. Build your wardrobe around black, cream, red, white, and gray as much as possible.
Those colors generally go together no matter which year you buy them. I’ve known women who built their entire career wardrobe around black and gray with very sophisticated results. Who can’t make outfits with a black blazer? Orange might be the hot color this year, but save that for inexpensive t-shirts when not at work. Stick to solid colors at first when you can. Solid colors can be mixed and matched more easily, but if you find a nice top in a print of one or more of these colors it makes a nice change of pace. The problem with prints is that they are remembered more than solids. So you can’t wear them as often.
3. Do buy a new handbag, preferably leather, and basic pumps.
The rule of thumb on purses is to spend about what you would for a dress. If you can’t afford that right away, put it on your list for when you can. Again, go for a neutral color–black always works. The same goes for shoes. The bag shouldn’t be too trendy and the shoes should have the toes covered. This is where I’d put money and then save on the clothes. I have found Coach leather purses on ebay for as little as $40, but check the seller’s rating before buying there. I don’t buy from anyone with a rating of less than 99. 7%. I would not buy shoes on ebay because fit is so important.
4. You can skimp on jewelry.
Buy a simple pair of hoops (not larger than a quarter) in real silver. They can be your trademark. If you get more money later you can think about buying some gold-plated hoops. You don’t really need any other jewelry. If you want more accessories, think about a pretty pin you could add to a suit lapel or on a shirt. Styles of watches change fairly often, so I’d skip it. Most people look on their phones or computers for the time anyway.
5. Eventually you’ll need a good quality coat.
This is major purchase, so first check the resale shops for a good quality basic coat in a classic style. There are sometimes beautiful coats there for about $20. Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to find a great coat at a resale shop. Often these coats are of better quality than ones you can find in the stores. You might be able to get one tailored for you if the fit is not perfect. If you strike out there, watch the sales on coats, often in early November and then again in January/February. Here’s one item I would not get in pure black. It shows lint too much. To work with the color scheme in #2 above, look for a coat in charcoal gray or a black one with tiny white threads woven in as camouflage.
6. Don’t be overly influenced by your co-workers.
First of all they may have bad taste. They might enjoy one-upmanship about clothes, purses, and shoes. It’s a losing game. I’ve known offices where the price of your purse was typical lunch-time conversation. Just note how well these same people have advanced in their careers. Secondly, they may go for designer logos that will not be classics for a long time. When you are paying for a logo you are not paying totally for quality. Again, take your cues from your boss, being careful to not dress better than she does. If your boss is a man, look to a woman on the same level of the management for a role model. Thirdly, they might be huge trend followers that can make you waste your money just to be “in” with them. Let them adjust to you rather than the other way around. Fourthly, did I mention they may have bad taste?
7. Change your clothes right away when you get home.
That keeps the spaghetti sauce from ruining a good shirt. Buy a good stain removal guide (or search for hints online). Treat any stain as soon as possible. Hang up anything that might be able to be worn another time, like a suit jacket.
8. Aim to buy just a few items a year.
After a while your work wardrobe will grow to be an versatile set of clothes that are easy to mix and match. You can replace anything that’s getting too worn out with a similar item that is good quality. As you are able to afford more clothes, think about buying just a few pieces a year that are of really good quality and good fit in your chosen colors. Aim for quality over quantity. Only buy what you can afford, but try to buy fewer items. You can always add more personality to your basics with accessories.
9. Choose easy-care clothes.
Who needs dry cleaning bills? That item you found at a deep discount will cost many times more after you add in all the times you have to have it dry cleaned. Besides it’s bad for the environment in most cases. Clothes you can throw in the washer and dryer are the best. I hate to iron, but an item that only needs a little touch-up ironing is much better than one that needs a lot of attention with the old iron. Still, learning to iron a shirt is a good skill that can save over paying to have it done. (Teach your kids this skill before they leave home.) My last choice is the item that has to be hand washed. It’s a pain, but if it can be hung to dry in a way that makes it ready to wear, I forgive it a little. I end up wearing these items very seldom no matter what I told myself when I bought it.
10. Consider learning to sew, even if it’s just a little bit.
In this age of inexpensive clothing and somewhat expensive fabric, it rarely makes economic sense to sew. However you can make a very nice pencil skirt or little top with sleeves from just about a yard of fabric. These classics can really boost your wardrobe. Since you choose the fabric you can get the perfect color and look you want. Sewing machines can be bought used for about $20 or less. Patterns and fabric often go on sale–get on your local fabric store’s mailing list. With a basic pattern like the skirt & top I mentioned, you can make quite a few items from that same pattern. A skirt or top can be made in a weekend, sometimes in less time than it takes to shop for an item. You can work at it just an hour a day and still get a lot done. Choose a pattern that is labeled “Easy” or “Quick.” If you use the same pattern over and over, you will be able to turn out a skirt or top in less and less time!
Even if you don’t sew, learn to do basic mending, sewing on buttons, and fixing a hems. It will save you not only a garment, but a lot of money.
Most people say you shouldn’t wear clothes that are too sexy in the office if you want to be taken seriously. Others say you shouldn’t look frumpy. What to do? Click here for more about this dilemma.
It all comes down to your career goals. Look at your long-term goals to make your clothing money give you the best value. Being smart about how your spend that money can pay off if it helps you achieve your career goals. And with a mix-and-match wardrobe you can practically get dressed in the dark.
And when you’re off work you can wear whatever you want! Kick back and enjoy it!
UPDATE: All of the above still holds true, but I wanted to let you know about an awesome trend in fashion: GRAY! You might not be too excited about gray, but check out how it multiplies what you already have into many new outfits!