Looking Professional on a Budget 101

Post-grad life is stressful. You’re paying bills, buying groceries, trying to actually eat those groceries before they go bad and you’ve wasted $80, have a social life, look after your cat; it’s hard. And then, to top it off, your boss wants you to come to work every day dressed like a full-grown adult in suitable professional attire.

The nerve! Don’t they know that between student loans and Netflix, you’re living off Ramen noodles and PB&J sandwiches? How are you supposed to find the money to go out and purchase a wardrobe fit for the office?

I’ve dealt with this problem myself, being a business student and having to frequently attend meetings and career fairs.

While my current job lets me wear jeans (!!!), I know that this isn’t always the case. So, for those less fortunate in the dress code department, I thought I’d share my tips for creating a professional wardrobe without spending an entire paycheck. And it all boils down to one statement:

Basics are key

When you don’t have a lot of money, your best bet is to stick with the basics. Invest in these key pieces and you’ll have the start to an office-ready wardrobe.

  • Black blazer: Quality is important here. A well-made, well-cut blazer pulls any outfit together, whether that’s slacks and a blouse or jeans and a t-shirt. I’m actually dedicating an entire day and $100 to finding one that I’ll wear for the next 10 years. Wish me luck!
  • Slacks: I recommend having a few pairs in black, navy, and grey. I prefer bootcut, but a more fitted style is also fine, as long as it’s not *too* fitted.
  • A few nice blouses: The right blouse can go with slacks, skirts, and jeans, which makes it perfect for the recent grad who’s short on money (and often closet space). A lot of magazines tout button-up blouses, but I prefer wrap or drape ones. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the fabric isn’t too clingy and it’s not a risque cut. Neutral colors are great at first, since you can rotate them often without people noticing.
  • Pencil skirt: A good pencil skirt instantly makes you look and feel more polished. I advise investing in either two nice skirts or three nice pairs of slacks, depending on your climate. Again, neutrals are preferred, so you can wear them multiple times before your colleagues wise-up.
  • Shoes: Notice, it doesn’t say “heels”. That’s because I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t wear heels if you don’t want to. I like them, but I’m much more likely to wear flats or boots to the office, unless I know I won’t be walking around a lot. Whatever shoe you wear, it’s a good idea to have a few pairs in black, navy, and nude.
  • Quality bag: If you’re anything like me, you’ll be carrying around lunch, a water bottle, snacks, a spare charger, and your laptop in addition to your usual essentials. While I’m currently getting away with my backpack, I’ll transition to a nice, roomy tote when I graduate.

There you have it. All it takes is a few key pieces and a trip to the mall to pull together a wardrobe that you won’t be embarrassed to wear to work. For some outfit inspiration, you can check out these articles from WhoWhatWear, The Muse, and Business Insider. Or, just hop on Pinterest. You’ll be surprised by how many pins pop up!

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