5 Steps to Building an Affordable Work Wardrobe

Check out this helpful post from The Daily Muse:

So you’re starting a new job, and you need a new wardrobe. Sweet!

Well, except for the fact that you won’t actually be getting a paycheck for a month. And meanwhile, you have 20 days of work to attend, and you can’t exactly wear yoga pants.

Building a work wardrobe from scratch isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. But if you know what you’re looking for and you stick to a budget, you can have a closet full of office attire (a different outfit for every day of the month!) without breaking the bank. Here’s how.

Stop 1: Banana Republic

First off, you’re going to need a suit: the entire blazer + pants + skirt combo. And this is not where you want to skimp—you’ll want something classic and professional that will stand the test of time. This might seem like a huge chunk out of your not-so-huge budget, but hear me out: You don’t have to pay retail! If you subscribe to BR’s emails, you know that they discount full-priced items all the time—anywhere from 25-40% off.

So, pick a day with a great sale, and pick up a suit in a classic, seasonless color, like black or grey. Then, head to the sale rack and grab a pair of pants in a different shade—the Sloane and Martin fits are great for work.

Stop 2: Marshalls or TJ Maxx

Next up, tops. You’ll need at least six work-appropriate tops and blouses to start off. Banana, Ann Taylor, The Limited and Anthropologie all have fabulous picks, but at $40 a pop (or more), building a collection can seriously add up.

A better bet is to head to a discount retailer like Marshalls, Ross, TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack. It’ll take some scouring, but you’re bound to find tops in a variety of styles in the $15-20 range. To mix up your look, pick blouses in a variety of colors, styles and patterns (also make sure they don’t need to be dry-cleaned).

Stop 3: Online Boutiques

Now that you have the basics covered, it’s time to hunt down a couple of standout pieces that will go a long way toward making your work look a little different than everyone else’s. Look for one dress and one skirt in a bold, solid color, like orange, green or royal blue.

We love Dorothy Perkins, which has a variety of styles under $50, and Modcloth, which has funky styles at all price points.

Stop 4: DSW

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: You must have comfortable shoes! That said, you definitely don’t have to pay full price for them. Head to DSW and pick up last season’s styles from brands like Nine West or Bandolino (believe me, when it comes to work shoes, styles don’t change that much from year to year). You should be able to pick up two pairs under $100. Look for one pair of basic black pumps, and another in a neutral color, like grey, brown or nude.

Stop 5: Forever 21

Now, I don’t necessarily advocate shopping for office attire at this retailer (although I have found a few gems there over the years), but it’s a gold mine for accessories. And though you might not think to prioritize these little extras, they’re key to mixing up your look.

Look for a few belts, scarves and standout bracelets and necklaces that complement your clothing purchases.

The Looks
Now, it’s time to pull it all together. If you pick items that mix and match well, you’ll be able to pull off a month’s worth (or more!) of different ensembles.

More from The Daily Muse

15 Spring Dresses Perfect for Work
 The Chanel Look for Less  
Librarian Chic 

  • nikki

    i would also recommend going to a Goodwill for some wardrobe items. sometimes you can find some good quality pieces there for cheap. and don’t forget about shoe carnival for shoes. i once purchased some comfortable kitten heels for $30.

  • ranavain

    I second the call for Goodwill. My classic black kitten heels came from there for $6. And a gorgeous silk shirt I’ve had and used for like 6 years was $4. It’s amazing the things you can find secondhand! 

    Though for the staples, the column’s advice is pretty good. It’s more than I typically spend per piece, but I also sometimes have to replace items more often. I do love Ross, and I would add that you should have one or two camisoles or layering tanks, which you can get at Old Navy and whatnot for like $3 on sale. 

  • simone

    Target clearance rack is also a great place