Budgeting for Work Clothing: What Percent of Net Income?

Budgeting for Work Clothing: What Percent of Net Income?

In 2009, Americans spent nearly $325 billion in clothing (yes, a BILLION), which, if averaged out, works out to about $1,800 per household. The way you dress in your professional life has a huge impact on the way you’re seen by others; a fashion misstep at a key moment (on a job interview, for example) can have serious repercussions. LearnVest recommends that you spend no more than 4% of your annual income on your clothing budget (the national average per household is 3.8%).

Listen up: It’s okay to shop! If you enjoy shopping, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Before you go, just do some quick math to figure out what 4% of your post-tax salary is. When you go, simply make sure that you’re choosing really great items that you’ll wear in the future—and that you don’t exceed that 4% figure, and remember that that 4% has to last you all year.

Even if you’re starting a new job with a different dress code, don’t chalk up clothing costs as a business expense. There are ways to look great for work without buying a million new pieces for your wardrobe. We spoke with L.A.-based Barbra Horowitz, the super savvy professional stylist and author of Closet Control, for her advice.

Clothing Is Not an Investment

“Our homes and retirements accounts are our investments,” says Horowitz, but shirts and shoes aren’t. Rather than buying expensive items you fantasize will last forever (they won’t), she recommends you shop regularly and slowly replace worn out basics each season, picking up just a few trendy-but-affordable pieces as you go.

Don’t Do Event Shopping

Horowitz warns that people overspend when they’re under pressure, whether it’s because they’re attending a wedding or going out of town. Instead of buying a new dress for your coworker’s wedding, could you borrow a dress from a friend? If you feel you must buy, start looking as soon as you get the invite in order to find something in your price range.

Accessories Make the Outfit, Anyway

Stretch your wardrobe with accessories. Have a few good staple items, and then make them look different on a regular basis by mixing them up with simple accessories.

Shop for the Waist Up

Horowitz counsels her clients to keep the “see level” in mind. Own two pencil skirts and two trousers, and wear them into the ground. Mix things up with jackets, shirts, jewelry, shoes, and bags.

Don’t Obsess Over Brand Names

Don’t let yourself get emotional about labels. Horowitz loves lines like Forever 21, Club Monaco, and Zara for cute, on-trend, and affordable items.

Buy for Work and Weekend

If you work in a very formal environment, this rule may not apply, but try to buy separates that work for day and evening whenever possible. You’ll feel better going out after work, and you’ll get way more bang for your buck, too.

Know That Personal Shoppers Aren’t Just for the Mega Rich

Another awesome secret: Personal shoppers at Bloomingdale’s offer an array of services for free! These salaried employees don’t work on commission, so they’re not trying to push you into buying stuff you don’t need. They can help you get new pieces and even work with items you already have in your closet to build out your wardrobe. Our friends who’ve gone this route have been extremely happy.

What's the smartest clothing purchase you've made lately? Tell us in the comments section below!

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