How to Build a Work Wardrobe on a Limited Budget

In college, most people have a little help in the finance department, whether from parents or even financial aid. So many times the “real world” can often cause sticker shock. All of a sudden, you have a whole new stack of expenses: rent, utilities, commuting, groceries, student loan payments, and no one to help out.

Your wallet may feel exponentially lighter when you first enter the workforce, and it’s often a challenge to build up a solid workplace appropriate wardrobe. However, you shouldn’t try to make do with your college attire—a well-fitting, put-together professional wardrobe is essential if you want to make a strong impression at your first job. Here are some tips on how to fit the expense of work clothes into your already tight budget.

Make a Budget.

Source: Denim and Cateye

The best thing you can do if you want to steadily build a collection of work clothes is set aside a specific amount of money each month and use it to purchase professional clothing. Pete the Planner recommends dedicating five percent of your take home pay to clothing. So if you’re bringing home $2,000 a month, set aside $100 for clothing.

If you only have the funds to buy one or two items each month, it’s important to strategically plan which items you’re going to purchase first. In general, you should start with the basics: slacks, blouses, skirts, blazers, practical shoes, cardigans, etc. Build up a foundation for your work wardrobe using classic pieces that can be mixed and matched. Once you have a solid base to work with, that’s when you can start buying fun accessories, jewelry and bags to round out your look.


Cut Back on Extraneous Expenses.

Source: Extra Petite

If you’re really dedicated to building an amazing work wardrobe, you may want to boost your clothing budget by cutting back on other expenses for a few months. You’d be amazed how much money you can save by:

  • Giving up (or cutting back on) alcohol
  • Bringing your breakfast/lunch to work every day
  • Opting for office-made coffee instead of Starbucks
  • Canceling cable and using Netflix or Hulu instead
  • Walking or biking instead of taking a cab or Uber
  • Canceling an unused gym membership

Even taking one or two of these steps can add up significantly. Just think, if you buy a latte three times a week, you’re probably dropping $15 each week on coffee. That’s an extra $60 a month that could be used to build your wardrobe.

Shop Smart! Choose Quality Over Quantity.

Source: Musings of a Curvy Lady

When it comes to work clothes, it’s more important to have high quality basics than to have a lot of options. You might think that buying cheap attire is the key to building a wardrobe on a budget, but actually the opposite is true. You’re better off spending $100 on a great pair of slacks that fit you well and will last for years than you are buying a few pairs of $20 pants that you’ll have to replace in a few months.

Know The Signs of Good Clothing.

Source: Champagne Lifestyle

However, you shouldn’t assume something is a quality piece just because it’s expensive. If you’re going to make the most of your budget, get in the habit of examining clothes for signs of poor construction.

First, look at the garment tag and note the fiber content. Natural fibers like cotton and wool tend to hold up better over time than their synthetic counterparts, so high percentages of these fibers are a good sign.

You’ll also want to take a peek at the stitching. Look at an inside seam—are the stitches consistent and tight? Any snags or loops? Are strings hanging off? Are all buttons sewed on securely? If you spot any red flags, put the garment back. The last thing you need is for it to fall apart after two washes.

Take Your Time.

Source: Penny Pincher Fashion

When you’re shopping with limited funds, you’re not going to be able to build a killer wardrobe overnight. However, if you stick to your budget, shop smart, and keep your eye on the prize, you’ll be best dressed in the office before you know it!


What tips do you have for building a work wardrobe?

  • Leslie

    Taking your time is an excellent piece of advice! I have been in a rush so many times to buy pieces to realize they didn’t work! Budget shopping seems to work better for me. Buying dupes for designer pieces also works best for me. Great post!

  • Anna

    Be willing to check out Marshall’s & TJ Maxx. You can often find really good quality pieces for significantly cheaper.

  • Look at the clothing you already own and figure out which pieces really work for you and flatter your body type. Knowing the silhouette you’re looking for before going shopping makes it so much easier and stress-free! Ex: if you’re a skinny jean girl, look for slimmer fit in slacks; if you like boyfriend jeans, wide-leg slacks are for you. This also applies to flattering colors, etc.

  • Cool ideas 🙂 I’ve had good luck in thrift stores and found high-quality pieces. Another way to build a professional wardrobe.


  • Caitlin

    I worked in retail as a second job for my first two years out of college. While I know that not everyone has a schedule that allows this (my main job is only 40 hours a week with little evening/weekend work), it was a great way to build a work wardrobe on a budget because I had some extra money and a great discount.

  • The plaid dress is so sharp, I love it!!

    Budget doesn’t have to mean cheap looking clothing, it’s defn about picking the right pieces with quality materials. A lot of indie designer stuff have better quality (cause they focus on quality ingredients) than big store brands with huge advertising budgets. And because their stuff is “less seen”, you naturally will more use of them (because you get less sick of seeing the style everywhere)

  • I’m all about quality over quantity. I used to think the opposite but like you said your money is better spent on a pair of slacks that fit you well then multiple pairs that will only last you a few months. Love this post. Thanks for sharing!

  • فساتين سهرة رائعة جدا

    فساتين سهرة جميلة جدا و كل فساتين سهرة فل وياسمين جميله لدرجه لا توصف و فساتين سهرة موديلات مختلفة منها فساتين سهرة طويلة و فساتين سهرة محتشمة و فساتين سهرة قصيرة و فساتين سهرة للمحجبات

  • Hi, tanx
    Cool ideas

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