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?