How to Build a Work Wardrobe (When You’re Broke)

How to Build a Work Wardrobe (When You’re Broke)

August 17, 2017

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When I accepted the offer for my first job, I only had about $100 to create an entire work wardrobe. And when I walked into stores, I quickly found that my $100 wouldn’t buy a single dress. I was frustrated and panicking because my start date was just a few days away.

Thankfully, I did some research and talked to friends, and got some smart ideas to find cheap work clothes. I was able to start work with many office-worthy outfits that looked great, without overextending my budget.

Here are five tips I used to build my work wardrobe on a budget:

1. Check Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops

Thrift shops like Goodwill or the Salvation Army can be a treasure trove of great clothing pieces. You can get name-brand trousers, dresses, shirts and even suits for just a couple of dollars. Many of the clothes look new, and some still have tags on them.

I’ve gone to Goodwill and spent just $25, and walked out with cashmere sweaters, Banana Republic dress pants and six shirts from J. Crew and White House Black Market. If I went to those stores to buy something new, that $25 wouldn’t have even gotten me a t-shirt.

2. Look for Brands Online

Shopping online can help you build a wardrobe of high-quality staples on a tiny budget. If you’re going this route, go to brick-and-mortar stores and try on the clothes. Make a note of your sizes in different brands and what cuts fit you well. Then, when you search online, you’ll know which clothes will fit and flatter you.

eBay, Poshmark, Tradesy and Thredup are all great sites to find serious bargains. I was looking for a Kiyonna dress for work; brand new, they typically cost $100 and up. But on eBay, I was able to snag the same dress, new with tags, for just $15.

You can also sell your casual clothes on those sites. Doing so will clear out some space in your closet, and you’ll have more money to build your work wardrobe.

3. Hold a Clothing Swap

Gather your friends together for a clothing swap party. Ask everyone to bring clothing, shoes, and accessories they no longer want. Then, each person can take turns choosing items they want to take home. You can find quality items for free while having fun with friends.

For my work, I needed a large tote bag to carry my laptop and other office supplies. But every bag I looked at was a week’s pay or more. I held a clothing swap, and I traded my friend a necklace for this gorgeous black leather handbag she said was too big for her. She had used it once, so it was in pristine condition, and fit my needs exactly.

4. Focus on Building a Capsule Wardrobe

When you’re on a budget, it can be tempting to grab items off a clearance rack and try to make it work. But you’re likely to end up with a bunch of clothes that don’t match with anything else, so it’s money wasted.

Instead, focus your efforts on building a capsule wardrobe. With this approach, you establish a small wardrobe with clothes in complementary colors, so you can mix and match them in many different ways. Looking for clothes in the same color family can help you reduce the amount of pieces you need.

I chose black or gray and jewel tones like royal blue, emerald green, and burgundy. My basics, like pants, shoes and dresses are black or gray. Most of the the tops and jackets are jewel tones, which all match both my dresses and pants. I can create dozens of outfits using just 20 pieces.

If you don’t know where to start, this guide may help.

5. Shop with Discounted Gift Cards

Over $1 billion in gift cards go unused every year. Many people decide to sell their cards, rather than have them gather dust in a drawer somewhere. You can purchase gift cards at a significant discount on sites like Gift Card Granny and Raise.

Shopping with a discounted gift card helps you stretch your budget further. For example, you can buy a $100 Ann Taylor gift card for just $68.95. You can get $100 worth of items while just spending a portion of your own money. And if you combine your gift card with coupons you download from sites like RetailMeNot, you can save even more.

I regularly use discounted gift cards for clothes shopping. I love Talbot’s, but not their prices. But I can get gift cards at a 50 percent discount, making their clothes much more affordable.

Creating Your Wardrobe

Starting your first job can be stressful, and trying to build an entry-level business casual or business formal wardrobe can be overwhelming. Before heading to the stores, create a plan for what you need and use these strategies to reduce your costs. You can end up saving hundreds while building a beautiful closet full of work-appropriate outfits.