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How to Dress Professionally on a Ramen Noodle Budget

Dress Professionally on a Budget

You’ve heard that phrase “you’ve got to spend money to make money,” but did you ever think it would apply to your closet? Business attire is no joke price-wise, and it’s especially un-funny when you’re a recent grad facing 6-figure student debt. If you were lucky enough to score a gig at a super casual tech startup, congrats! We hear that hoodies are on sale 2 for 1 at Sweatpants ‘R’ Us. But what if your boss is expecting Wolf of Wall Street and your budget’s more like Two Broke Girls?

This brings us to our next installment of Functional Fashion for Office Ninjas.

Your Mission: Dress Like a Pro on an Amateur’s Budget

Basic Suit Pieces

Suit trends come and go, but a basic black, blue or grey suit will always be acceptable in the workplace. Once you have a few paychecks under your belt, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a really well-made suit and have it tailored. Until then, we’ve found a few pieces that will help you fake it ‘til you make it.

H&M is a great resource for stylish but affordable suit basics.

For the ladies, the slightly puffed sleeves this jacket ($34.95) are a trendy but subtle detail, and this pencil skirt ($24.95) is appropriate for a conservative workplace but can also be dressed up for dinner or happy hour:

H&M Womens

For the fellas, we like this classic blazer ($49.95) and matching suit pants ($24.95):

H&M Mens

Dress Shirts

If your suit is basic enough, you can get away with wearing it multiple times during the week as long as you switch up what you wear under it.

For ladies, The Limited offers this collared shirt in multiple colors ($49.95). While the regular price isn’t super cheap, The Limited often runs sales and specials. (Last week this shirt was 50% off!). For the fellas, we found this ASOS Smart Shirt on sale for $18.95!

dress shirts

Shoes

This is the one area where you’ll likely want to pay just a little bit more. If your shoes are really cheap, you may end up paying the difference in other currencies…like pain and suffering.

Keep an eye on large department stores for seasonal and holiday shoe sales, and use apps like SnipSnap to keep track of coupons and special offers.

For ladies, we found these go-with-anything nude pumps by INC International Concepts on sale for $48.65. For fellas, these Alfani Adam Oxfords are available in black and brown and are regularly priced at a reasonable $59.99.

Dress Shoes

Accessories

So far we’ve been pretty practical, which is necessary when you’ve got a strict dress code and limited resources. So, here’s your chance to be a little more adventurous.

For ladies, a statement necklace can dress up a more straightforward black suit. Charming Charlie has tons of jewelry, handbags and accessories that look way more expensive than they actually are. The Daydream Necklace in turquoise comes with a set of matching earrings and is only $13. This Milano Triple Bag-in-Bag Tote ($39) is available in black or brown and comes with a detachable interior bag and wristlet.

Ladies Accessories

For fellas, The Tie Bar offers affordable ties, pocket squares, socks and other accessories in fun colors and quirky patterns. This Silk Teal Elkhorn Skinny Tie is only $15. The skull and crossbones pattern on this pocket square ($8) is edgy but still subtle enough to be up to dress code.

Fellas Accessories

Other Tips

Download Money Saving Apps

We mentioned SnipSnap, which keeps track of coupons and special offers. Coupons at Checkout also keeps track of all your various deals and discount codes.

Check Out Second-Hand Sites

A handful of sites and apps sell gently worn brand name or designer clothes for a fraction of the original price. We like Poshmark, Liketwice, and Threadflip.

Get Thrifty

Don’t be afraid to pop into a thrift store and flip through the racks. People buy things they don’t really need/want/fit into all the time. You’ll be amazed by how many super cheap, high-quality pieces you’ll find with the tags still attached. Thrift stores are also great for sourcing raw materials that can be completely transformed with some basic sewing skills and a lot of vision. Check out what this designer does with her thrift store finds.

See? It is possible to look like a million bucks for far, far less.

What are some of your favorite budget fashion finds? Do you have a favorite outfit you got for a steal? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

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  1. Any advice for the plus size crowd? Or how to look professional in a world of jeans and hooded sweatshirts?

  2. January/February are a great time for sales. Not all stores are created equal. Find what store location of your favorite retailer stocks the widest and most selection of sale merchandise…plan to stay awhile trying it all on. And go a few times a month for lucky returns or newly consolidated products. Buy basics! I just picked up two more pairs of my favorite black pants and another of my favorite black skirt…all originally $89.00, on sale for $39.99 each. This will literally keep me dressed on the bottom for months to come.
    And always get on the list for coupons…paying full price should rarely happen in todays retail environment.

    1. Great tips, Leslie! You can’t go wrong with basics in black.

  3. Business attire pricing is also a major deal for older ninjas who paid off kid’s college loans and now have to go it alone so this helps. Though at my age, I may get a few looks walking into Limited. Perhaps I need to start a Limited for the older crowd!

    1. Glad you found this helpful, Carolyn! And, don’t be afraid to shop at Limited – a deal is a deal!

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