Looking good is necessary in the workaday world, and approaching the wardrobe building process without a solid plan can throw even the best penny-pinching plans awry. Here are a few classic clothing choices to look affordably professional in the workplace.
The right pair of dress pants will serve you well.
For women, nothing beats a great pair of black dress pants that can pair with a crisp white shirt, suit jacket or even a great sweater set. Black stands up to dirt, helping you look fresh all day. While men can obviously benefit from black suit slacks as well, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out the perks of owning a pair of casually-dressy khakis. Paired with a navy blazer for travel days, or a simple v-neck sweater and shirt combo with a tie, these pants will go the distance in a variety of situations where a full suit isn’t necessarily required.
To be frugal with footwear, you might need to spend a bit more.
Cheap footwear is a no-no. Not only is it a poor use of precious wardrobe pennies that will force you to throw good money after bad, it also sends the wrong message to any potential clients you are trying to reel in. Especially if you want them to pay you the big bucks. This is something I covered more extensively in Wardrobe Shopping Tips for Job Interviews. As far as specific footwear recommendations go, there are a few strategies that stand out.
For women, a pair of knee boots can work with pantsuit, wrap dress and even a casual denim skirt after work, making it unnecessary to pack extra footwear on your daily commute. With the wardrobe selections I make, basic black is the color I get the most mileage from and is certainly more than appropriate for basic office attire. If earth tones are more your thing, then you might want to go with brown instead.
While applying the same color decision to a set of classic oxfords can work for men, I once had a reader suggest something to me that stuck. Rather than worry about what color his future wardrobe choices might be, he preferred to leave himself free to capitalize on clothing sales and made oxblood his color of choice for quality dress shoe purchases. A quick internet search will likely show a few trendy designers trying to sell an obnoxious shade of raspberry as oxblood. Don’t be sidetracked. You’re looking for that dark, slightly reddish shade that’s neither black nor brown but looks smashing with either color of suit slacks.
Trench coats will stand the test of time.
There’s a reason the classics are called such. They’ve stood the test of time, and remain stylish year after year. One career classic both men and women will be able to wear year after year is a trench coat. It pays to purchase the best brand you can afford, but there are certainly ways to save a buck. For example, I have a three-season London Fog trench with a zip-out liner and matching gloves that I bought on sale at the company’s outlet in Freeport, Maine more than twenty-one years ago. It’s still going strong, and I strive to take excellent care of it since it was purchased when pennies were quite dear.
When it comes to dress shirts, save your pennies for performance wear.
While this is particularly important for business travel, it also makes sense for those in the corporate world who need to look sharp on marathon work days. Rumpled sleeves could cost you that deal you’ve been negotiating for weeks, and stain resistance is a huge perk that’s worth the extra dough. Again, designer duds aren’t necessary if your pay grade doesn’t permit it, but research which quality mid-range brands will go the distance will be worth your time. Scour the sale fliers and pounce when you find a price that suits your budget.
Accessorize with a smartphone.
While setting aside funds for the proper career wardrobe is arguably a necessary part of budgeting for your business, shelling out serious dough on a briefcase is passé in my opinion. Even those who have a need to carry files with them everyday are likely now using a messenger bag to accommodate laptops, tablet devices and in my case, camera equipment. Having a high-powered smartphone will not only help you handle travel receipts and scheduling changes, but also leave the door open to reference online projects, documents and media spots should the interview questions lean in that direction.
Your work wardrobe is an important part of your career success to be sure, but there’s no need to let these expenditures trash your budget. Selecting quality, classic pieces at a price point that suits you will have you looking polished and prepared.