How to Update Your Work Wardrobe for Less

Man in suit reading the paper
Man in suit | iStock

Looking sharp for work is a must. Appearances matter, especially when it comes time for the higher ups to make a decision about who will be hired or promoted. Skills are important, but how you present yourself sends a message, whether you realize it or not. The way you dress communicates how much you care about your work and whether you can be trusted to pay attention to details. Also, if you engage with outside clients on a regular basis, it shows that you cared enough about the meeting that you made an extra effort to look nice.

“A first impression is formed in less than five seconds … The amount of time you have to impress upon someone that you are right for the job passes as quickly as an eye roll,” said stylist Lauren A. Rotham. “Your five seconds could happen on the way into an interview, as you casually pass someone in the hall, or when you enter a conference room for that important meeting. In business, your clothes are an armor that helps communicate a message of strength.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to look great for work. Here are a few tips for updating your work wardrobe for less.

Take inventory

You can start saving money immediately by taking a peek in your closet. Before heading out to the store, you’ll want to take note of what you already own. A common shopping mistake is purchasing duplicate clothing items because you forgot you already had something similar. What’s even worse is purchasing the same article of clothing again because you didn’t carve out the time to take stock of your wardrobe. And don’t forget to remove clothing items you haven’t worn in a few years. An overstuffed closet will make it harder to see what you have.

Debbie Roes, founder of Recovering Shopaholic, suggests taking note of how often you wear your garments. “Do you have any idea how often you wear the garments in your closet? We often believe we’re wearing our clothes much more than we actually are. While we may believe we wear each of our 20 pairs of jeans a few times per month, pure logic will tell us that isn’t really possible (unless we’re wearing several outfits each day),” said Roes. There are plenty of apps available, such as StyleBook and NetRobe, that can help you organize your closet digitally.


Man touching watch
Man wearing watch | ThinkStock

The right accessories can spruce up any outfit and help you look pulled together without spending a fortune. Adding a new tie, belt, or scarf to your wardrobe can provide a low-cost way to refresh a drab wardrobe. Style expert Bridgette Raes said sometimes your best choice is to make a purchase in order to save money. “You may be wondering why adding more to your shopping list will save you money. Here’s the reason: The more accessories you own, the less clothing you will have to buy, it’s that simple. Why?  The more accessories you have (which are often cheaper in price than clothing and can be worn multiple times per week) are what change up your look. So, imagine having one [outfit] that you can accessorize four different ways simply with a shoe change or different jewelry. This will cost you a lot less than having multiple stand-alone outfits that can’t be changed up through your accessories,” said Raes.

What’s the right way to accessorize? Style expert Jane Liddelow suggests learning which colors and patterns complement your look. “When shopping for accessories, as with clothes, you will find your most flattering looks by understanding the colors and styles that suit you best…When choosing accessories, such as shoes and a [bag], to wear with an outfit the most important thing is to harmonize with your outfit. By harmonize I mean make sure there’s some common element or theme between the accessory and the outfit. This could be color (either picking out a similar hue or choosing some other color element to echo such as: cool or warm; muted, sheen, or shiny; light, medium or dark), perceived weight, texture or some other style or design element,” said Liddelow.

Get back to basics

If all you have in your closet are brightly colored clothes with wild patterns, it’s definitely time for an upgrade. You’ll save money by adding a few basic pieces to your work wardrobe. This way, you can mix and match with accessories and other pieces in your closet. Some go-to items you’ll want to add are a black or navy blazer, solid-colored shirts, and pants in black and brown. Stylist Kathryn Finney, founder of fashion site Budget Fashionista, said black and brown should be your go-to colors when developing a basic wardrobe. “There’s a reason why I believe you should purchase items in black and brown—you can wear these items several times a week, making sure to change up the accessories/ tops, without anyone noticing that you’re wearing the same item over and over,” said Finney.

Call in the professionals

If you can’t seem to get your wardrobe together, and you don’t have a clue about developing work outfits on a budget, you may want to consider a wardrobe consultation. Liddelow said a wardrobe consultation can offer an objective and professional viewpoint. (This is especially helpful when it comes to deciding which clothes you need to give away, as you may be emotionally attached to certain clothing items.) A consultant can teach you how to identify clothes that look good on you, show you where you’re wasting money, how you can optimize what you already own, and what you can toss.

Follow Sheiresa on Twitter and Facebook.