How to Build a Career Wardrobe on a Budget

You’ve landed the job. It’s your first office gig, or just one you really wanted. You’re mentally prepared and excited to start. Then you glance at your closet and realize… the only outfits you can wear to work are the ones you wore to interviews.

Or maybe you’re already at the job, but you’re tired of rotating the same five dress shirts every week. But how do you build a professional wardrobe on a tight budget? It’s easier than you think, if you make some smart choices about when and where to shop.

Here are few ways to stock your workday wardrobe without breaking the bank:

Build a Solid Foundation of Classics

As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want more than 20-25% of your wardrobe to be trendy pieces. Why? Those shimmery leopard print skinny jeans and neon orange kicks might be on fleek now, but six months later they’ll be going to Goodwill. Trust us. Plus, they likely won't be in your company's dress code.

Instead, focus on building a foundation of job appropriate classics that will never fall out of fashion, like well-fitting dark trousers, a comfortable blazer and tailored blouses and shirts in a neutral color palette. When you find a look that works for you, buy multiples of each piece in a variety of colors. That way, you can mix and match them to form several unique outfits.

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Pro Tip: If you do spring for trends, limit them to fun shoes, job-worthy staples and accessories that you could wear from day to night.

Seek Out:

  • Dress slacks and/or a pencil skirt in basic black
  • Easy-care/wrinkle-free Khaki pants in neutral colors
  • Knee-length sheath dresses in solid colors
  • A navy blue or black blazer that skims the hip
  • Comfortable loafers, espadrilles or ballet flats
  • A white dress shirt
  • Cardigans or sweaters for chilly days in the office
  • Machine washable items, so you don't have to dry clean weekly


  • Anything shiny or glittery
  • Too-short skirts
  • Low necklines
  • Capri pants (unless your office allows them)
  • “Fad” trend clothing
  • Loud patterns

Shop Sales and Prowl for Pre-Owned

You don’t have to spend big bucks to look like a million at work. There are plenty of places, both local and digital, to find attractive career clothing on a ramen noodle budget.

Big Box Bargains:

In recent years, well-known bargain retailers have started to pick up “everyday” versions of celebrity fashion labels. The sale/clearance racks at Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and other big-box retailers often contain designer career separates, especially when styles or seasons are changing. Next time you’re grabbing groceries or cleaning supplies, thumb through the fashion racks to see if you can find some worthwhile wardrobe additions.

Take the Hunt Online:

Online giants like Amazon and Alibaba can often undercut prices of brick-and-mortar stores, but buyer beware. Check labels to make sure designer clothing is legit, and make sure there’s a good no-fee return policy before buying. You don’t want to end up stuck with a baggy, poorly sewn knockoff.

Go Out to an Outlet:

For designer clothing at a big price cut, try local outlet malls like Phoenix Premium Outlets, Tanger Outlets or the Outlets at Anthem. Outlet shops get overstock from brand-name and designer retailers, and typically offer higher price discounts than traditional mall stores on top of already lower prices.

Get Thrifty:

Thrift stores are also surprisingly good sources of job-worthy clothing, from blazers and skirts to full suits, ties and sheath dresses. Sure, you’ll have to sort through some circa-1975 polyester numbers to find a hidden gem, but when you do, it could save you big bucks. Look for modern career staples that fit your body type, in good condition or with tags.

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Pro Tip: If Goodwill or Savers doesn’t have what you need, try local resale shops like Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange and Turn Style Consignment.

Say it Isn’t Sew: DIY a Few Favorites

Ok, we’re not saying you should make everything in your closet — seriously, who has time for that in-between job(s), school, family, pet care and social commitments? But if you’re in a pinch and really want that $400 Gucci blouse you spotted in your favorite celebrity fashion mag, it could really pay to have some sewing skills.

You may not be able to afford the designer label, but you can pick out a similar fabric and mimic the look for a whole lot less. Plus, you’ll be able to say you made it (or choose to keep that little tidbit to yourself) whenever you get complimented on your style. And even if all you can do is sew a button or hem a pant leg, you could pick up nearly-new designer threads that others discard to thrift stores and fix them up to work for you.

Wrapping It Up

The bottom line is that you don’t need to drain your bank account to build an amazing wardrobe for your current or future job. With a little crafty mending, you can bring discarded designer threads back to life. And by shopping smart, you can get career-centric clothes at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re serious about dressing sharp on the job, build a clothing allowance into your monthly budget. Start by purchasing some staples like dress pants and work-friendly tops; then, set a goal to purchase one or two new complete outfits each month, keeping our thrifty tips in mind. A year from now, you’ll have a full career wardrobe that can take you to your next job opportunity — and beyond!

The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.