One thing I quickly caught onto when I entered corporate America is that all of the women in leadership and executive positions dressed as they were in leadership or management positions. Growing up with a Southern mother I regularly heard “Dress for the job you want” and “People will always treat you better when you’re dressed well.” (Don’t you hate it when you have to admit your mom was right…?) In college, I always dressed up on test days (even if I had pulled an all-nighter) because it made me feel more confident in my abilities and I knew the same philosophy translated to my professional life. If you want to be that ridiculously awesome and empowering woman at the front of the boardroom, you have to dress for it. This WSJ article has the hard facts to back this up.
The issues with this are of course funds. While we wish we could go out and buy a lifetime supply of Armani power suits- on entry-level salaries that’s just not feasible. Check out my tips for dressing for success on a budget and my ultimate fit guide below!
Evaluate what’s already in your closet
Don’t whip out your credit card just yet! Even if you spent the past four years in t-shirts and leggings like me, you probably have quite a bit in your closet already to work with. Separate the naturally businessy items ( blazers, dress pants, suits, blouses, cardigans, and dress skirts) and then start looking through the rest of your clothes to see what could be paired with a blazer or cardigan to b professional. Now that you’ve got everything separated try it on. I know this seems pretty tedious and annoying, but just because it look like “business wear” doesn’t mean it fits like business wear. Check out the fit guidelines at the bottom of this post to find out how everything should fit.
Evaluate what you need
Now that you know what you already have let’s assess what you need. While your dress code is going to vary from job title (executive to entry level) and environment (corporate to small business), you can bet regardless that you’ll need these essentials:
2-3 pairs of dress pants
1-2 knee length skirts
3-5 simple blouses
One pair of comfortable flats
One pair of comfortable high heels
Optional items if your budget allows:
Since you’re on a budget, it’s important to remember to buy all of these elements in neutral colors. Colors like black, navy, khaki/light tan/nude, and gray will allow you to get the most wear out of every item you invest in. For shoes, I would suggest sticking to black or nude.
Where to get business wear on a budget & still feel like a million dollar deal
High quality, great fitting, affordable business wear is not easy to find! Luckily for you, I’ve done all of the hard work and can point you in the right direction! While this isn’t every place to find office-appropriate clothing, it’s a great place to start.
Ann Taylor & Loft
I used to work at Ann Taylor, and I can vouch that the quality of the clothing is exceptionally high and the clothes wear very well. I’ve had AT and Loft pieces for over four years now, and they look brand new and have fit despite my fluctuating weight. Both sister companies offer clothing for all body types in petite, tall, regular, and plus. They also have crazy deals going on literally ALL THE TIME. The only problem you’ll run into here is that you don’t have enough arm to carry all your bags.
New York & Company
I love NY & Co. Not only do they always have a BOGO sale going on, but they also have an extensive selection of work separates to choose from for all body types. Their cigar cut work pants and boot cut jeans for curvy women have become staples in my closet.
Dillards is entirely overlooked and underappreciated in the world of department stores. They carry some seriously fabulous workwear brands like Gianni Bini, Antonio Melani, and Calvin Klein- and you can always find them discounted at sometimes up to 60% off. They also have a great selection of shoes and seem always to have a sale going on in that department. About 85% of my closet is from Dillard’s, and I always seem to find something I love when I go in.
H&M has a wide selection of workwear and transitional blouses at already affordable prices. Some of my favorite tops that I can wear outside of and at have come from H&M.
Marshall’s & TJMaxx
Marshall’s is my go-to place for appropriate office dresses! They carry all of your favorite high-end brands like Michael Kors, …………………. At discounted prices. They also have a great selection of shoes.
While Forever 21 can be a huge hit or miss my favorite navy blazer came from there about six years ago ad it has held up tremendously well and was only $49.99. I have also found some great blouses there. Since their target market is people in their early twenties, their prices are aimed to be affordable on a millennial budget.
Final thoughts and last minute tips
- Show your personality through accessories! Layered necklaces, shoes, scarves, and other accessories are great ways to let your personality shine through even when you’re wearing a three-piece.
- Invest in pieces that will get a lot of wear. When purchasing, ask yourself “what other ways can I wear this?” If you can’t at last think of 3-4 ways, then put down whatever you’re contemplating buying and find something that fits the criteria.
- Avoid busy prints. That cheetah print top is super cute, but unless you already are good to go on basic tops, don’t invest your money into something you won’t be able to wear that often in fear of being an “outfit repeater.”
- Buying basics doesn’t have to be boring. I love buying a white shirt that has extra details like a lace collar or a bell sleeve. Invest in things that can be worn multiple ways but still show a little bit of who you are.
Don’t forget to read my complete “How to Dress For Success Style & Fit Guide” here to make the most of your investment into yourself and career!
Here are some quotes from three powerhouses in fashion to inspire you on your journey of becoming that empowering and impeccably professional woman you want to be!
“Dressing well is a form of good manners”- Tom Ford
“Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman.” -Coco Chanel
“You can have anything you want if you dress for it”- Edith Head
Let me know your tips and tricks when shopping for business wear!
Do you have a go-to brand for your work wear? Let me know in the comments section!