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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Secrets for Building a Fab Work Wardrobe From Scratch

person getting dressed
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Note: This article’s a Muse original. That’s a nice way of saying that it might be a little bit out-of-date. However, if you’re interested in work attire, we have some newer (and awesome-er) articles right here and here. If you want some more direction, send us a note, and we’ll do our best to help you out.

So you’re starting a new job, and you need a new wardrobe. Sweet!

Well, except for that you won’t actually be getting a paycheck for a month. And meanwhile, you have 20 days of work to attend, and you can’t exactly wear yoga pants.

Building a work wardrobe from scratch isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. But if you know what you’re looking for and you stick to a budget, you can have a closet full of office attire (and a different outfit for every day of the month!) without breaking the bank.

Here’s how:

Stop 1: Banana Republic for Suits

First off, you’re going to need a suit: the entire blazer + pants + skirt combo. And this is not where you want to skimp—you’ll want something classic and professional, and that will stand the test of time.

This might seem like a huge chunk out of your not-so-huge budget, but hear me out: You don’t have to pay retail! If you subscribe to BR’s emails, you know that they discount full-priced items all the time—anywhere from 25-40% off.

So, pick a day with a great sale, and pick up a suit in a classic, seasonless color, like black or grey. Then, head to the sale rack and grab a pair of pants in a different shade.

Stop 2: Marshalls or TJ Maxx for Tops

Next up, tops. You’ll need at least six work-appropriate tops and blouses to start off. Banana, Ann Taylor, The Limited, and Anthropologie all have fabulous picks, but at $40 a pop (or more), building a collection can seriously add up.

A better bet is to head to a discount retailer like Marshalls, Ross, TJ Maxx, or Nordstrom Rack. It’ll take some scouring, but you’re bound to find tops in a variety of styles in the $15-20 range. To mix up your look, pick blouses in a variety of colors, styles, and patterns (also make sure they don’t need to be dry-cleaned).

Stop 3: Online Boutiques for Stand-Out Pieces

Now that you have the basics covered, it’s time to hunt down a couple of standout pieces that will go a long way in making your work look a little different than everyone else’s. Look for one dress and one skirt in a bold, solid color, like orange, green, or royal blue.

We love Dorothy Perkins, which has a variety of styles under $50, and Modcloth, which has funky styles at all price points.

Stop 4: DSW for Shoes

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: You must have comfortable shoes!

That said, you definitely don’t have to pay full price for them. Head to DSW and pick up last season’s styles from brands like Nine West or Bandolino (believe me, when it comes to work shoes, styles don’t change that much from year to year). You should be able to pick up two pairs under $100. Look for one pair of basic black pumps, and another in a neutral color, like grey, brown, or nude.

Stop 5: Forever 21 for Accessories

Now, I don’t necessarily advocate shopping for office attire at this retailer (although I have found a few gems there over the years), but it’s a gold mine for accessories. And though you might not think to prioritize these little extras, they’re key to mixing up your look.

Look for a few belts, scarves, and standout bracelets and necklaces that complement your clothing purchases.

Now, it’s time to pull it all together. If you pick items that mix-and-match well, you’ll be able to pull off a month’s worth (or more!) of different ensembles.