How to Build a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget

professional-wardrobe-on-a-budget

How to Build a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget

If you’re like most working professionals, you of course want to look nice and presentable for your job, but building up a professional wardrobe takes time, and let’s face it- money.

In a perfect world, we’d all be able to go on a shopping spree to buy a fantastic wardrobe with endless suits, but let’s be real- other things often take priority leading us to be creative.

I’ve now been part of the working community for almost five years, and in that time I have learned a lot in the arena of building up a professional wardrobe. Today I’m sharing helpful advice on how to choose the best clothing pieces to make your dollar stretch further, while still looking both cute and professional for your job.

professional-wardrobe-on-a-budget

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Evaluate Your Existing Wardrobe

Before heading out on a shopping trip, take a good long look at the clothes you already have in your closet. First, create a pile with any obvious professional pieces, such as dress pants, skirts, and blazers. Second, take a look at items in your closet that have “professional potential”, and add those pieces to the pile. Cute tops you may have never considered to be professional, can become instantly classy and chic once paired with a nice blazer.

Next, try all those items on. Yes, I know this might seem tedious but there’s no reason to keep that pair of dress pants that has a torn-up zipper, or that sweater that has a noticeable run down the front. You’ll also want to make sure everything fits well and is an appropriate length and cut for the workplace. If it doesn’t make the cut, throw it out of the pile, donating and tossing as sees fit.

Lastly, create a list of any professional items that are missing. (Don’t forget shoes and accessories!) Ideally, you will want enough of a wardrobe base to get you through an entire 5 day work week.

Professional Wardrobe Shopping List Essentials
  • 2-3 Pairs of Dress Pants
  • Blazer
  • 1-2 Knee Length Skirts
  • 3-5 Simple Blouses
  • Pair of Comfortable Flats and/or High Heels
Optional Items if Budget Allows:
  • Suit
  • Simple Dress
  • Cardigan

Top 5 Money Saving Tips:

  • Stick with neutral shades on items such as blazers, skirts, and pants for versatility. Black, navy, and gray are all great choices.
  • Shop for staple items in the off season. Late winter and early spring is a great time to shop for suits and dress pants while they’re clearanced down. I also recommend shopping the end of summer clearance racks for nice looking camisoles or tanks that can be worn under blazers and cardigans.
  • Avoid flashy or trendy prints. Although it might be cute, people will quickly notice if you’re repeat wearing a top with hearts all over it.
  • Add color to your wardrobe through accessories (i.e. jewelry, scarves, shoes, etc.). Although a leopard print blouse is cute, purchasing a pair of printed flats or scarf will prove to be a more cost effective choice, as it can be worn with multiple outfits in different ways.
  • Use the one piece 3 way rule. If you can look at an item in the store and visually create 3 looks or more out of it, then it is worth purchasing. For instance, a simple white blouse can be worn alone, under a blazer, with a cardigan, paired with a scarf, and under a sweater, making it a no-brainer staple.

professional wardrobe on a budget


I hope today’s post has been helpful to those of you who are currently trying to build up a professional wardrobe! What other money saving tips would you add?

Thanks for stopping by!-Cara

Linking up on Amaze Me MondayBest of the BlogosphereTutorials & Tips, Wonderful Wednesday, Think Tank Thursday

90 Comments

  1. These are all great tips! I love the 3-way rule; I’ve been trying to do that more when I buy something and it’s really helped me make better choices on what to spend my money on!

    1. Thanks Chelsie! It does help you be more conscientious about what you’re buying and helps you not buy something that will only be worn once. (I’ve been guilty of that before and have later regretted it).

  2. These tips are so true. I have to have suits for work. So I staked out the outlet mall and have eventually acquired a black, navy and grey suit, and then now I have a set with pants, with a skirt, etc. I bought them all years ago and they’re still great quality (thanks outlet designers!) so now I just have to replace the blouses that go with them as they fade or wear out. Easy peasy!

    1. Exactly! It’s all about investing a little more in staple pieces and then filling in the gaps with less expensive items. So glad to hear these tips have worked for you! πŸ™‚

  3. I have been building a wardrobe for so many years now, I forgot how I started with it.

    I do always buy things I love in more than one color, but that’s not really budget friendly. LOL

    1. But I bet they’re all staple pieces though that can be worn several ways! I do that with cardigans and solid tops! πŸ™‚

  4. Comfortable shoes are KEY! The last thing you want to be stuck in all day at work is an uncomfortable pair of shoes!

    1. Exactly! I love wearing cute high heels but some days when I’m on my feet all day or doing a lot of walking I’ll throw a pair of flats in my bag to wear when I’m “working” and then change into the cuter ones for the event. πŸ˜‰

  5. I love your tips! I agree, shopping for pieces that do not stand out can make it so much easier to wear a piece multiple times throughout the week. Another point I am happy you made was when you listed each piece you would need. It helps you realize how little you actually need to make this wardrobe work. After all, you work 5 days a week, typically, and if you purchase the right pieces, you can have a small wardrobe for work that always makes you feel fabulous!

    1. Thanks Erin! I completely agree! I think your minimalistic tips are starting to wear off on me! (which is great!) πŸ˜‰

  6. Absolutely great tips. I’m just in the process of building a wardrobe now. It’s a lot harder than I thought but I’ll definitely be using these. x

  7. I think that these tips are really going to help me after my college is over and I start working! Thanks! πŸ™‚

    1. You’re welcome! It takes time to build up a professional wardrobe, but these tips have been very helpful to me over the years! πŸ™‚

  8. Great post & tips! I love the 1-for-3 test! I’ve started working in an office part time, and have really needed to bulk up my wardrobe! Thank you!

  9. These are great tips. I am glad I don’t have to dress professionally in my job, but I totally agree having neutral blazers – they are the perfect topper!

  10. I love your one way 3 piece rule. I’ve never thought to think about pieces that way before. I have to dress professionally for work everyday and it really does get expensive!

    1. Thank-you, it does! Having that versatility in your wardrobe really helps save money in the long run! πŸ™‚

  11. This is so helpful! I’ve been working in a “business casual” setting for almost 6 years now, but I still feel like I’m not dressed properly for it, haha! I like how you suggested buying neutral color clothes and using your accessories to bring out the colour – I never thought of it that way before. Love it!

    1. Thank-you! It’s easy to add color and dress up an outfit with accessories, and it helps keep your budget in check! πŸ™‚

  12. Great great tips! I have a few higher priced pieces that i mix with my lower priced pieces and I find that works well for me. And of course being a maxxinista always helps since TJ MAXX has the best prices ever! πŸ™‚

  13. These are great tips! For me, visiting stores like TJMaxx or Marshalls are SUPER helpful for finding staples at a good price.

  14. Oh I am living this struggle right now! I’m trying to build it up little by little but it can be so hard to do so cheaply. I like the idea of adding creative touches with the accessories instead of the main pieces. Thanks for the tips!

    1. I’ve found when I spend a little more on the staple items (dress pants, skirts, blazers) they end up lasting me for years! πŸ™‚

  15. Really great tips and I pinned this, also. I love the tip have some basic colors – in pants and skirts and blouses and then we can “mix match” down the line and have multiple different outfits!

    1. Thank-you! It really helps in creating versatility in a wardrobe! I love adding in color with necklaces and scarfs! πŸ™‚

  16. Great tips Cara! I especially like the one about keeping to neutral stuff. I would definitely notice if someone wore the same thing all the time and I hate doing this myself so yeah this one is important? Buying staples in the off season is a great tip too!!

    1. Thanks! Like august/september time frame is when I always stock up on summer staples for next year. Trends come and go but basic items are always in! πŸ˜‰

  17. Fabulous tips! I don’t know why but I don’t get dressy with my professional wear in my job as I did over a decade ago. Back in the day I would wear pants suits and dresses all the time but now her whole system is a little bit laid back. I absolutely adore the idea of adding a pops of color, Just having a little color makes us all feel better especially during a workday!

    1. I honestly think the whole workplace has gotten more casual over the years. I like business casual for everyday, and then wearing dressier clothes for special events. And yes to adding color! πŸ™‚

  18. This is great! I am about to transition from the educational world to the professional one and NEED a new wardrobe. Sadly, I am living on a single girl, student budget so this post was perfect for me. I think 3/4 of my wardrobe is from American Eagle Outfitters since I have worked there for 6 years. Ha! It is time for this girl to get some professional clothes! Thanks!

    1. Thanks! New York and Company is one of my favorite stores when it comes to professional clothing. They also have some pretty awesome sales from time to time! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks! It really helps when you’re trying to stick to a budget and when you’re trying to create a more versatile wardrobe! πŸ™‚

  19. Great tips! I’ve also invested in a few higher price items when I buy dress pants or suits and they have lasted me for years!

    1. I agree Emelia! Sometimes spending an extra $20-$30 on a staple item will result in it lasting so much longer!

  20. Sometimes I get slightly sad that I can’t wear cute/professional clothes…but other times I’m glad I don’t have to bother and just throw on some scrubs. I love these tips, Cara, they are all practical!
    xo, Lily
    Beauty With Lilyο»Ώ

    1. Confession: I’ve always wanted to wear scrubs with the cute prints on them! haha I guess the grass is always greener! πŸ˜‰

  21. Great tips.
    I need to work on my more ‘professional’ side.. I mean, I wear Old Navy flip flops to work πŸ˜‰ haha #truestory

  22. Great tips girl! I build my professional wardrobe as I go. I try to buy tops,etc that can be easily switched around for all seasons. I also do a lot of shopping at TJ Max,etc to find some good deals.

  23. I need to be patient, I suppose. I am currently on the hunt for a new professional wardrobe, but I have not been able to find pieces I like! I like the idea of laying everything I have out to get a better idea

    1. It truly is amazing what you can take with your current wardrobe and dress it up to make it more professional looking. I really like New York and Company for dress clothes, and they have awesome sales!

  24. These are great tips! I just read a curated closet book yesterday (review will be up tomorrow) that talks about looking at your current wardrobe and seeing where your holes are and I think sticking with neutral basics and having your fun with accessories is the way to go! I have been trying to focus on high quality staples that can be worn many ways and last several years.

    1. I think that’s a great tip, Nadine! It’s funny how most of us don’t ever shop like that (looking at your closet first, then going out and filling in the gaps) Instead, (I know I’m guilty too) we go out and buy 14 of the same items when we only really need 3 lol. Can’t wait to check out the review!

    1. Thanks! Adding in color with accessories is always so much fun too, because as you said you can dress it up or down! πŸ™‚

  25. This is awesome, Cara. How did you know that I need professional clothes but am sooo broke! I have 2 pairs of dress pants that I wear all the time. I need few more blouses.

    1. Thanks Chelsea! I think it’s important to get those staple pieces first and then you can always add in more colorful pieces later! πŸ™‚

  26. Love this! I think getting a good blazer can do sooo much for your wardrobe. I bought a nice black one that I wear with EVERYTHING. I also really like wrap dresses!

    1. Thanks! A black blazer is such a staple piece! And wrap dresses are very flattering for all figures, great tip! πŸ™‚

  27. Great list of essentials! I am still trying to find that perfect blazer that will go with denim and dress pants… I know it is out there somewhere!

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