Building a work wardrobe on a budget? Us, too! Nothing hurts worse than spotting the perfect Joan Holloway-style dress on the rack at a department store, making up an imaginary outfit plan with the heels and necklace you have at home, and then… glancing at the price tag to see that it's way out of your price range. Luckily, we’ve been playing the affordable fashion game for 10+ years (holler if you started working the moment you turned 16 because you thought it was a great idea) and have some shopping wisdom to pass on. Let’s dig in:
In the market for great pants? Look no further than Old Navy. Their work pants come in a number of different fits and styles — the Pixie is our tried-and-true favorite, along with the Harper, which is a little looser. They come in an endless rainbow of colors, patterns and textures. Velvet! Brocade! Floral! Black, khaki and navy are always in stock if you need the basics. And when it comes to sizing, Old Navy’s pants come in short, tall and an endless array of numerical sizes to fit nearly everybody.
Admit it: Sometimes you get tired of work basics and want something trendy. That’s where LOFT comes in. The kid sister to Anne Taylor, LOFT has options for the woman who’s interested in ruffles, bell sleeves, appliques, zippers and anything full of fun. Dresses, skirts, heels, and other feminine pieces abound. The prices might seem standard at first, but the styles change so much that the Clearance section is constantly filling up, and sales are always happening. If you really love to search out a good deal, grab your friends and head to a LOFT Outlet store at your nearest outlet mall.
It’s always been a challenge to find plus-size workwear for an affordable price. But many brands are starting to wise-up and get in the curvy-girl game. Case in point: Ashley Stewart. This place has the trends you want, cut perfectly for bodies of all shapes and sizes. Think shirts you don’t have to adjust and dresses that hit at the right length—but at Ashley Stewart, they celebrate bodies, rather than hide them. Target, too, has stepped up in the plus-size department, now offering the forward-thinking Ava & Viv. These aren’t merely bigger editions of their usual clothes. They are designed with bigger bodies in mind.
There are times when a blazer = instant confidence. For those days, there’s J. Crew Factory. The lower-priced cousin of preppy J. Crew, the Factory is an outlet-type online store full of work basics. Blazers, pants, cardigans, totes, and flats can be found for decent prices. If you’d rather shop in person, check out their brick-and-mortar version, J. Crew Mercantile. This is a must-shop if you’re interested in androgynous looks. Skinny pants, button-up shirts and polos can all be found here. You choose whether you want to add the sparkly necklace or not.
OK, OK, I'll admit it… I'm a proud “Maxxinistas.” For buying career clothes on an entry-level budget, there is no place more fun to shop than TJ Maxx, the no-nonsense, no-frills place to get some serious deals. Here you’ll find the brands you want at the price point you need. Rows and rows of blouses, pull-on work pants, loafers and even affordable shapewear to put under all those shift dresses you’ll pick up from J. Crew Factory. Be sure to check back often, because merchandise changes day-to-day depending on the deals secured by the local store.
If you’re trying to catch a deal and don’t mind going fishing online, there are several options out there for you. Poshmark is a fan favorite for those who have specific brands and styles in mind. It specializes in lightly-used clothes that usually look and fit like new. ASOS, Lulus and H&M are three others on the lower-priced end where you can find good basics — think long-sleeve t-shirts, sweaters and basic flats. Watch out, though. Those retailers are a little more “fast fashion,” so quality is often lost in favor of the right price.
Of course, if the budget struggle is real-real, there’s always your local Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, St. Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army. For unique retro style, a vintage store will have what you want, at a price. I would stick to traditional thrift stores, garage sales and clothing swaps. Some of my favorite work outfits have been acquired from clothing swaps we hosted…with other women from the office! It’s a great way to build office friendships and build a work wardrobe at the same time.
Though it might seem impossible to concoct a work wardrobe for the job you want rather than the one you currently have, you can do it! Remember, even though the brand might matter to you, no one else will actually notice. All wardrobes have secrets. Sometimes it’s a surprisingly cute duster from Walmart. Or a retro-cool A-line skirt from the back of your mom’s closet. A reversible faux-leather $10 tote from the dollar store? Hey, if anybody asks, just say it's vegan and offer no further details. You got this.
And if you want to learn everything there is to know about business casual for women, we got you.