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Being able to start a professional wardrobe on a budget may seem next to impossible when you are living frugally and trying to save money. However, it is possible to dress professionally on a budget and even have a sense of style in doing so with the right tricks and tips. 

Taking the time to build a business professional wardrobe while remaining mindful of your finances can help you to create a stylish collection that is truly your own – without breaking the bank. 

Keep reading to find out how!

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How to dress professionally on a budget

When you want to create a work wardrobe on a budget, there are a few ways to help you get started. Fortunately, it’s buying clothes for work while limiting your spending is more than possible and it doesn’t even require an accounting degree or becoming a fashionista. 

Instead, simply integrating a few money-saving tips can help you make your clothes look professional for any position or outing.

1. Take an inventory of your current wardrobe

Before you can start a professional wardrobe on a budget, you will first need to take an inventory of your current wardrobe, accessories, and personal belongings. Take time to go through all of your clothes, regardless of whether or not they are seasonal pieces. 

From there, organize your clothing based on purpose and the type of clothing you have. This could include organizing all of your blouses, blazers, and professional tops in one area of your room. Then, organize your t-shirts and informal tops in another. Separating your professional items and wardrobe pieces will help you once you begin shopping around for new additions.

2. Start building with staple pieces

If you are buying clothes for work and you are unsure of where to begin, go back to the basics. Investing in staple pieces for your wardrobe is a great place to start when you want to bring a truly new look and feel to your outfits. Staple pieces can include items that you wear daily or wear each time you head into the office for work. 

man trying on business shirts as he learns how to dress professionally on a budget

Some staple pieces might include plain white blouses, undergarments, and even black slacks, depending on the level of professionalism you are going for with your wardrobe. Consider your preferred clothing items and what type of clothing pieces you prefer when dressing to impress or simply dressing professionally for the workplace.

Create a list of all of the staple pieces you currently own along with the number of tops, undergarments, slacks, and pairs of dress shoes you currently have available. Having a visual inventory of your belongings can help significantly when planning a shopping outing. When you know what you have, you can avoid over buying or investing in pieces that you do not need to build your work wardrobe on a budget.

Related: 11 Simple Tips to be Fashionable on a Budget

3. Try fashion resale and retail apps

Another way to dress professionally on a budget, especially if you have your heart set on incorporating some brand-name accessories, is to do so with the use of downloadable fashion retail apps, such as Poshmark or Thredup

That is, you can use resale apps to find name-brand clothing, accessories, and even new professional shoes. This idea is highly advisable for those who are in the know when it comes to the latest fashion trends and for those who love branded items without the hefty price tag. 

You can also use fashion retail and resale apps to keep track of the latest trends and prices in high-end fashion. That way, you can both keep up to date with the latest clothing releases, sales, and new fashionable items that have just recently made their way into the retail and resale markets and make sure you’re first in line when new pieces from those lines become available.

FYI: You can also use apps that give you cash back when shopping both online and in person. Ibotta is easily my top pick for this, as it gives you money back at purchases made at thousands of retailers

Plus, you get $20 just for signing up with the app!

Sign up with Ibotta here for free.

4. Check local thrift stores

One of the best ways to find cute cheap professional clothes when you are on a budget – or even when buying anything if you’re trying to drastically cut your expenses – is to go thrifting. Visiting local thrift stores is a great way to invest in professional clothing without overspending or paying top dollar. 

Spend time familiarizing yourself with thrift stores that you have available to you in your local area. Learn which days your local thrift stores receive their new shipments to increase your chances of landing an amazing find. 

Thrift shopping for professional clothing can help you to save immensely, allowing you more opportunity to invest in additional clothing pieces and accessories that are high-end and professional.

5. Set intentions before you go out shopping

One of the quickest ways to find ourselves in financial trouble is simply spending without intention. Setting intentions before you head out to go clothes shopping can help you to better stick to your budget while also preventing you from impulse buying. 

The best way to live on a budget is by first determining the budget you have available to shop along with the item(s) you need. Set a limit to how much you are willing to spend on each new piece you plan to buy for your wardrobe. 

A great way to do this if you struggle to stay within spending limits is to try the 100 envelope challenge. It allows you to spend in cash only as much as you want to, meaning you can’t help but stick to your budget!

Avoid going over limits, even if it appears that you are getting a good deal. Developing self-discipline is a key component to being able to dress professionally on a budget, especially to ensure you only buy what you’re able to afford. 

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6. Take good care of your clothing and wardrobe accessories

One of the best ways to minimize overspending on a professional wardrobe is to simply take care of the wardrobe items and pieces of clothing that you currently own. Taking care of your clothing is possible by washing and drying pieces properly, using stain removers, and avoiding wearing professional attire in unsuitable conditions or environments. 

Always pay attention to washing and drying instructions for the professional clothing you invest in, especially if the pieces have special material. As some pieces of clothing may require or recommend hand-washing, they may become completely destroyed if they are placed in a standard washer or dryer.

man folding shirts

7. Avoid buying flashy items

If you are adamant about being able to dress professionally on a budget, meaning you want to make your clothes look professional but your finances are limited at the moment, skip the flashy blouses, shirts, and suits. Instead, opt for minimalist clothing and clothing that can be easily integrated with mix-and-match accessories you also own. 

When you invest in flashy, unique, or even one-of-a-kind items, you may not feel as comfortable wearing the items repeatedly, especially if you are wearing them in public or in the workplace. 

Instead, invest in clothing items such as plain blouses, tanks, tops, and slacks that can work universally with accessories of any color or style. The more versatile your clothing items are, the more unique outfits you will be able to create without investing in new accessories and clothing items.

8. Declutter your current wardrobe

If you want to increase the budget you have to shop for your new professional wardrobe, consider unloading some of your current pieces of clothing. 

Sell, donate, or simply toss the clothing in your wardrobe that you no longer wear or that is no longer in good condition. Alternatively, if you have stained or ripped clothing, consider turning the items into rags to save on cleaning products while simultaneously clearing up more room in your closet. 

Decluttering and selling pieces of clothing and accessories you own can quickly help you to increase the budget you have for your new professional getups.

Quick tip: Consider hosting a clothes swap party to get rid of old clothes and get new ones from your friends! It’s a really fun thing to do with friends that saves you all money and fills your wardrobe with new pieces for free!

9. Check outlet malls and clearance sales

Keep your eyes peeled for clearance sales, holiday promotions, and outlet malls that are near you when you are committed to dressing professionally on a budget. 

In particular, visiting local outlet malls can help you to save anywhere from 30% to more than 80% from the original retail price. Use outlet malls to find brand-name items and accessories that are outside of your price range when placed on traditional retail shelves.

woman shopping

10. Renting a wardrobe

With the rise of the gig economy and online shopping, it is no surprise that there are now services dedicated to providing wardrobes that can be rented. While renting your wardrobe may seem silly or frivolous, it can be extremely useful for those who are on a limited budget but prefer to wear an array of outfits when in the workplace or anytime they are in a professional environment. 

Rent the Runway is one very popular example of a professional clothing rental company that is highly recommended to professional women who are searching for a simple, yet exciting, subscription solution.

11. Compare stores and suppliers online

Before you make a decision to purchase a new piece of clothing or a new pair of shoes, do your research. In particular, research the brand of clothing you are interested in online and with various local and online retailers near you. Compare brands, styles, sizes, and most importantly, pricing before choosing to hand over your hard-earned money to one particular establishment. 

Take time to research and compare prices as well as retailers online prior to shopping to avoid overspending on an item that can be purchased at a significantly lower price elsewhere.

FYI: When you are comparing stores and retailers online, you can also utilize various extensions and applications to help save even more. Using a tool like Honey, which automatically finds and applies savings coupons to your online shopping, can help you to find the best deals and the best sellers of the items you are interested in from anywhere in the world.

12. Find alternative brands

If you have your eyes and heart set on a particular piece of clothing or a specific outfit but it is outside your price range, consider searching for alternative lookalikes and brands. Finding an alternative piece that you adore from a different brand can significantly lower the cost. 

For instance, while one shirt from Armani might run you upwards of $3,000, you may be able to find a similar indistinguishable alternative for a mere fraction of the original Armani retail price. In doing so, not only will you be able to dress professionally on a budget, but you can keep up with current trends (if that’s what you prefer) without breaking the bank.

man sitting outside on his laptop

13. Buy items in bulk

Another great way to save money when you are building any type of professional wardrobe on a budget is to purchase your clothing items and accessories in bulk. If you wear the same type of polo shirt, tank top, or undergarments on a daily basis, buying them in bulk is the best way to make your money go as far as possible. 

Invest in items in bulk to help cut down on costs while also ensuring you always have staples available, even when you choose to switch up the type of fashion you wear and showcase. You can purchase clothing items in bulk using outlet retailers and malls as well as by shopping online and from manufacturers or clothing suppliers directly.

14. Find your own personal style

Finding your style is one of the most important aspects of building a wardrobe, especially if you are aiming for a professional style and look. Without your own style, carving out your look can be challenging. 

You are more likely to impulse buy and purchase items that are not for you if you are unsure of the style you are going for in the professional realm. Knowing what styles and looks are right for you can go a long way once you make the decision to begin purchasing your clothes and making your investments. Spend time brushing up on the latest trends in fashion and in the professional world to spark inspiration for your own wardrobe plans.

15. Create a secondary income source

If you want to increase your budget but you cannot do so in your primary position, consider taking on a second job or building a side business for an additional source of income. You can even combine your side hustle with your desire to dress professionally on a budget, such as by selling your own clothing, thrifting for high-end clothes to resell, or even by offering services based on your own skills and abilities. 

Having a secondary income source is a great way to alleviate stress and worry associated with finances and shopping while providing you with the freedom to create the professional wardrobe that you truly deserve.

Dressing professionally on a budget does not have to feel stressful or even impossible. When you know what you have, what you need, and what to look for, you can save money by taking the proper steps and measures. Simply taking your time to research staple items, seek out thrifting opportunities, and even order staples in bulk can help you to build a large and thriving professional wardrobe without going over budget or breaking the bank.

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About the author

Anna is the founder of LogicalDollar and a personal finance expert, having been seen in Forbes, HuffPost, Reader’s Digest, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, CreditCards.com and many more. She’s committed to helping others get on the path to financial freedom using the experience gained from turning $60,000 in debt into a thriving investment portfolio. Find out more.