How to Create a Stellar Work Wardrobe on a Budget

We've got expert career clothing tips and tricks from NBC's Jill Martin, HSN's Lauren Wilner and the bra queen: Jene Luciani!

How to Create a Stellar Work Wardrobe on a Budget

We’ve got expert career clothing tips and tricks from NBC’s Jill Martin, HSN’s Lauren Wilner and the bra queen: Jene Luciani!

-PJ Gach

shopping for career wear



This series is brought to you by TurboTax Federal Free Edition.

When it comes to creating or expanding your work wardrobe, it’s easy to get stumped. Career wear can be considered “boring.” We’d rather spend money on fun items like those killer shoes at the mall. But, and this is a big but, having a killer work wardrobe can do a lot for you.

Whether it’s your first job, you’re returning to work after an absence, or just want to get your wardrobe in gear, we’ve got great advice from gotten three well-respected style experts who shared their knowledge on how to create a great work wardrobe without spending a ton of money.

1. Focus on the Essentials

Lauren Wilner, HSN’s Fashion Director says, “I would stick with the essentials whenever building any type of wardrobe. I hate to call them basics, but more essential pieces that you can always build on season after season and spice up with accessories.”

Jill Martin, style expert, Today Show frequent style contributor, and author of I Have Nothing to Wear states, “A trench is a must—every woman should have one!” She also says every woman needs a crisp white button-down shirt and a dress that can be thrown on and always looks great for last-minute party invites.”

The experts also agree that you should invest on a pair of well-fitting black pants, a blazer (preferably in a color that will coordinate with the skirt and pants), and a classic pencil skirt.

career wardrobe collage

2. Buy for Your Work Environment

If it’s your first job or you’re returning to work, don’t forget to read the employee manual. Jene Luciani, style expert and author of the Bra Book, says, “Developing a work wardrobe definitely depends on your line of work. If you are in a ‘creative’ industry, you can get away with a lot more, style-wise. If more conservative, the dress will reflect that. You should also always find out if there are any ‘rules’ at your office. Big corporations often have them, such as suits for guys and hose for women. When in doubt, ask! And when starting a new job, pay attention to what other employees are wearing.”

Lauren concurs: “It all depends on where you work but for the most part, the work force is getting more and more open with the term ‘business attire’.”

3. Invest in Your Undies!

While you may not have a lot of money to splurge on lingerie, properly fitting bras, undies and even shape wear will make everything look and fit better. Lauren says, “Nothing is more unflattering than you tugging at your undergarments all day.”

Jene agrees: “You want to look put together no matter what. Get a good everyday bra that looks smooth under your blouses and fits properly, some seamless underpants and a pair of bike-short style shape wear.”

4. Don’t Buy Into Label Hype

Jene has great advice on what type of items to look for and what to steer clear of: “Stay away from labels or anything too status-y or expensive looking… you want to start with a clean slate and let them see you for YOU and not anything else.”

5. Work with Color

Whether you’re working with an all black wardrobe or a more mixed closet, you can add color to your essentials. Jill says, “I wouldn’t buy a dress that looks on the cheaper side in a bright color — that is easier to spot!. The trick is to work with accessories. A scarf; great statement jewelry; a bright top is the way to go.” She says cotton is always safe!

Jene agrees: “You can go with a bold color like red, but better as an accent or to relegate to one item of clothing, not more than one. I like a nice royal blue; it’s elegant and bold yet still understated. Think Kate Middleton.”

6. Take Care of Your Wardrobe

With so many discount and fast fashion stores, it’seasy to fill up your wardrobe with bargains (and you should!). But, no matter where you bought it, keep care of it. As Jene reminds us, “Tailoring and dry cleaning is key – you can shop at the Gap but if you spend an additional $10 on your seamstress and always press/dry clean, it will look like you bought it at Neiman Marcus.”

7. Know When to Spurge

There are a few items that you should spend a little money on though. All the experts agree to spend money on a good bag, preferably one big enough to carry everything you need for work. If you buy a high quality leather bag and take care of it, it will last quite a few years. Lauren suggest that when you’re shopping for the bag, “Look for one with pockets, inserts, closures and handles that are long enough to go on your shoulder but can also be carried in the nook of your arm.”

Now, some people say that you should also spend a lot of money on a pair of classic pumps. Jene thinks you don’t have to live on ramen for shoes, but she advises, “Even if they aren’t the most expensive pair, they should look clean and not scuffed. Usually they should be closed toed – in most office settings, toe cleavage is a no-no (as is boob cleavage!).”

The items on Jill’s splurge list are items that’ll also do well when you’re not in the office, “I think you splurge on a great, classic cashmere sweater and a beautiful pair of ballet flats so even in your casual-life you are looking chic.”

Keep in mind though — these pieces can often be found at places like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for much less than in a department store!

8. Know When to Scrimp!

So what can you pay less for? Everyone agrees to NOT spend a lot of money on accessories.

Lauren says, “With anything super trendy, I don’t think you need to invest in a $1000 necklace but instead pick and choose where to spend your money.”

Jill goes on to explain, “I think statement jewelry is very easy to find at stores like H&M, Forever 21, and even department stores have great pieces that are inexpensive. My rule is if you are not buying real diamonds, pearls or stones, there is no reason to break the bank over a trendy piece. You can definitely find exquisite pieces (flea market and vintage stores are also amazing!) you just have to be on the hunt and look around. “

skimp careet

Jene says you can also scrimp on tops: “You can get washed silk tops for very reasonable prices at almost any mall store. They go great with slacks or a skirt. Also don’t bother with too many accessories (in the office). A watch and your wedding ring and simple stud earrings is sufficient. Anything else is distracting in an office environment!”

So there you have it. When you’re building your career style, spend money on items that will do double duty like a blazer, a pair of well-fitting pair of pants, a smartly tailored white shirt, a classic styled skirt and a bag. Then, you can pinch your pennies and pick up cute, trendy accessories to add some personality to your work wear — and as long as you keep your shoes clean, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on them.

Now go have fun and shop!

PJ Gach is Senior Editor: Style + Beauty at BettyConfidential. This series is brought to you by TurboTax Federal Free Edition.


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