Building a Professional Wardrobe on a Budget

College is a time for growing up, which means having to adapt to a more mature style of clothing. Depending on your major, this can be crucial for a college student. As a Business Administration major, I know this struggle all too well. For the first few semesters, it is easy to get by with what little business attire you may own for those scattered presentations, but eventually you’ll hit a point where you run out of things to wear. I hit that point this past summer during my internship.

I was fortunate enough to land a paid internship as a teller through a program my county offered. It was the most professional setting I had ever worked in, and a professional setting meant having to wear professional clothing as the uniform.



In a matter of weeks, I began to stress out about what to wear. I was running out of clothing options, and having just gotten back home from being a full-time student, I didn’t have much money to splurge on a new wardrobe. Business attire can be very expensive. If you just waltz into the section of a department store that offers professional clothing, there will be times when you will walk away with very little for what you paid.

At times, I had to scramble for ideas and new options, and I learned a lot about how to get by. From my experiences, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you either start, or even add to your professional wardrobe.


1. Start with the basics.

Paint it black. Black slacks, a black pencil skirt and a black blazer, are all key items to own. They go with everything and no one will look twice if you wear them multiple times, because they can all be paired with different types of tops. Not to mention, they are all classy and definite staples to a professional’s closet.

In the same vein, it is smart to own a white or even black button-up. You’re going to want to stick to solid and neutral colors for the most part because they provide more options. Cardigans and sweaters in neutral colors are also a must.


2. Shop in the clearance section.

This might seem like a given, but I know there are a lot of girls out there who frown upon clearanced items, or don’t want to bother digging through the messiest section of the store. You might think, “Well they’re on clearance for a reason!” But you might be surprised by what you can find. I bought two super cute blouses from Express this summer that I snagged from the clearance section. I get compliments every time I wear them.



3. Stop by your nearest discount store.

Places like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls are a great place to start. Not only is the clothing discounted from their original (usually high) prices, but they also sell plenty of top name-brand items. So even if you didn’t pay big bucks for the clothing, it will look like you did!


4. Search your closet.

If you’re anything like me and you hoard clothing, there’s a big chance you already own a lot of clothing that can work towards a more business-like look. That blouse you bought three years ago and haven’t given up? It’s likely still in style and will look great with that pencil skirt I mentioned earlier. The key to using clothing you might already have, is to pair them up with those basic, standard professional pieces.



5. Dresses.

Dresses almost always work in a professional setting, especially in the warmer months. Just make sure that they are appropriate and not too low-cut. Sleeveless dresses can always be paired with a cardigan or blazer.

Also, if you opt for a dress or skirt, make sure to stock up on tights/stockings. I suggest buying them in value multi-packs at stores like Walmart or Target, because tights aren’t made to last these days. If I’m lucky, I can get five or so uses out of them at most.


6. Accessorize.

A cute scarf or chunky necklace can do a lot for what may otherwise be a bland outfit. Accessories can also help to freshen up a look.


7. Look on sites like Pinterest for inspiration.

I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to professional fashion. You can learn a lot by looking at pictures of what others have paired together for work outfits. You can even search for outfits geared towards particular seasons, or specific jobs.

No matter what you do, have fun with putting outfits together! Professional does not have to mean boring. By the end of the summer, I had a lot of fun experimenting with my outfits. As long as the clothing meets dress code, you will be all set.