The New Wardrobe When Starting or Shifting a Career

The New Wardrobe When Starting or Shifting a Career

It’s important to dress for the job you want.  People have more confidence in individuals who look well put together.  When you dress like a professional, doors will be opened for you.  Fortunately for the frugal crowd, there are plenty of opportunities to find free or low cost clothes, and most business environments have gone a business casual route.

Full disclosure: I’m by no means a fashionista.  For anything more detailed/extensive than the following, Google is your friend.  Just be wary of the ads.

Note for the School-Aged Crowd…

If you can start acquiring pieces throughout college, you will be ahead of the game.  When shopping, try to find pieces that can also be used in both a casual and a work environment.  Ask for key pieces around gift-giving occasions.  My mom bought me a three piece suit as a college graduation present.  Also be mindful if anyone is giving away professional clothes, and take advantage if you have room to store them.

If Clothing is Given to You Freely…

Accept it gratefully.  It may not be perfectly to your style or color palette, but it will help in the short term until you figure out what you really need and can always be passed on to someone else later.  You might be able to mix and match it with something to make it more your style.  There are a lot of expenses that come up as you start a new career, so any way to delay spending and start tucking money away helps.  I often do clothing swaps with my coworkers who are similar sizes.  They aren’t always my style, but they add variety.

When Assembling Your New Wardrobe…

Remember you can always add more after you start working in your new position, but you can’t get back money wasted for something hardly used.  You won’t really know what you need until you start in your new position.   You should spend at least a week in your new work environment (preferably a month or two depending on what you already have) before buying anything more than the key pieces you don’t already have (bonus points if you can acquire them for free).  After you start, a week of watching those around you should make clear what you really need, verses what you think might be nice to have.  A month is usually enough time to figure out whether or not you want to keep working there, which is why I advocate for waiting a bit longer.

Keep in mind that it’s important to make good financial decisions at the beginning of your career, and that your focus should be on saving for the important stuff.  Your coworkers care that you are clean, odor free, and don’t look like a slob.  If you buy a few key pieces in solid colors, you will be able to mix and match.  It’s far better to acquire quality pieces over time.

When You’re Going Shopping, Remember…

  • Always check your closet first to see what you have. Before shopping, I take an hour to go through my closet and gather any items I don’t wear for giving away.  It helps keep me from buying duplicate items.
  • Quality over quantity. Make sure it fits you well.
  • Find clothes that are as versatile as possible. Find pieces that can be dressed up and dressed down, and clothes that can be worn in both summer and winter.  Bonus points for clothing that can be layered.
  • Find classic styles and colors. Stick to the same color family, and aim for neutrals in solid colors to build your wardrobe’s foundation.  If you want to add in patterns, aim for timeless.
  • You should make sure any pair of jeans you purchase can be worn to work if your company participates in Casual Friday. (No holes, not dramatically faded or worn looking, well cut. The darker, the better.)
  • Casual Friday tennis shoes should not be loud/bright. I like wearing my white keds, and loafers are also acceptable.
  • Don’t be afraid of the thrift store for more expensive pieces.

Key Pieces for Men

  • A two piece suit (versatile enough for interviews and a day at work, usually in a dark color)
  • Two dress shirts (low wrinkling, at least one in a solid neutral color, simple colors that work with anything)
  • A professional-looking tie (simple is always the sharpest)
  • 1 pair of dress shoes

Save if you freely/inexpensively come across:

  • More suits, shirts, ties, or casual leather shoes (especially if the dress code is professional for your chosen field)
  • A well-cut blazer in a neutral color
  • Two pairs of pants that can be alternated in a business casual environment – aim for low wrinkling
  • Solid color polo shirts, which can be worn with slacks in a business casual environment – if they have a logo, make sure it’s small
  • Cotton knit sweaters for a business casual environment
  • Accessories like belts, watches, etc.

For more on developing your wardrobe, check out “The Art of Manliness.”

Key Pieces for Women

  • A two (or three) piece suit (versatile enough for interviews and a day at work, usually in a neutral dark color)
  • Two dress shirts (low wrinkling, at least one in a solid neutral color, simple colors that work with anything)
  • Solid well-made professional heels, black or nude, max 2-3 inches tall

Save if you freely/inexpensively come across:

  • Any additional suits, shirts, or dress shoes/heels (especially if the dress code is professional for your chosen field)
  • A well-cut blazer in a neutral color
  • A dark knee length skirt (or two if you don’t like wearing pants)
  • Dark colored dress pants (or two if you don’t like wearing skirts)
  • Solid color t-shirts and long sleeve shirts, which can be worn tucked in with your suit, skirt, or pants and heels and will still look professional under a blazer
  • Cotton knit sweaters
  • Neutral dresses with flattering shapes (I wear dresses every day Monday through Thursday! No effort to match clothes and I always look well put together.)
  • Accessories like purses, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, watches, belts, scarves, etc.

Avoid wearing heels with jeans.

Be mindful of advertising traps when doing Google searches. Focus on the photos instead of the ads.

Clothing Tricks

If you are regularly cold, find a nice cotton or wool sweater that you can leave at your desk and easily put on and take off.  You might be able to bring in a nice throw blanket to put over your legs if your desk is more private.  I keep a black poncho over my chair.

In the winter, wear your winter boots to work and change into your dressier shoes when you get there.  Wear your winter coat in in a solid neutral color, and just hang it at your desk.  Use your sweater during the day.  No need for a separate professional coat or boots – just make sure they are neutral colors and they will be good for full time use.

The best $5 I’ve spent on my work wardrobe was at a thrift store.  I bought a well-fitting gray jacket that I leave hung up at my desk full-time.  It can go over any dress I wear (or pair with any pants or skirt) if I have a last minute meeting come up because it’s a neutral color.  Very useful for walking into a room of Senior VPs or an impromptu meeting with my mentor!

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