How to Build a Professional Wardrobe on a Pre-Paycheck Budget


Whether you are a recent grad, or new to the career scene, it is advantageous to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  Similar to your resume, your experience with attire may be minimal, so building  a professional wardrobe is critical to creating credibility. Collecting the essentials on a pre-pay check budget can be a challenge.  Establishing a base wardrobe by purchasing quality consignment staples will put you on the same playing field as your polished peers. Continue reading to learn how to build a solid wardrobe foundation that will echo your future career path!

Interview attire is simple and straightforward.  You can’t go wrong with a tailored suit and a crisp button down. The real challenge is deciding  what to wear on a daily basis at the office.

Build a Solid Foundation


For the male base attire you will need the following staples.

  • IMG_Black or Brown Lace up Dress Shoes – Selecting your shoe in black, charcoal, and brown will help provide a neutral base that coordinates with virtually everything. Purchasing a gently used pair and a shoe shine kit will give you a “shoo-in”.
  • Button Downs – As a male, these are truly must haves. When beginning to build your wardrobe focus on solids, subdue patterns and traditional stripes. If you need to repeat the same shirt within a work week it won’t be as noticeable. While on a budget, make your fashion statements elsewhere.
  • Muted Tone Polos – Depending on your job, this might be your everyday wear, or perhaps your casual friday shirt choice. Either case, some quality name brands worth investing in are J. Crew, Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, Christopher & Banks, and Ralph Lauren.
  • Straight Leg Pant – Again, neutrals and navy are the way to go. Two to three pairs of pants can be easily rotated in the work week. Changing up the shirt pattern or color will be much more noticeable, distracting from the fact that the more expensive pants have little variance.
  • Black & Brown Belts – Keep your belt selection simple and functional. Make sure the belt fits properly and does not have a lot of additional length hanging out and causing bulk.

Add interest and personality by collecting the following

  • Patterned Pocket Squares & Ties – These accent pieces are where a man can really show their personality. Easy to change out, and much cheaper than buying a bunch of new shirts, these small accents will help add variation to a base wardrobe. 
  • Colored or Patterned Dress Socks – Don’t go too bold, but a thin red stripe on a black sock or the like can be an opportunity to show individuality at a low cost.
  • Charcoal Pin Stripe Patterns – A sophisticated pinstripe builds confidence and has a clean linear appearance.


For the female base attire you will need the following staples.

  • Skirts that Flatter your Body Type – Invest in a few skirts that fit your body type. Go for quality over quantity as you begin to build your wardrobe essentials.  Narrow hips are shown off best by utilizing a low cut, fitted skirt. Because of the slender figure, ruffles will provide fullness to this shape. If you are a triangle shape straight skirts with a slight flare will compliment you most. Curvy shapes,  fair well with pencil and A-line skirts.
  • Medium Solid Color Heel – Shoes can be a great way to add personal expression, however if we are going for basics, include a medium height solid color heel in your collection. Safe and sophisticated, this height is necessary.
  • Trench Coat – Good for 10 of the 12 months out of the year, a trench is always professional looking. Add layers in the winter and you’re set for a winter coat. Keep it neutral and use a scarf easily change out color and pattern.
  • Black Dress Pants – When starting out, basic black is best. Black is slimming on all figures, and always professional.  Make sure you choose a good quality brand name, because you will wear them often.
  • Dark Fitted Denim – Casual fridays or for the work place with a little leniency, a pair of dark fitted jeans paired with a traditional blazer is always stunning. Stay away from high contrast stitching or added embellishments to keep them looking professional.
  • Neutral Color Tailored Blazer – This is a piece you can’t live without. Even a bold print dress matched with a neutral blazer will look refined.
  • Leather Handbag –  Go for a medium sized quality handbag that can fit standardized folders.

Add interest and personality by collecting the following.

  • ShoesColored or Patterned Pumps – Dress up those traditional black pants with a pop of color.  Shoes offer a myriad of options when it comes to getting creative and defining your individual style.
  • Bright Colored Blouses – If you have your staple wool blazer, a pop of color will round out the look and add interest. 
  • Small to Medium sized Coordinating Jewelry – Here is where you can really have fun. Start  with some understated pearls or pieces with silver as your everyday jewelry. As your budget allows, begin to experiment with chunky shapes and bold colors. Be cautious not to choose jewelry that makes too much noise and is a distraction in the work place. Bracelets can get in the way if you type a lot, so stick to rings, necklaces, and earrings.
  • Bold Print Cardigans – Cardigans are usually less expensive than blazers and come in a ton styles and patterns. Offices tend to have a variance in thermal comfort, so keeping a few on hand serve an aesthetic and functional purpose.
  • Dresses – Stay away from summer dresses and spagetti straps for the office. Choose dresses that have quality fabric, lay flat, and are generally more tailored. These can be a blessing when you wake up a tad too late and don’t have time to piece together a entire outfit. Add your neutral blazer and you’ll have an instant office approved outfit.

You can save a lot of money by purchasing good quality brands consignment. If you want your staples to last, choose fabrics that can stand daily wear and tear.

Durable fabrics that will last…

  • Wool
  • Silk
  • Cotton & Linen Blends
  • Cashmere

Fabrics to avoid…

  • Rayon
  • Polyester

Everyday Office Attire Dos and Don’ts


  • Understated Accessories – Less is more. You don’t want to be a distraction to yourself or others. 
  • Take Time – Layout out your clothes before hand or at the very least give yourself a once-over in the mirror before you leave the house. Coordinate colors, patterns, and accessories appropriately.
  • Consider Modesty – Especially for the ladies – going along with the idea of distraction, you want to attract your co-workers with your work ethic and skills, not your appearance. Make sure you avoid spagetti straps, low cuts, and short skirts in the professional environment.
  • Coordinate Clothes and Task – Know your job, event, or dress code well and go from there. Pay attention during an interview tour to the culture of the business and what other people are wearing. If you’re working at a bank you may want to think traditional, where as if you are in the creative field you will be expected to incorporate more of your personal style.


  • Buy a lot of Dry Clean Only – Especially if you are on a budget pay close attention to dry clean only items. While typically a sign of quality, you wont want to spend all your money cleaning your clothes. 

We have everything you need to build a professional wardrobe at an unbelievable price at The Loft in Ames, IA. Stop in as soon as you can to get first pick of quality professional wear.

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1 Response to How to Build a Professional Wardrobe on a Pre-Paycheck Budget

  1. Pingback: Trending at The Loft – April Newsletter | The Loft – Ames

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