How to Build a Fabulous Career Wardrobe for Less

As my blogging career has taken off, so has the amount of seminars and conferences I’m attending, which means I need a wardrobe that’s professional and modern.

Like most freelancers, I’m the face of my brand, so I want to represent and build a good reputation. Since I work as a financial strategist for entrepreneurs and small businesses, I already have some good career clothing staples in my closet.

But I haven’t been shopping for anything new, since I started getting out of debt. With several work trips already around the corner, I finally got my butt in gear and updated my wardrobe.

Here’s how to inject some life into your personal or career wardrobe, without spending a fortune.

1. Look for Bridge Lines

A bridge line is created when high-fashion brands team up with lower-priced retailers to create an exclusive fashion line. So you get fashion from your favorite designer, with the same high quality designs, for a budget-friendly price.

For example, Versace created an exclusive line with H&M and Vera Wang has teamed up with Kohl’s. Its designer names, without designer price tags.

2. Invest in Quality Pieces

Finding quality pieces aren’t limited to normal department stores alone. You can find contemporary, high quality brand names and discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s.

Since they purchase end-of-season extras from other stores at a lower cost, they can pass along bigger discounts to customers.

Banana Republic is one of my favorite stores for clothes that fit immaculately well and are reasonably priced. Some of my other favorite places for inexpensive professional clothes, include Old Navy and New York & Company.

3. Check Out Second-Hand Stores

To take advantage of a good second-hand store strategy, you’ll want to learn about the different types of second-hand shops.

  • Thrift stores: Most thrift stores are run by charities or businesses that re-sell donated and used goods, at a fraction of the original price. The quality of the merchandise varies, but sometimes you will find brand new items, after a diligent search. Examples of thrift stores include Goodwill and Salvation Army.
  • Consignment shops: These stores operate differently than regular thrift stores, and act as a middleman between the sellers and buyers. An owner will bring in their items to the store for the shop to sell, and then split the proceeds. Consignment stores often sell higher quality clothing and home decor, compared to thrift stores.
  • Antique or Vintage shops: As the description states, these shops only deal in antiques and vintage items. They generally sell retro house wares, decor and clothing from a particular time period. A lot of the merchandise has stood the test of time and depending on how rare it is, may cost a pretty penny.

Other ways to find great deals at thrift stores include going on weekends or at the end of the month when stores need to move their merchandise.

Although shopping at a second-hand store doesn’t always mean you’ll find the best price, if you’re armed with a little knowledge and dedication, you can still make some decent finds.

4. Try a Clothing Swap

A clothing swap has multiple benefits; it decreases the clutter in your closet while giving you a chance to freshen up your wardrobe.

You’ll spend an afternoon with your friends while exchanging clothes, accessories and shoes. As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and if you have fashionable friends, you might find some really cool stuff.

5. Join a (Free) Members Only Site

Several members only sites, like HauteLook and Gilt Groupe offer amazing savings on everything from brand name clothing and accessories, to travel and bath products.

I found some awesome sunglasses and shoes from HauteLook, at a huge discount. Sometimes the sales only last a day or two, so you have to be quick, but you can get up to 75% off retail prices. The sites are free to join, but only members get access to the discounts.

6. Find Free Inspiration and Ideas

While new clothes are expensive, creativity is free. Find free inspiration and ideas from places like Pinterest and YouTube.

Brainstorm outfits by looking at online boutiques and create your own collage with Polyvore.com. You can even follow a few fashion blogs and discover all the fun ways to spice up your work clothes while still looking professional.

7. Mix Up Your Wardrobe

Try mixing up your wardrobe by re-purposing and reusing your items in a different way. I love making small changes like adding a scarf, wearing a belt or experimenting with layers, because they can add some much needed pizzazz to a lifeless closet.

Accessories are often less expensive than buying a new wardrobe, so mix it up with hats, sunglasses and costume jewelry.

The size of your budget doesn’t have to determine whether you’re fashionably professional or not. There are lots of options available if you’re willing to put in the time, and a little creativity.

What’s a must-have staple in your closet? What’s your favorite way to update your wardrobe for less?

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About the author: Carrie Smith is the financial artist and owner of Careful Cents, a site that helps creative freelancers discover the art of making a living. In May 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. Since then she’s been featured in sites like The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, and Kiplinger Finance. In her spare time she enjoys painting, sketching, and making food with her chef husband. You can connect with her in real time on Twitter or Instagram: @carefulcents.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • IdaBaker July 24, 2012, 8:22 am

    Good ideas here.  I’ve never thought about the member’s only sites.  After doing so much shopping at second hand stores, it’s difficult for me to spend much on my clothes.  

    • Carrie Smith July 24, 2012, 1:29 pm

      I feel your pain @d1c2c7f7f7d6dca5942eb0b466169d40:disqus Sometimes I’m so price conscious I have a hard time investing in solid but expensive pieces of clothing. It’s worth it though once I do.

  • JordannK July 24, 2012, 8:42 am

    These are great ideas! My workplace is very casual and as a result most of my professional clothing is four or five years old, I definitely need some updating!

  • addvodka July 24, 2012, 10:00 am

    It’s super important to look professional in my field, and of course in almost every other field out there. These are all great tips!

  • Bridget July 24, 2012, 12:32 pm

    LOVE THIS POST. I really love working somewhere where I’m required to wear business attire. over the past year I’ve put a sincere effort in buying only work-appropriate clothing and consequently I have a great wardrobe now. It’s fashiona ble & professional.

    • Carrie Smith July 26, 2012, 7:45 pm

      Thanks @twitter-470438993:disqus I am just now starting to really put in the time for a good career wardrobe. I can’t wait to have some solid pieces to choose from!

  • Jenna from Adaptu July 24, 2012, 1:52 pm

    Oh man!  I walked into the Ann Taylor at the outlet mall this weekend and realized just how much I need to update my wardrobe.  Unfortunately for me, I don’t really have the time or money to do that.  So I’m all about getting stuff I can wear for fun or for work.  For me it’s all about have a set of clothes I can travel well with.  Similar color scheme, layers, and mixing and matching.  Although I’m currently obsessed with the Verselette: http://revolutionapparel.is/

  • vy tail lights July 24, 2012, 10:03 pm

    Nice. Love the tips! Although I work at home, and this doesn’t really apply to me. Haha. But things don’t stay the same all the time, might as well learn something. 

  • Lauren Bee July 25, 2012, 10:46 am

    I agree. Especially new out of college it can be hard to swallow paying more for a blouse when you are used to getting things at Forever21. I eventually tired of throwing things out after a wash and a wear-people need to know that quality gets you further than quantity when it comes to a professional wardrobe.

  • From Shopping to Saving July 25, 2012, 11:47 am

    Great tips! I want to do a clothing swap but on a much larger scale. I tried websites that are known for clothing swaps but it’s kind of hard since not a lot of people know about it. I was thinking of doing one on my blog and having people email me pictures of what they have to trade.

    • Carrie Smith July 26, 2012, 7:39 pm

      Oh @shoppingtosaving:disqus that’s a really good idea! I think you should run with that.

  • Holly July 27, 2012, 10:08 am

    I have to wear suits to work every day and they are so expensive to buy new!  In my area, there is a second hand business attire store called “Simply Chic.”  You take in the stuff you don’t wear anymore and exchange it for or buy barely worn almost new dress clothes.  I get most of my wardrobe there and almost all hardly worn name brands.  It’s a lifesaver.

  • Grizchick01 July 27, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Ebay has some great clothes. I just go for brands that I know and have found great clothes for next to nothing. You just have to keep looking cause there is always new stuff all the time. 

    • Carrie Smith July 29, 2012, 12:45 pm

      Great suggestion @610b6dbf54debfb8c377507e3c60fd6a:disqus I love using eBay to find quality name brand clothes for less than retail prices!

  • Cat Alford @ Budget Blonde July 27, 2012, 11:26 pm

    I just submitted a post idea related to this very topic. Seriously, it would be nice to have name brand everything, but it just isn’t plausible! Love your idea about getting classic pieces. Nice black pants or a black skirt go a long way! I just found your site and I’m so looking forward to reading more about it!
    xo
    Cat
    aka
    Budget Blonde

    • Carrie Smith July 29, 2012, 12:46 pm

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting @f7df40ac12b2595dcdc5bc6d0da652e3:disqus I guess great minds think alike :) 

  • Tallguy July 28, 2012, 9:06 pm

    Good basic advice.

    My problem is that I’m not “normal” sized..at just under 6’5″ it’s becomes nearly impossible to score deals at the same places as most people.

    Some places claim to have a “Big & Tall” section, but more often than not the emphasis is on the “BIG” part of that duo – and I’m not overweight so I don’t need 6XL.

    Less common are places that carry tall sizes.  And almost always the selection is terribly limited, seldom on sale, and almost certainly not anything considered trendy or fashionable (business or casual).

    • Carrie Smith July 29, 2012, 12:44 pm

      I totally understand your pain @2689ffe8a339b3ebf24ae809ede2ec88:disqus since I’m a short girl (about 5ft tall). So I have issues finding the right sizes, the right price and a modern style. It’s definitely something I struggle with too.

  • Karen July 29, 2012, 8:43 pm

    i didn’t know Versace was at H&M. Good to know. I always enjoy your perspective.

  • Amanda Abella August 8, 2012, 8:26 am

    Yes! I love HauteLook!!!!