How to dress for your first job without blowing your paycheck

WOCinTech Chat/Flickr/AttributionGo for simple separates that can be mixed and matched.

  • Whether it’s an internship or your first job, creating a work-appropriate wardrobe can be pricey and time-consuming.
  • It doesn’t help that most work-friendly clothes can be expensive – and your first gig isn’t likely to be particularly lucrative.
  • Personal finance experts and stylists told Business Insider what to buy, where to buy it, and how much you can reasonably expect to spend.
  • The major takeaway: Buy a few, high-quality pieces.

Going from $US10 Forever 21 tops and Salvation Army sweaters to the corporate uniform is one of the more jarring aspects of leaving student life and entering the professional world.

The fact that yoga pants and ripped jeans are no longer a key part of one’s wardrobe can be an adjustment – and it’s also expensive to stock up on sensible button-downs, slacks, and blazers.

“Work appropriate styles do not change much year to year, so provided you remain around the same size, investing now in some basics can sustain your wardrobe for years to come,” Lauren Bowling, an editor at the Financial Best Life and author of “The Millennial Homeowner: A Guide to Successfully Navigating Your First Home Purchase,” told Business Insider.

For the best tips on how to make your first “adulting” wardrobe, Business Insider talked to Bowling, image curator Scarlett De Bease, style coach Stasia Savasuk, and Kat Griffin, founder of Corporette, a blog about women’s work clothes.


To start off, make a “capsule” wardrobe

maicasaa/Shutterstock

To save money, new workers might consider creating a capsule wardrobe. That’s a closet with just two or three dozen quality, versatile basics.

Instead of an overflowing closest, say, with polka-dot crop tops, green miniskirts, and four-year-old shirts with stubborn armpit stains, you pare your wardrobe down to a few things that can be mixed and matched.

For women, Savasuk recommended three to five basic bottoms with five to 10 blouses and shirts – or five to 10 dresses. De Bease recommended two to three pants, eight tops, and two casual jackets or cardigans.

“With the addition of necklaces, earrings, shoes and scarves that suit your character and personality, and you can personalise these professional outfits to reflect your own personal style,” Savasuk told Business Insider.

For men, Savasuk said to purchase three to five pairs of pants with five to 10 high-quality button-downs.

“If ties are required, purchase a few that reflect your character and personality, so you can bring your own flavour to ‘business professional,'” Savasuk said.

And stick to a few colours. Griffin recommended picking a neutral base like black or grey for most of your pieces, and a few articles of clothing in accent colours like blue or red.

“Everything should work together,” Griffin told Business Insider. “You shouldn’t have any closet singletons.”


You may want to consider buying a suit, as well

Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

“The suit is also key as you’ll need it for interviews or networking events where you need to make an impact,” Bowling told Business Insider.

As a young professional who has worked in traditional newsrooms, nonprofit media centres, and digital startups, I’ve personally never needed a suit. But I do have a few nice dresses and suit separates.

Those who work in banking or law might find that they do need a real suit. I would recommend scoping out what your coworkers are wearing before you drop serious coin on one.

“If you need a suit, that will probably be the biggest expenditure,” Griffin told Business Insider. “So, make sure you can wear the blazer, skirt, dress, and pants all as separates as well as together as a suit.”


Try TJ Maxx and consignment stores for quality, discount basics

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Bowling recommends you visit TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and consignment shops where you’ll be able to find high-quality products at a discount.

“Many of their items comes new with the tags so don’t let the thought of it being ‘secondhand’ deter you, as savings can be significant,” Bowling told Business Insider.

You might be able to “shop your closet,” as well. A backless top might not fly in your office, but paired with a cardigan or blazer it could be the perfect staple.

“Look at your t-shirts or blouses,” Griffin told Business Insider. “If any of them are too fancy to work out in, like a polo shirt, polyester floral t-shirt, etc., then you can probably wear them to the office.”


Spend around $US300, or 5-7% of your first paycheck

A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock

The general rule of thumb is that your clothing budget should comprise no more than 5% of your income. But Bowling said it’s ok to up it to 7% if you’re starting from scratch.

De Bease suggested $US300 to get the basics. “Then add on when possible.”


Buy a few great pieces, not a bunch of crappy ones

The tone here is quality over quantity.

“If you find a few high-quality basic pieces that fit your body perfectly, you can mix and match those pieces with various accessories to change the look completely,” Savasuk told Business Insider.

As someone who spent most of college in Forever 21 and H&M, this was a hard adjustment for me to make. Spending $US80 on a nice pair of pants felt practically painful after filling my closet with shoddy $US10 jeans for years.

“It is more important to have clothes that fit properly than to have tons of ill-fitting clothes,” DeBease told Business Insider.

A $US120 pair of black boots, for me, have proven useful and hardy – they’re going on four years now. But a $US15 pair of loafers I bought a few months ago pinch my feet and look silly with many outfits.

Though the former was a relatively big buy for me at the time, they were worth every penny. Not so much for the fast-fashion impulse buy.

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.