6 Steps to Building a Classic Wardrobe on a Budget

Getting dressed in the morning should be an enjoyable part of your routine, not a stressful task.

It’s important to be well dressed at the office for many reasons; but, above all, it’s because when we look good, we feel good, and that can make all the difference.

Contrary to popular belief, updating your work wardrobe doesn’t have to require as much time, effort, or money as you think. By following the shopping guidelines set out below, you can create high-impact looks on a low-stress budget.

But before you begin combing through the racks, come equipped with a game plan. Concentrate on the things you need, and try to imagine potential outfits as you go. This will help you maintain focus while checking off the list below:

1. Silhouette

Dressing well is all about finding the right balance. The goal is to create the illusion of an hourglass figure, where hips and shoulders are similar in width and the waist curves inward. Select pieces that tastefully emphasize your figure’s greatest assets. To determine your body type, click here.

budget-shopping-look-1
Image created on Polyvore. Click for full product details and pricing.

2. Color

Knowing what colors complement your eyes, hair and skin tone will put you in a perfect starting position. For best results, try not to stray too far from your personal color palette. If you know you look great in blue, go for blue! As for neutrals, grey and beige tones make easy pairings, and dark shades such as black and navy will help to hide the areas you wish to conceal.

*Keep in mind, if you alter your appearance—i.e. dye your hair, spray tan or use colored contacts—your color palette will change, too.

budget-shopping-look-2
Image created on Polyvore. Click for full product details and pricing.

3. Print

Although incorporating print can sometimes prove tricky, it will add an extra boost to your outfit. Since they tend to be more eye-catching, use prints and patterns to draw attention to the areas you want noticed. However, try your best not to go print wild. Stick to wearing one bold design at a time either in your clothing or accessories.

budget-shopping-look-5
Image created on Polyvore. Click for full product details and pricing.

4. Fabric

Fabric will always play a big part in your decision. First, touch the fabric. If it feels like it might fall apart during a strong wind or could quite possibly be a static-cling nightmare, keep moving. Also, make sure the fabric is appropriate for the time of year. Choosing a thin jersey in late fall, for example, will look too summery and leave you feeling chilly and underdressed. Wool and wool blends wear well and have the added weight and warmth for fall weather.

Next, check the care tag! If noted “dry clean only,” that $29 top will not be worth the required upkeep. Finally, inspect all seams and hemlines to make sure they are intact and there is no puckering. Examine your pieces for any existing pulls, tears, holes, or loose threads before you purchase.

budget-shopping-look-4
Image created on Polyvore. Click for full product details and pricing.

5. Fit

Fit is incredibly important. Ill-fitting garments are guaranteed to make or break even the most thoughtfully assembled outfit. Once you’ve selected your items and made your way to the fitting room, try on and inspect how each piece fits your figure. Does the material lay correctly? Do the jacket’s shoulder seams align with the edges of your shoulders? Do jacket sleeve lengths reach just below the wrist bone? Are you experiencing any pulling across the chest and back? If you aren’t sure about the fit of a certain item, ask a salesperson’s opinion or snap a photo to send to a friend (particularly, a friend that will be totally honest with you).

It is important to remember that your clothing should feel comfortable and never too tight! Otherwise, it’s going to be a long day spent tugging at the hem of your miniskirt or clomping around in those towering platforms. Even worse, these incidents may shake your confidence. Don’t worry if you need to go up in size. Items from various brands and retailers will fit differently, so don’t let that be a deterrent. The most important thing is that the clothing fits properly. And if the size still bothers you? Cut the tag out!

budget-shopping-look-3
Image created on Polyvore. Click for full product details and pricing.

6. Detailing

Subtlety is the name of the game here. As a general rule, it is best to avoid any small details that may distract from your secret budget-savvy style:

  • Exposed Zippers: On clothing, large exposed zippers run the risk of looking cheap.
  • Big Buckles: On shoes, buckles can have the same affect as exposed zippers on clothing.
  • Chains on Jewelry: Links dangling from your necklace or bracelet have an unfinished and unrefined look. Determine your preferred length, and remove those remaining links.

Other helpful hints:

  • A crisp white button-down is always a chic choice.
  • Don’t blow your budget right away—especially not on one pricy item.
  • When shopping on a budget, only buy the items that you will definitely wear. Ask yourself questions like: Do I need every item? Do I already have something similar at home? Do these pieces work with my lifestyle? Are they versatile?
  • Styling Tip: Many times, an outfit just needs some styling to get it from good to great! Try rolling the sleeves, shortening the pant hem (can sometimes be tucked under), swapping out a stiletto for a wedge, or adding a belt.
  • When shopping on a budget, think about whether you have similar items already in your closet.
  • Learning how to edit is a difficult but beneficial lesson. When in doubt, stick to the theory that less is more. When confused about what color to choose, opt for black. Black is chic, slimming, and goes with everything. However, when pairing two or more black garments, make sure the dark shades match.
  • Don’t stray too far from your personal style. Pick those pieces that not only hit the marks but that you also like and will regularly wear.
  • Don’t go trend crazy!