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How to build a timeless work wardrobe on a budget

Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

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As fall begins and the weather transitions from hot and sticky to cool and crisp, your work wardrobe will be going through a transition as well. When new-season clothes hit stores, it's tempting to refresh your wardrobe by chasing the latest trends. But if you're on a budget, can you update your outfits without breaking the bank? Yes, as long as you shop strategically.

Focus on staples first
Before spending money on anything else, make sure you have staple work pieces in your wardrobe. Simon Kneen, creative director at Banana Republic, says both men and women need to have a crisp, white shirt in their closet. "You can't go wrong with a well-tailored white shirt, because it is both eternally classic and incredibly versatile," Kneen says. "A well-made white shirt can be worn through the work week and on weekends when teamed with a pair of jeans, creating a casual, yet elegant look."

Since white shirts show dirt and wear more quickly than other colors, consider investing in more than one, especially if you find a style that fits your body well. To get the most wear out of your shirt, treat any spots or sweat stains right away, and wash it by itself or with other light colors.


Invest in timeless pieces
It's easy to get wrapped up in new clothing trends, but consider investing in classic work-wardrobe pieces instead to get the most bang for your buck. Trends come and go, and in a year you may regret purchasing that graphic print pant, fur coat and oversized hat. But there are certain key pieces that will never go out of style and are worth the investment.

"Investing in high-quality pieces like a suit, slim-fit button down and blazer is worth it, since these are the building blocks of your professional wardrobe that can be tastefully mixed and matched with accessories to keep you trend-right every season," Kneen says. "It's especially worth the extra time and money to get the right fit for your body. Accentuate your assets with proper fit and lengths, especially during the warmer months when you tend to show more skin. This is true in the colder months as well, when tailored coats and pants are essential to avoid looking bulky in heavy winter items."

Save with versatility
Buy versatile items that can take you from desk to dinner or work to weekend. Kneen says that workers can save on casual shirts that can be mixed and matched with suits, blazers and pants. Cotton button-downs, being shown in different colors or patterns, are less expensive and can go from day to night and work week to weekend. "[Pair them] with trousers or pencil skirts during the week and chinos or shorts on the weekend."

Accessories are another easy way to incorporate new styles into an ensemble without spending too much money. They're less expensive but can transform an outfit from basic to style-forward. "Accessories are a fun way to experiment with trends without breaking the bank or looking inappropriate in a work environment," Kneen says.

Jewelry is a great add on for women, and many budget-friendly stores are mimicking styles found in higher-end shops. Chunky necklaces and metallic cuff bracelets look expensive, but you can find trend-forward options that cost $50 or less. Patterned or colored belts are another easy way to incorporate a trend without spending all your cash.

For men, ties are an accessory that can refresh a stale outfit on a budget. If your office dress code is more casual, add a pocket square to your blazer or shirt for a pop of color, or experiment with shape. "Adding a pop of color whether it's with a bright button down, a pocket square, or even just the lining of a jacket makes the classics feel fresh and new," Kneen says. Another way he suggests to stay on trend is with the shape of the items. "A modern cut on a blazer is slimming and nods to the tailoring trend without a complicated approach – effortless panache at its best."

"The key is not to overdo a trend, or you risk becoming a fashion victim," Kneen says. "A touch of current pattern and color goes a long way. You can update your look by pairing print and color back to a neutral – always a very stylish bet."

Keep track of your expenses
Be smart about where your paycheck is going by keeping track of what you're spending on clothes. Create a personal budget worksheet, and populate it with your monthly expenditures. If you don't know where to start, find a template online that has a basic outline developed. Microsoft Excel versions are extra helpful, because they'll do the math for you. By organizing and tracking your expenses, you'll avoid spending more money than you're making.

It's easy to get into a rut when dressing for work, but you don't need to deplete your paycheck to create a new look. If you invest in core pieces first and build the rest of your wardrobe out over time, you'll end up with classic yet stylish work attire that'll make you feel confident and professional.



Last Updated: 27/09/2012 - 11:05 AM


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