How to dress for success on a budget


For all of my friends newly entering the workforce or re-entering the workforce due to financial circumstances or by choice, dressing for success does not have to break the budget.  Remember appearance is more than half the initial perception of your perspective employer.  A good first impression is more essential than your educational knowledge and experience, initially.

I have found many successful ways to look very professional on a $40 budget.  There are some essentials and tips I would like to recommend for in general.

How to dress for success on a budget

First, a nice-looking pair of shoes as well as a handbag, for ladies, will spice up any wardrobe.  Accessories can change the look of your outfit drastically for the positive.  I have been able to buy Nine West and Kenneth Cole handbags at for less than $30.  I would recommend black or gray for the fall/winter and beige for the spring/summer.  White can be troublesome as if they get dirty they will look way older than they are.  You will not run into the same issue with beige.

Same applies for shoes.  Purchase a pair of gray and black shoes for the fall/winter and a good pair of beige for the spring/summer.  Of course, you can spice it up to suit your personality if the budget allows.  However, basic solid colors never go out of style.  The best shoe purchases I’ve found have been at Marshalls or Payless Shoe Company, Payless even offers coupons via text for 30% off your entire purchase and $10 coupons for a purchase.  Keep in mind, these shoes will not last for years on this budget but they will give you a good start and a good idea of what styles you prefer for when you are ready to purchase a higher quality product.  I would recommend DSW or Macy’s for higher quality shoes.  Similar style shoes at Payless and Marshalls are approximately a quarter of the cost.

Additionally all three stores will have very basic accessories for as low as a dollar.  (Burlington, Marshalls, Payless shoes).  Keep everything solid and simply.  Trendy goes out of style and you will find yourself having to re-purchase items the following year.

Regarding wardrobe, I would recommend streamlining your closet, before you begin your shopping spree for your new look.  Donate anything you have not worn in over a year to charity, you will receive a tax write-off for your donation, as well.  If you have not liked your older clothing enough to wear it within the last year, chances are you will not wear it any time soon.  Make space for your new wardrobe.

My personal favorite budget friendly stores include:  Burlington, Macy’s (on a sale day) and Marshalls and The Dress Barn.  The Dress Barn may be slightly higher in price; however, they target a market where the clothes do not require dry cleaning, which saves money.

Additionally, some of the best purchases I’ve made have been at local thrift stores, be open-minded as many of these stores carry name brand clothes at a very low cost.  I would only recommend purchasing name brands from these stores and solid colors only.  Be prepared to iron your clothes.  That said; pick up an iron while you are on your shopping adventure.  Dry cleaning will cost more than your wardrobe costs, over the long-term.  Avoid clothes that require dry cleaning.  For black clothing, Woolite dark care laundry is worth the $10 investment.  Woolite for dark clothes will keep black from fading, and add longevity to your wardrobe.

Shopping Day:  Take your time and have fun!  This is your future look. Even though most companies are now business casual, from my 20+ years of work history, I would still recommend buying a solid colored suit for your initial interview ‘ remember, appearance is the initial determining factor.  Your first impression before you even speak has potential to make or break this interview.  No wrinkled clothes, take the time to have a very neat appearance overall.

After your suit is purchased, the rest is all fun.  Be creative, choose solid colors that can be mixed and matched.  If you purchase 5 solid pants and 5 solid shirts you have the potential to have over two weeks of different outfits by mixing and matching these styles.  Ladies, scarfs can change the whole look of an outfit and they are fun and sassy.  Scarfs can add design to your solid wardrobe.  Purchase solid colored pants, solid colored shirts and also solid colored collared shirts.


You always want to have solid colored collared shirts in your wardrobe as this is typical business casual protocol, even if you are permitted to wear jeans, typically you will still need a nice solid shirt ‘ collared shirts are preferred by many employers, especially if you are meeting with customers or vendors.  Colors should include:  white/black/gray/beige ‘ different styles ‘ some flowing pants, some more tailored, same applies for skirts/dresses or skirts.  Collared shirts can be any color typically, because they will typically match with your black/gray/beige pants.  Collared white shirts always look classy and never go out of style. I purchased many styles of collared shirts from Ann Taylor on clearance at very reasonable prices in many different colors.  Ann Taylor shirts are of high quality and will last for years.

How to dress for success on a budget

In summary, to prepare for your workday, ensure your purse/business bag is neat and professional.  You can purchase some coach leather cleaner for very cheap which adds a very new look to your purse or business bag.  You can use this product on your shoes, as well, in a small amount.  Ensure your clothes are wrinkle free and your simple accessories are in place.  Once your bag and shoes are ready to go, put that low cost outfit on and look like a champ!  Best of luck and happy shopping!

I’ve included a fun/sassy look I’ve put together at little cost as an example.

Solid black shirt – $10 Burlington

$10 pants ‘ Burlington

Scarves from students at the Fashion Institute of Technology NYC that was donated/extra material.

Payless shoes – $15.

You can stand out in the office by being conservative, neat ‘ wrinkle-free and sassy at the same time.   As a final tip, if you hair needs spicing up ‘ go to your local cosmetology school.  Often color and haircuts cost way less than going to a salon and you are helping a student graduate, they are motivated to do a good job as they work towards graduation ‘ haircuts and color touch ups can be less than $20 dollars.

Atlanta Non-Profit Organization for women: offers female clients an interview outfit.  Once you have a scheduled interview, obtain a referral to visit your local Dress for Success boutique.


Happy shopping and best of luck!

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