Build a Professional Wardrobe, One Step at a Time

Got an interview coming up? Maybe you’re not quite ready to apply for jobs, but you are ready to start networking. Is there a conference in your field that students can attend and you have the opportunity to go? Any of these situations can prompt a clothing crisis, especially if you have a closet full of student clothes and utterly devoid of professional outfits. If you’re a student, you might also find yourself in a position where you need to acquire a new suit without spending a bunch of cash.

Don’t worry, it’s possible! Here are some ways to get started on a professional wardrobe without going totally broke.

Exhaust Your Free Resources First

If you’re in college, start with your career center. Many schools have something like a “career closet,” where people can donate good-condition, professional clothing for students. You might get an entire outfit, complete with shoes, from this one stop, and you might not have to pay anything for it. It doesn’t get cheaper or easier than that!

Neighborhood career centers might have similar resources. These centers are also more likely to be connected to other local charities and can refer you to any religious or non-profit organizations that might be able to help.

Spend Time, Not (Too Much) Money

Thrift stores can be goldmines for brand name, like-new clothes at cut-rate prices. They’re also hit and miss on availability of styles and sizes, so you may have to spend some time digging and make multiple trips. Check with management; they can give you important information, such as when clothing is restocked each week. If you enjoy a challenge and have some time to scavenge, you can get excellent deals on quality clothes.

Check Clearance Racks

Most department stores have racks of clearance clothing at deep discounts—sometimes as much as 75% off. Target is a great place for clearance items, too. Like thrifting, this requires time and effort, and you may come up empty handed. Finding out what day new clearance merchandise is moved to the racks can increase your chances of success.

Go Online

Too busy for thrift stores and clearance aisles? You might be able to accomplish the same thing online in less time. Web resellers such as Thred Up and Twice offer gently used clothing for way less than retail prices. You may have to pay shipping, but you can often find coupons online for bonus discounts.

Borrow Stuff

If you have a family member or friend who is the same size as you, you may be able to borrow what you need. This is a great stopgap measure if you need clothes NOW; just keep in mind that you’ll eventually want to begin investing in a wardrobe of your own.

The same basic rules apply to these clothes that apply to all professional clothing and accessories: everything should be clean, pressed, in good repair, and work appropriate.

Got a good source for professional clothes on a budget? Tell us about it in the comments!


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