How to Dress for the Job You Have on the Budget You Have
Work + Life Balance

How to Dress for the Job You Have on the Budget You Have

by Lisa Gordon
Photos Tonhya Kae | September 17, 2015


Sure, everyone knows it’s important to dress for the job you want. {Click to Tweet} Think back to the interview outfits you’ve put together, making sure you look sharp and professional from head to toe. As much as we’d like to say appearances don’t matter, it’s hard to argue that in some situations, they do matter—a lot.

But what about after you land the job or for those of us who’ve been at our jobs for a while now? Dressing professionally is one thing, but doing it consistently, and doing it well, can be tricky, not to mention expensive! Here are some tips for looking great while on the clock.

Dressing professionally is one thing, but doing it consistently, and doing it well, can be tricky, not to mention expensive! 


As you probably already know from being a Career Contessa reader, it’s important to keep a budget of your weekly, monthly, and yearly expenses. But sometimes, we try too hard to avoid the things we secretly love and want to do—like shopping for clothes—out of fear of not wanting to splurge on what feels unnecessary.

While that’s the right attitude have, it’s also okay—some would argue critical—to spend on your wardrobe. Clothes can do a lot for the way you feel about and carry yourself. {Click to Tweet} We recommend putting aside an amount you feel comfortable with every paycheck (even if it’s only a few dollars!) for your wardrobe fund. Then, you can feel free to shop as often as you like, or save it up and go for one big spree!


Is there a particular ‘look’ you wish you could pull off, or a specific item you’ve been coveting for a while? Whatever it is, go for it! Fashion is about having fun, but feeling good. {Click to Tweet} Mark some looks you’d like to try, then find those pieces and try them on. If they make you look and feel great, it’s worth it, even if you have to save.

It’s okay—some would argue critical—to spend on your wardrobe.


If you’ve ever read a fashion magazine, you know the importance of staple pieces. Staple pieces allow you to construct a wardrobe around central pieces that you can use as the foundation for many different outfits. Here’s a list of key staples that are a must for the modern day career woman. How many of them do you already have?

1. A great blazer. Blazers can do magic for making any outfit look polished and professional. Throwing on a blazer, even over a t-shirt, can make even a casual outfit appear professional. A great blazer in a neutral color will be a go-to for work days and after-work events alike. Blazers vary greatly when it comes to fit and cost, but if you can, pay a little extra for one that fits you like a glove. You’ll wear it for years—remember that it can double as a jacket!

We like: Joie's chic yet comfortable take or for cold days coming, Pendleton's warm wool version. For a true investment piece? Try Theory's classic tailoring.

2. Comfortable heels. Even if you love heels, you’ve got to admit: by the end of the day you’re probably dying to take them off. But it’s no secret that heels do wonders for making you look great and feel empowered. Finding a pair that you can stand tall in from morning through night is key.  

We like: Sam Edelman's mid-heels for long days, the unexpected metallics on these Loeffler Randall pumps, and we're all about a perfect pair of Rachel Comey ankle boots.

3. A pencil or sleek midi skirt. Pencil skirts are a great basic staple that instantly make you appear elegant and professional, and they’re easy to pair with most tops. If pencil skirts aren’t your thing, try a sleek midi-skirt that sits above your hips and falls between your knees and ankles.

We like: BB Dakota's pencil in subtle lace, the nautical vibes of this Calvin Klein knee-length, and this Mad Men-inspired Nicole Miller.

4. A long cardigan sweater. Typical cardigans are a professional stand-by, but for a more modern look, find one that falls below your bum. It’ll pull your look together and keep you warm. Plus, since these can double as a jacket, it will carry you nicely between seasons.  

We like: Lucky Brand's long-line, ribbed version, this absolutely classic Ralph Lauren v-neck, and for the style win, Splendid's unexpected short-sleeve cashmere


Accessorizing can do wonders for your work look. {Click to Tweet} It’s easier than you think—not to mention fun!—and one of the reasons why is that accessories tend to be affordable! Be open to mixing it up with different kinds of materials, textures, and colors. Especially when it comes to jewelry, sometimes pieces you wouldn’t dream of wearing can become a game changer! Get together with some girlfriends and have an accessory swap, where everyone brings jewelry, scarves, purses, etc. that they’re not using anymore. Put them in a pile, and pick items with your eyes clothes. You’re welcome to trade, but the more you’re willing to try something new, the more pleasantly surprised we think you might be!


What are some fashion hacks you've got up your well-styled sleeve? Tell us about them in the comments.