"Dress for the job you want, not the job you have" used to just mean that you should wear a suit, even if you are the copy boy. Things have changed since then – many offices have gone business casual or have flexible dress policies. However, the mentality is still the same. I want to look as well-dressed and polished as the person who holds the highest position available at my place of business, and I think most other ambitious young professionals want to as well.
The problem is that clothes are expensive! And if you want to get things tailored to fit perfectly and have matching shoes – forget it. By the time you add astronomical dry cleaning bills into the equation, dressing for work can cost you more than they're paying you to do the job in the first place.
Coming out of the college environment where appropriate daily attire has expanded to include sweatshirts and ripped jeans, it can be hard to imagine wearing seemingly uncomfortable clothes that you've reserved for graduations, weddings and funerals every single day. It can be even harder to imagine the amount of money you're going to have to spend purchasing and maintaining them.
It is possible to look polished on a budget, but sale stalking is just the beginning. The trick is to buy clothes you like and can afford, but then take great care of them. That means wearing undershirts, dry cleaning weekly and buying some shoe shine and a nice shoe brush (and using it). If you have a strict care regiment, these clothes will look good for a few years or more, and you can enjoy adding to them rather than replacing them.
A good tailor and cobbler can also increase your bang for your buck. I've had my favorite pair of heels for almost 9 years. I have had them re-heeled twice and I bleach clean them once a season. Re-heeling costs about 20$ for a pair of shoes and you can clean them yourself with bleach and laundry detergent. It's a lot cheaper than buying a new pair of shoes once a year. A good tailor can take a $40 sale rack dress and make it look like a $100 + masterpiece, just by altering it to fit you perfectly.
Wearing simple clothes that really fit you well with seasonal, colorful accent pieces like jewelry, scarves or cardigans can keep your costs low and your style high. It's possible to wear a simple black dress or skirt 3 times a week without anyone noticing that it's a re-run. The same goes for guys with a nice, dark suit.
So don't let the cost of new clothes keep you from putting your best foot forward at work. Head to a tailor/dry cleaner with those pieces your parents bought you and inject some life back into them, because there's nothing worse than looking like an assistant.
See you at the sale rack,