Office Style: How to build a Work Wardrobe on a Budget

I have been out of the go-to-the-office-daily workforce for a long time. There were children, there were my other small businesses, part-time jobs and my blog but now I’m ready to get back on this horse. The problem is that all my Country Road suits were donated to charity about 10 years ago. Now I need to find things to wear … stat.

How to build a Work Wardrobe on a budget

I like to build up a wardrobe gradually. I think that if you buy everything in one go, then they wear out at the same time, plus if they go out of style or you change shape, then your entire wardrobe might need updating. Just a piece here and there is best. If you don’t believe me, then ask my husband. He decided to buy a complete casual wardrobe in one day. I explained that slim lined cargo pants might not be around for ever. Six months later, he needed to start replacing his pants again. Lesson learnt. Always listen to your wife.

First Shop your Existing Wardrobe

You might be surprised by what you can find hiding. You could have missed them because you were looking for other, cooler items.

Look for

  • Nice fitting trousers
  • Button up shirts
  • Nice blouses
  • Blazers
  • Skirts
  • Simple dresses

Avoid

  • Anything you’ve worn to a nightclub
  • Items that are the wrong size. Even 1/2 a size too small will look bad
  • Pieces with rips, stains or piling
  • Clothes that show too much skin. No spaghetti straps, short skirts, low cut cleavage or see through fabric
  • Too many sequins, glitter or sparkles
  • Clothes that are too casual. i.e. jeans, shorts, sports wear

Build the Base

  • Pick a colour, like black navy or grey. Stick close to this so you can mix and match your pieces
  • Look for well fitting, clean lined pieces
  • Avoid prints. This is because people will remember if you are wearing the same Pineapple print shirt 2 times a week but they won’t notice of you are re-wearing a simple white or black shirt. Of course you can add prints as your wardrobe builds but for the base, don’t do it!
  • Find a pair of comfortable, understated, toe covered shoes. When I say comfortable, don’t think Grandma shoes, think cute and comfortable. I’m comfortable in heels and would be uncomfortable in super flat ballet shoes. They need to be understated for the same reason that you don’t buy prints, if you need to wear them everyday, then it won’t be as obvious. You can add the leopard print in the second round
  • A handbag. A ratty handbag will ruin any look. Make sure it’s big enough to carry everything but small enough that it doesn’t look like you’re moving in. This can be colour or printed. No one expects you to change your handbag daily, so it doesn’t matter if it stands out

  What to Buy

First cross out anything you found while shopping your wardrobe.

  1. Pair of trousers in your base colour
  2. A blazer. It should match the trousers
  3. A skirt. I would suggest knee length either pencil fit or a-line but go with whatever skirt style you feel most comfortable in. Comfort is everything
  4. At least 3 simple tops. I like button down shirts because they are so freaking sexy
  5. A pair of comfortable shoes
  6. A mid sized handbag
  7. If you really wanted to go crazy, then add a simple dress and a cardigan

How to Accessorise

This is where you add the little bits of you. Finding great accessories is a cheap and fun way to change the appearance of your base outfit.

Tips

  • Don’t wear too much jewellery. Sure a simple arm party is cute but an arm, finger, neck party will make it look and sound like a gypsy is wandering the halls. Plus it’s really distracting
  • A watch screams “I’m serious about time, I will be everywhere on time and meet every deadline”
  • Belts can make an outfit look done. I personally don’t like to see belt loops on pants or skirts without a belt threaded through. Either remove the loops, hide them, wear a belt or buy something without belt loops
  • Scarves are great to add colour, personality but pick them well. Look for a soft, thin fabric and not too big. You don’t want to look like you’re wearing a blanket at your desk. It really gives the wrong impression.

Grooming

  • Do your hair in a style that will stay and you won’t be touching it all day. I like to wear my hair down, but I fiddle. So, my go-to style is a knot/bun/nest on top of my head. I know this stays and I know how to do it in 2 mins
  • Clean nails. You don’t have to get a mani and gel nails, they just need to look neat and clean. I like to wear a nice polish but take it off if it’s chipped
  • Light spritz of a non-overwhelming fragrance. Anything the opposite of Opium
  • Light daytime makeup. Here is an easy 5 minute makeup tutorial if you need a little help

Second Round

When you have a little spare cash, you can start on the second round. This is the best round!! Leopard print shoes, printed dresses or skirts but alway make sure they will go with your base wardrobe.

how to build a work wardrobe on a budget

 What else? I’d love to hear any other tips you have.

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Comments

  1. Lisa Mckenzie says:

    Congratulations on getting the job Rachel,I can’t wait to see what you buy to wear to work Xx

  2. Don’t forget op shops! The Salvos are cheaper in low socio-economic areas, I found a couple of great suits (Jacqui E and Country Road) very cheap at one nearby. Ebay and DFO are other great sources of new and pre-loved workwear xxx

    • Excellent ideas!! I haven’t had much luck in Op shops and I envy the people that keep striking gold. DFO is awesome! I love that place.

    • Totally agree Pagan, almost all my corporate wardrobe is from op-shops and I have some REALLY nice items. You need to know your brands, be willing to spend sometime looking and most of all WALK AWAY if the item isn’t perfect. I tend to mostly score on skirts and sometimes pants. Also, with op-shopping, consider their delivery days, if you go on Saturday afternoon, all the best stuff has already been snapped up :) Time your visits with stock deliveries, ask the staff and volunteers, their usually really helpful ….. can you tell I’m an experienced op-shopper?

  3. Such brilliant advice – the base is essential and rarely is about fashion trends. Keep it simple, smart and stylish. Be true to your body shape
    Then you can bolt on the seasonal trend pieces when you have the pay cheques coming in
    http://www.ladympresents.co.uk

  4. Jo from Greyskydreaming says:

    Congratulations Rachel, you must be so excited! I wear a pair of black Trenery pants for work several days a week but button down shirts look crapola on me (not shapely enough). I tend to wear a lot of sleeveless tops and a cardigan but sometimes it can look a bit unpolished. Wish they’d make more work tops with a cap sleeve…

  5. Rachel , congratulations on your new job! I am sure you will be brilliant. I love the idea of a first and second round wardrobe haul. I also love Jacqui E for reasonably priced pants, skirts and dresses.

    All the best!
    Bron x

  6. Congrats on the new role! I found that when I returned to work from maternity leave, a lot of my previous work wear either didn’t fit or flatter the post baby belly or was just done/worn out/not cute. We had just bought a new house so cash was tight. So I hit up the op shops for basic dresses, pants and tops and injected life back into the wardrobe that way.

  7. you will be very smart, classy and chic rach!
    you might have to tame that wild child;(
    I’ve seen some amazingly good looking office wear in big w and target,
    for a very reasonable price! … a good starting point, at least!
    good luck hun! … love m:)X

  8. Great tips, Rach and congrats on the new job! Most of my work wardrobe is based around black and white and I’ve added colour/prints/showpony pieces along the way. The key also is to buy a piece or two as regularly as you are able to (eg: hit up Target or ASOS or op shops) and mix into your existing work wardrobe. This ensures you don’t get sick of wearing the same stuff each week and also so you don’t give your favourite items an absolute flogging.

  9. Congratulations on the new job, babe! Very proud of you xxx

    The Welshman buys all his work wear at once, but it works for him. He hates shopping and would rather do it in one go!

    I, on the other hand, clearly do not prefer this option!

  10. Love all your tips Rachel and congrats on the job!
    I try to find some pieces which will work in multiple seasons like blazers, dresses and shirts (like you, I love a button up shirt). Love your advice on nails too. Clean and simple = tres chic for office. xox

  11. Congratulations. I am currently building a work wardrobe and these are great tips.
    http://stylediarybyosy.blogspot.com/

  12. Great tips! I’ve printed it out. Thank you for sharing.

    I would like to invite you to join Reasontodress linkup party where I am cohosting this week. It would be great to see you join us.

    Angele

  13. Congrats lovely – as you always look fabulous, this will be a piece of cake!

  14. Great list! I’m a big fan of a work appropriate LBD in the cupboard too. I have a couple of favourites from cue.. I try to go for something classic, easy to wear and will seamlessly take you to dinner or drinks! I always find dresses a great option on days when I really need to be comfortable as well. x

  15. I find Target as great place to start for basics and they have a great range these days. I then hit up Country Road for my silk shirts and blouses when they have a spend and save. Comfortable shoes are worth they weight in gold as your in them for 8 hours a day. Like Sonia said, try adding something new regularly otherwise you just get sick of wearing the same stuff over & over again.
    Enjoy your new role!