A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who is nearing the end of her schooling and will soon be transitioning to professional attire. Our conversation got me thinking: how can one go from college style to a professional wardrobe on a budget? Working with $500 or less, I put together a list of key pieces that I feel every professional wardrobe should include.
How to Build your New Professional Wardrobe Under $500
In my opinion, the key to maximizing your professional wardrobe is sticking to a neutral color palette.
Choosing colors like black, ivory and tan will give you several options for mixing and matching. For a traditional office setting, the pieces below will get you on your way to a complete professional wardrobe. Later on, incorporating navy would also be a nice addition.
THE KEY PIECES TO YOUR NEW PROFESSIONAL WARDROBE:
1. Ankle Dress Pants ($50 )
Ankle pants can be worn with both heels and flats, making them quite versatile. For my shorter readers, look for petite sizing so that you can save money on alterations!
Pair with: Blazer, Blouse, Turtleneck, Cardigan
2. Structured Blazer ($75)
I love blazers because they are both functional and fashionable. They add an extra layer of warmth–great for air conditioned offices–and make any look instantly polished. I like the modern style of this one, a cropped length without buttons.
Pair with: White Blouse, Turtleneck, Pencil Skirt, Trousers, Sheath Dress
3. White Blouse ($20)
A classic white blouse is a must for a professional wardrobe; it will go with everything. I personally prefer a blouse to a dress shirt because the fabric is less prone to wrinkles and is more comfortable.
Pair with: Trousers, Pencil Skirt, Sheath Dress, Cardigan
4. Pencil Skirt ($50)
Pencil skirts are very classic pieces for the workplace. Like the blazer, a pencil skirt will refine the look. I have this one from J.Crew Factory and love the petite fit (mine is a 00P).
Pair with: White Blouse, Blazer, Cardigan, Turtleneck
5. Sheath Dress ($50)
My favorite thing about dresses is that your outfit is ‘one and done’. It’s so simple to grab a dress and get out the door. On mornings when I’m running late, dresses are the easiest option. I like the v-neck style of this dress because it lends well to layering. The simple bow blouse or the turtleneck can be worn underneath this neckline for added warmth or texture.
Pair with: over White Blouse, under Blazer, over Turtleneck
6. Turtleneck ($20)
Turtlenecks, in my opinion, are underrated. They are the perfect layering piece and so inexpensive!
Pair with: under Sheath Dress, Pencil Skirt, Trousers,
7. Cardigan ($40)
Some days, I prefer the comfort of a sweater to a blazer. An embellished cardigan is a great option in these situations. Again, stick with a neutral color so that it can be easily matched with other pieces, but also look for a tiny bit of “bling” . The sparkle adds the tiniest something extra without going overboard for the office.
Pair with: Trousers, Pencil Skirt, White Blouse, Turtleneck
8. Stud Earrings ($35)
I debated between making my jewelry “go-to” a pearl necklace or stud earrings. For me, I prefer earrings for a few reasons: (1) I have to wear a badge to work (yes, I hate that) so necklaces have to compete for the spotlight and (2) I tend to prefer simplicity for the office. A larger stud earring adds a bit of sparkle without being over-the-top.
9. Large Tote ($100)
If you’re like me and need a bag with room for your lunch and heels, you’re going to need something large to get the job done. For work, I look for a well-made and sturdy bag with enough room to carry a pair of shoes, my lunch, a book or two, and my planner. I’m willing to make this my splurge piece because it gets the most use.
10. Nude Pumps ($45)
No questions asked, these are a must. Nude pumps can be worn with absolutely anything, at any time. I wear them in the summer; I wear them in the winter. I prefer nude over black because it lengthens a shorter leg and matches any outfit.
So there you have it! My top 10 picks for getting your professional wardrobe started for under $500!
I do realize that several sales were going on as I was putting this professional wardrobe post together, but this is not unusual. I encourage you to sign up for email lists and wait until you can find the best deals. These sales go on all the time, and waiting for them will help you to get the most for your money!