1. Get the basics.
When you’re first out of college and don’t have a lot of money, buy a few staples that can be mixed and matched. A suit that includes a skirt and pair of pants for women (guys, just stick to the pants) and two shirts. You can get up to five or six outfits with these five articles of clothing.
2. Focus on quality.
If you don’t have a lot, you want to make sure what you have is good. Men can find quality, inexpensive suits at K&G Fashion Superstore, JCPenney and Target.com. For men’s shirts and slacks, check out Sears, Kohl’s and the Kirkland brand of shirts at Costco. Women should check out Ross Dressfor Less and Target’s Merona line. Both men and women will find quality threads that will fit into their budget at Marshalls and T.J.Maxx.
3. Determine cost per wear.
Most of us are used to looking at the price instead of value, which often leads us to shying away from a pricey item that will last a while and, instead, buying an inexpensive piece of clothing that will fall apart after two or three wears. You don’t need a lot of cheap stuff in your closet. To determine the true value of an item, divide the price by the number of times you will wear it in a given time period (usually a year). For example, if shirt is $100 and you will wear it 20 times, it will cost $5 every time you wear it. When you’re starting out, look for items that are less than $3 per wear.
4. Dry clean suits once a year.
If work clothes weren’t costly enough, there’s the added expense of dry cleaning them. You can save money by sending your suit to the cleaners just once a year. In between, use a bottle of Febreeze. Test first on the underside, then squirt your garments down to keep them fresh and use spot treatment for stains.
5. Fake it ’til you make it.
So maybe you don’t have a lot of nice things in your closet, but your friends and family might. So borrow from them until you have enough money to buy your own high-end threads — no one at work will know.
6. Outline yourself with expensive and color in with cheap.
If you’re working in investment banking on Wall Street or at a law firm and need to act like you have money to look successful, you can get status symbols without paying status symbol price. For men, it’s watches, and women can achieve the look of status with a nice handbag and pair of shoes. You can snag deals on these accessories at outlet stores or online at Overstock.com. People will focus on these “expensive items” and look past your $20 pair of khakis.
7. Consider thrift stores and consignment shops.
If you’re on a budget, you have to think outside the box. Consignment shops are better than thrift stores because owners are more selective about the clothes they accept and sell, and you can find designer fashions there. Or check out MyGirlfriendsCloset.com, where you can buy slightly used clothing.