Once college is over, the possibilities are endless… but the money in your bank account may not be. When you’re diving straight into the job market from campus life, you may quickly realize you don’t have enough professional clothes to carry you through your first job.
Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to look the part. With a little creativity and planning, you can build a grown-up wardrobe on a post-grad budget. From strategically purchasing mix-and-match basics to shopping secondhand, these tips will help you create a job-ready wardrobe that’s both functional and fashionable.
Evaluate Your Current Closet
The first thing I always ask my clients to do when working on a wardrobe project is to evaluate their current closet. Sure, you won’t need those sweatpants you used to wear to class for your new job, but you’ll learn a lot about the styles you prefer by taking the time to see what you already have.
It may seem like you are starting completely from scratch, but a closet evaluation will help you get one step closer to your new wardrobe. Look for clues about your personal style. Do you prefer skinny jeans and loose tops, or are you more of a dress person? What about the color of your favorite pieces, the fabric? Does your style skew preppy or bohemian? It’s important to notice what is working about your current closet so you can create a similar feel in your new post-grad wardrobe.
Most importantly, by knowing and working with what you already have, you’ll be able to save money you would have otherwise spent on duplicate items. Additionally, keep an eye out for items that could be worked into a professional wardrobe. Keep tank tops to wear under cardigans or blazers. If you’re heading to a more casual office, even distressed jeans and trendy tops can be dressed up for work.
Pick Your Base Colors
Now that you know what is working in your closet and what isn’t, it is time to pick a neutral color that functions as the base for your wardrobe. My go-to base color is black, but depending on your coloring and personal preference, yours could range anywhere from white to beige to navy.
Keeping the majority of your pieces a simple color will make everything in your wardrobe easily interchangeable. When everything you own works together, you create a capsule post-grad wardrobe that saves you time and money. You’ll be able to get dressed quicker in the morning, and you won’t over-spend on clothes you never wear. Since you’re likely starting with a small budget, sticking to neutral colors that match everything allows you to get more bang for your buck.
Supplement with Smart Shopping
Whether you are working in a laid-back or more buttoned-up environment, sticking to polished pieces on the professional end is always a good idea. If your new gig is business casual, choose a structured pair of dark denim jeans. For a more conservative office, slim crepe tailored pants are the way to go. In addition to your go-to pants, you’ll also need a blazer, a blouse and a shift or A-line dress that aligns with your personal style.
High-quality professional pieces are an investment that will carry you through years of working, but they can be expensive at most retailers. Consider shopping secondhand at consignment stores or online resale sites. You can find well-made basics at a fraction of the cost. Before you start shopping, make a list of everything you need and set a personal budget so that you know you’re only buying what you need—and what you can afford.
Finish with Accessories
Accessories are an inexpensive way to add interest to your basic capsule wardrobe. Think outside the box, too— whether you prefer a fun pair of earrings or a coat with a pop of color, expand the idea of an accessory to be anything that spices up your base wardrobe. From comfy yet stylish shoes that you can spend a full work day in, to jewelry that shows off your personality, these accessories can take your outfit to the next level without being too casual.
While these tools for building your post-grad wardrobe will save time and money, remember that the most important thing you can bring to this next phase of your life is not your clothing but your confidence. Wear outfits that compliment your personality and allow your skills to shine, and enjoy this next phase of life with a little bit of style!
Catherine Claire is a stylist who provides helpful and easy tips on creating a wallet-friendly work wardrobe. She cofounded