Dressing the part at work can be a smart investment. Studies have found that having a put-together appearance can help boost your earnings.
In my job as a senior social media editor for CNBC, I have found that the right look can also boost my performance: When I feel like I look good at work, I'm in a better mood and more willing to collaborate and speak up in meetings.
But I have also found ways to make sure buying and maintaining clothes and shoes doesn't have to cost a whole paycheck. Over the years, these four rules have helped me save hundreds of dollars on my work wardrobe:
High-profile leaders like former President Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs have used "work uniforms" of go-to pieces and looks to streamline their morning routine and help them focus on big tasks. It's an easy move to emulate — one that can save you time and money.
Find a few looks that work for any season, and then mix and match expensive and inexpensive pieces to create them. Some of my favorites are:
- A black T-shirt tucked into jeans with a black blazer
- A white button-down shirt with statement jewelry and jeans or a skinny pant
- A neutral dress with a fun scarf
There's lots of flexibility with all these looks, and a black T-shirt or a white button down are available at every price range. I like to buy basics like these at Old Navy where, with sales and coupons, a T-shirt is usually $10 or less.
Avoid mixing your work clothes and your weekend clothes, and you'll get more wear out of your professional wardrobe. It can even be smart to leave some key pieces at the office.
The biggest item this applies to is shoes. My work shoes live at work: They don't go outside to lunch, they don't commute, and they don't go on vacation.
About three years ago I paid around $90 for a pair of black Coach flats — more than I would typically spend on a pair of shoes. Following this rule has kept them in great condition, even though there are weeks I wear them almost every day.
Often, clothing items that say "dry clean" on the label can be cleaned at home, either by using the delicate cycle in a washing machine or by hand-washing them in the bathroom sink. Then skip the dryer in favor of line drying.
To decipher laundry tag symbols and best practices for different kinds of fabric, check out guides like this one from Reviewed.com.
Without that trick, my monthly dry-cleaning bill would likely be around $30-40. Instead, I bought a foldable drying rack for about $20, and when necessary I buy a bottle of delicate laundry detergent ($5-$20, depending on how high end I want to go).
There are so many opportunities to avoid paying full price.
If you're in love with a particular brand that's available at multiple retailers, do a quick price comparison search to see if an item is available at discount or secondhand sites like Nordstrom Rack or Poshmark, or at often-affordable online retailers like Zappos and its sister site 6pm. I've saved hundreds of dollars on dresses and shoes over the years this way.
It also helps to get creative with where you shop. I have coworkers who swear by thrift stores and consignment shops, where they find great classic pieces at a steep discount. Others have found Prada shoes at swaps. I try to visit the largest locations of my favorite stores: A bigger store means a bigger sale section.
And I like to check out sample sales, which offer great deals. My best sample sale finds have been at the J. Crew/Madewell sample sale, where I've picked up dresses for less than $30 that would typically sell for more than $100.
Don't be afraid to milk every discount. Sometimes just asking if the store has any current promotions will get you a deal.
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