They say one shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but that’s not always the case when it comes to what you wear to the office.   It doesn’t matter if your office dress code is casual, business casual (sometimes called smart casual, office casual or corporate casual – confusing, much?) or formal business, you should always look put together. When you’re getting ready for work or if you have a job interview, your outfit and overall look should tell people that you are a highly skilled, responsible and well groomed professional.

If there’s anything you should really invest in, as far as clothing goes, it is your work wardrobe. However, shopping for work clothes can cost a pretty penny and these days, most people people don’t have the luxury to go all out.  So today we’ll discuss how to build a work wardrobe for less.

Image: Newscom

Image: Newscom

Where to Shop

You don’t have to spent a lot to build your work wardrobe.  Stores like Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic (though it’s a bit pricier), New York & Co. and department stores like JC Penny, Burlington Coat Factory, Kohls and Sears are great places to get your basics.  Other fantastic shops I’ve found work attire from is Express (love their Editor pants!), Forever 21 (check out their basics section!) and H&MTarget is another terrific place to hit up for work clothes and shoes too. These stores have sales going on pretty much every week so there are ample ways to save on what you need.

Stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Nordstrom Rack and other discount clothing stores are great places to pick up nicely priced brand name clothes, shoes and accessories. Make sure to set aside an ample amount of time to sift through the racks to find the hidden gems.

Outlet stores are another way to score great deals on designer and name brand clothing, shoes and accessories. Check out Outlet Bound to find one near you.  You can also try vintage stores but as you know, sizes are limited and you really have to inspect each item throughly to make sure there are not stains, rips, tears or odors.

Most of the stores I mentioned above also have online stores so if you can’t find your size at the B&M, you might have a better chance if you look online. Other online stores to check out are Overstock and even sample sale sites like Haute Look, Red Tag Crazy, Gilt, Ideeli etc. Some of these stores are still on the expensive side but you’ll still be saving at least 40% off retail.

What to Buy

First of all you will need to put most of your money towards getting yourself a good suit. Look for a solid coloured suit with three matching pieces – a jacket/blazer, a pencil skirt and slacks. Stick to a neutral colour palette like browns, navy, black or grey.  Investing in a suit that has three pieces means you can mix and match them with pretty much everything else in your closet.

The suit jacket or blazer can be worn with the slacks or pencil skirt and either a pretty blouse or button shirt. On your off days, you can wear the jacket with jeans and a tee or a cute dress.  The pencil skirt can be paired with a pretty blouse and knit cardigan or worn with a sexy top and heels for cocktails. And lastly, slacks can be worn with just about anything you pair with the skirt.  The key is to start with a great basics and build on from there.

If you’re able to wear jeans every day to work, make sure they fit well and are not distressed. Definitely go for a darker wash instead of a lighter one. Jeans in lighter shades look too casual for the office.  You can wear jeans with just about any combination of a blouse, button shirt and the suit jacket or cardigan.

What Not to Wear

Don’t wear anything to work that is see-through or too sexy like mini skirts, spaghetti strap tops (unless worn under a cardigan and cardigan must be kept on at all times) or anything you’d wear to an amusement park like cut off shorts, cargo shorts etc.  Casual looking t-shirts (yes, even solid coloured ones) and hats are usually frowned upon as well.

I’m sure it goes without saying that one should not wear raggedly flip flops, sneakers or scuffed up shoes to the office. If you’re able to wear open toe shoes, some cute sandals are a better option. If you don’t want to wear heels every day, buy some ballet flats.  As far as wearing heels, don’t go with overly strappy stilettos, those are best worn for parties etc. Stick to pumps and make sure your shoes are comfortable to walk in and are not too high either.

Accessories are a great way to make yourself stand out but do not go overboard with gaudy necklaces or noisy jewelry. Stick to one statement piece, like a colourful bangle, and keep the rest of your jewelry minimal. A great bag completes your outfit so choose one in a classic shape, colour and style that will able you to take it to work and use it on your days off.

Even if your office is super casual it’s always better to err on the side of being too covered up. Respect your workmates  even if you think that sequin top is hip and cool they might not get your style.  It’s always a good idea to dress for the position you want.

Once you’ve got all the basics you need, you won’t have to worry about rushing around trying to come up with outfits. Nothing is worse is being late to work because you didn’t have anything to wear. ;)  And, if you really want to take charge of your work and every day wardrobe check out how to clean and organize your closet.