We all know money can be tight, especially when you are new to the workforce. How are you supposed to buy a whole new wardrobe before you earn your first paycheck? I’ve posted about starting with the work-wear basics before, but what if your budget is nearly nonexistent? Fear not, there is a way to build a work wardrobe without breaking the bank.
This issue occurred to me the other day when a peer asked how to buy interview clothes on a very limited budget. Not that I have infinite funds, but working at Banana Republic gets you a pretty decent discount. So I decided to look into more affordable options, and came across a great article by Morieka Johnson about secondhand clothing.
Johnson discusses the benefits of purchasing pre-owned clothing and makes some excellent points, including the low cost and small carbon footprint. Whether you need an entire wardrobe or a few final accessories, thrift stores are great places to shop on a budget. The most important thing to consider before you start shopping is the location. Johnson recommends checking out Salvation Army stores in upscale neighborhoods. As a frequent browser at these stores myself, I can confirm that they often contain high quality clothing from high-end retailers, such as Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. Do not limit yourself to the Salvation Army alone! Also search for work-wear at the Goodwill or more selective resale shops, like consignment stores.
Avoid trendy, vintage stores like Flashbacks when looking for business attire (unless you need an outfit for an office Halloween party). Johnson acknowledges that many resale shops pay donors for their clothing, which attracts teens with their worn out Hollister jeans looking for easy cash. She suggests shopping for accessories at these stores, since they are less likely to sell higher quality office-wear. I suggest that you look for scarves, cardigans, jewelry, and purses rather than foundational pieces like pants or dresses.
As Johnson briefly mentions, asking others for hand-me-downs is another option if you have a relative or friend who wears roughly the same size as you. If asking to keep their old clothes is out of the question, see if you can borrow some items until you can replace them with your own pieces. Work out a deal with the other person, and let them borrow your clothes too. This is a great way for both of you to expand your wardrobe and save money!
Some of you might be wondering whether second-hand clothing is acceptable in the professional world. Is it clean? Will it smell? Well, you certainly have to look around for quality. Spend a few extra dollars to get the item tailored and wash the clothes a few times with extra detergent, and I promise no one will know the difference. Plus, as Johnson mentioned, used clothing stores in upper-class neighborhoods often contain expensive garments donated by successful business people that you might not be able to afford new. Be selective, and do a thorough inspection of each garment before purchasing to ensure that it is in good condition. I completely agree with Johnson’s points about used clothing, and recommend it to anyone on a budget. A few others also agree with Johnson and I. To read more about used clothing and thrift store myths, read the articles here, here, and here.