As I've mentioned before in Find Free Exercise, I've never worked in an office setting before. Since college, all of my jobs have been outside, so my daily “uniform” has drastically changed over the last few months. When I was working for an irrigation company, I could wear whatever I wanted, as long as I didn't mind it getting covered in dirt, mud, blood, or water. So when I started there, I just wore some of my old clothes, and found additional cheap clothes at a local thrift store. Eventually, the clothes that I wore were absolutely trashed, but it didn't matter because I spent the majority of my day digging trenches. After that, I held a job as a meter reader, where I was given a uniform. The best part about wearing the same uniform everyday is not having to worry about what you're going to wear. It took all the stress out of the equation, which I absolutely appreciated.
Now, however, I work in an office building, and that means that I cannot wear my old stained dirty jeans, or the same uniform every day. Instead, I had to quickly build an affordable office wardrobe. This is how I did it.

First, I went through my closet and found all the clothes that I felt I could wear in this office setting. I knew that the dress code was not incredibly formal, but for the most part, I wanted to make sure that my pants weren't offensive and my shirts were collared. This meant no ripped jeans, and no t-shirts. As I'm just a few years out of college, and seeing as how I spent the majority of my working career wearing a uniform and/or going shirtless, I did not have a lot of collared shirts. I had a couple of polos and two dress shirts. As for pants, after trying on a few pairs I realized that I either had to go very formal, or with a clean nice pair of jeans. I decided to go with the jeans on the first day, scope out what everyone else was wearing, and adjust as necessary.
Second, I purchased filler pieces. These are the pieces that I needed in order to make an outfit “work”. For example, I had a nice shirt that I could wear, but it required wearing a shirt underneath, so I needed to get a nice plain white t-shirt. Other examples of filler pieces could be: black socks, a belt, proper shoes, a light sweater, etc. Typically, they are not expensive purchases, but they are the small bits that really make an outfit “work”. Sometimes, it is all about the details.
Last, I purchased a couple of “big” articles of clothing. These were the most expensive pieces I purchased. As I only had a couple of shirts I felt were adequate for the job, I decided that I needed a couple of more. So I ended up buying two more button up collared shirts that fit me well. Between the two of them I probably paid about $100, but I figure that because they are not getting a lot of heavy use (see: irrigation), they would last me for quite some time. Now I have enough shirts that I can wear a different one every single day of the week, giving me just enough variety to keep me and my coworkers sane, but not so much that I wasted unnecessary money on an office wardrobe. If you think you need more, just remember that sometimes you can get away with wearing only six articles of clothing for a month without anyone noticing.
Here's some additional tips for building your office wardrobe:

  • Purchase pieces that you can mix and match. While rocking that fuschia miniskirt might seem like a good idea, it's not something that you can wear with just anything. If you are starting from scratch, buy pants, shirts, and sweaters in colours that you can easily match to, like black, grey, or white.
  • Minimalism is beautiful. While it might be tempting to rock as many accessories as possible (think: necklace, rings, watches, belts, headbands, etc), pick one and stick with it. Not only is it cheaper, it is also fashionable.
  • Got some old clothes that no longer fit? Inherited some shirts from an older brother? Try getting them tailored instead of replacing them. Not only will it be cheaper than replacing the item, but a tailored shirt will always fit better than one that is straight off the shelf.

How did you build your inexpensive office wardrobe?

About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.