Fun in the Real World: Thrifty Dressing

Tess’s new blog inspired me to get more creative with my everyday work wear. I had begun to realize that Tuesday was becoming Sweater Vest Day, and Thursday was Jeans with a Jacket Day. It had to be switched up, so I took inventory and started thinking about possibilities. I have two pairs of work pants, three button-down shirts (one of which had to be tailored by my mom), two blazers (one of which is from high school), a suit, and a handful of sweaters/cardigans. I’ve been practicing the arts of layering and accessorizing. Scarves are my new favorite thing, as are unnecessarily long necklaces. I’ve even gotten new tights (which you’ll see soon) in attempt to break up the week with a skirt once in a while. (It doesn’t happen often.)

The tricky thing about professional wear is that it can be dang expensive. I’m very thankful that my body type hasn’t changed much over the last few years, and I can still wear the slacks and jackets I’ve accumulated since high school. Some of them were “investment pieces;” some of them were lucky finds on sale racks or at consignment stores. They don’t fit very excellently – the pants I found on sale at the Gap are too short for heels, and the brown jacket pictured below has always been a little awkward because it doesn’t have a lining. (But it was a cheap brand to begin with.)

That said, if you’re like me – twentysomething, with a good few career changes in store over the next couple years – you may not necessarily need to invest in many high-quality outfits. If you are twentysomething and already have a job that allows you to buy new heels every week and a tailored suit for every meeting with the bigwigs, please send money. But for everyone else, you only need a few of those “investment pieces,” and the rest can be found anywhere.

If any guys are still with me, don’t go anywhere – this applies to you too. You have to look sharp at your interviews just as much as we do.

Recommended Investments:
1. A suit. Depending on where and when you look, and if you’re diligent and open-minded, you’ll be able to find a great-quality suit for an acceptable price. I found mine, a modern black two-button suit by Semantiks, at Nordstrom for around $100. The regular price for the pants alone was $98. A good suit will get you through years of interviews and formal meetings, and the pieces can be mixed and matched. Plus you just feel more awesome in a suit. I mean, come on, “Men in Black,” “The Matrix,” anyone on “Law & Order”…you get the idea.

2. Shoes. I don’t care if they’re boots or heels or flats – get one pair of sturdy, comfortable, classic shoes in a neutral color, and treat them well. I have black boots that have served me well for about five or six years, and I had to change the worn-out heels for the first time last spring. Save the trendy styles or the fun colors for Payless or Target.

3. Button-down shirts. I list them here only because it’s a nightmare to find one that fits well, and you may have to invest in a tailor (or a friend with sewing skills) to take in the sides or work on the inevitable gaps in the front. The last thing you want to have happen after all that work is for all the buttons to fall off because you bought a cheap shirt. Look for reliable brand names at Kohl’s or even Ross, although I’ve never had much luck at the latter.

Recommended To Buy Wherever:
1. Sweaters. They stretch out, they get holes, the sleeves shrink, the cat sleeps in them, they accidentally get shrunk in the dryer. Sweaters suffer – why should your bank statement? Hit up Target or Old Navy and pick up whatever strikes your fancy, because chances are you won’t be wearing it for more than a couple years. Plus sweaters often carry trends:

…which are great for a season or two. (Okay, yeah, the last one is an Ann Taylor splurge but it’s super cute.) The exception to the rule here is a quality material like cashmere, in which case you ought to shell out and then tell everyone you know about it. I’d be jealous.

2. Skirts. A good pencil skirt isn’t too hard to find, and they’re much easier to fit and hem than pants. Just make sure it hits around the knee.

3. Accessories. Having lots of scarves, hair things, earrings, wraps, necklaces, tights, etc. to choose from is the easiest way to switch up an outfit. And accessories are cheap! So cheap! Check the clearance section of any department store; visit Ross and Goodwill; heck, look on Etsy! Daddy Likey has made a habit out of finding cute, cheap accessories.

So, in celebration of the inexpensive and still relatively classy-looking, I decided to put together an outfit made entirely out of thrift store or non-department store finds:

Jeans, Ann Taylor Loft, thrifted from New To You in McMinnville
Jacket, from Ross
Shoes, from Famous Footwear
Sweater, from Target
Necklace, gift
Earrings, gift (hand-me-down?) from my mom

I’m lucky in that my workplace is extremely casual. Usually I’m overdressed wearing an outfit like this.  But even if you work somewhere where you can get away with jeans, try to stick with a dark wash and avoid whiskers and bedazzlement and fringe and whatever else the kids are wearing these days.

So what do you like to do to make your work outfits more fun?  What’s your best shopping find or reliable store?  Any tips for fitting the infamous button-down shirt?

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4 thoughts on “Fun in the Real World: Thrifty Dressing

  1. For button-down shirts, I swear by VanHeusen. You can get pretty close to that tailored look with their “fitted” sizes, there’s a wide variety of collar styles and colors, and most of them are stain resistant and wrinkle-free. As if that wasn’t enough, if you pick them up on sale, they’re probably about $15 apiece. Admittedly, they are a company more geared towards men, but they do still have styles for women.

    I love button-downs. I wish I could wear them to work, but as a grunt in a warehouse, my work outfits are akin to a child’s play clothes: anything that’s already damaged or I wouldn’t mind having to throw away.

  2. My favorite for button-downs is Express. I know they’re pretty expensive, but they have mind-blowing sales and offers on a regular basis, I promise. I always recommend these shirts because, as a curvy girl who hasn’t worn less than a D-cup since middle school, I find that these shirts can actually fit me– surprisingly, too, because I used to think of Express as a skinny chick store. I think they’re awesome for anyone, though, ’cause I think they’re well-made and fit really nicely with most bodies. Definitely try it out.

    • Ooh, I had completely forgotten about Express. I sort of lost faith in them when they jumped on the layering-five-superthin-shirts bandwagon, but I know they have a pretty good line of professional wear.

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