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Overcoming the financial challenges of building a strong work wardrobe

Overcoming the financial challenges of building a strong work wardrobe

Overcoming the financial challenges of building a strong work wardrobe

Money – it’s the number one challenge (according to a Facebook poll I recently published) women struggle with when building a work wardrobe. Understandably so – there’s no shortage of other things we have to pay for each month. How does this challenge show itself in your career, though? Subtly over time – and then all at once in the quality and polish of your wardrobe. Think about the boots you keep wearing that are scuffed (I’ve done it), or the pumps with the worn down heel (done that too). Maybe it’s that stretched-out bag or the t-shirt that has shrunk up so much it’s hard to tuck in, or those haggard trousers that keep losing their hem. Leaders evaluate us on our grooming and polish more than any other aspect of our appearance. So if there’s no way to save that tattered item, you simply must replace it – meaning, spend some money, sister!

And when it comes to building our personal brands, wearing the same things over and over means there’s no element of surprise to how we look. No distinction. Nothing memorable, or special. Where’s the signature style in that? Not to mention the psychological boost you’re missing from that “new clothes feeling.”

So here are 10 tips for saving money on clothes… quality clothes, that is, because I don’t want to put you in the position of replacing your wardrobe multiple times a year! If you’re educated about the contemporary clothing space, use the Internet to your advantage, and put your money into the right apparel and accessories, then you can have a high-end, stylish closet at a fraction of the price. 

1.       Buy only what you love, and only what looks great on you.

How many times have you gotten that great deal on a whim (i.e., that 75 percent off top that only needed a bit of tailoring) only to find a year later it’s yet to be worn? Don’t waste money buying things on a whim or because of the shiny low price tag. To make sure you purchase only those clothing items you will truly love and use, challenge yourself to think of three reasons why you can’t live without them. If those reasons are “I want it, I want it, I want it” vs. “I can wear this with several things in my closet, it won’t date itself, and I can travel with it,” put it back on the rack. I cringe at all the barely worn clothing in my closet when I could’ve spent that money on quality, classic pieces that will lasts for years.

2.       Calculate your cost per wear.

This is where the saying ‘less is more’ reigns true. Stop shelling out money for clothes that don’t last long, and start buying quality clothing that will last for multiple wears and still look great. This strategy is called Cost Per Wear and it ensures you get the most out of your budget. You can calculate this by dividing the price by the number of times you’ll wear an item. If you’re going to buy a $200 blouse and only wear it once a month over four months, then the cost per wear is $50/wear. That’s a high number. There are two things to consider in a cost per wear strategy, one is the quality of the item and how much washing and wearing it can endure over time, the second is how versatile it will be in your closet. Both of these will drive your cost per wear down, which is good!

3.       Shop at the end of the season.

When you’re sick of your winter wardrobe, it can be difficult to get your mind around purchasing sweaters or boots you won’t wear again for nearly a year. Try to shift your mindset to embrace this approach. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bought something on a deep discount and seen it again a year later at maximum retail price. I also can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bought something at regular price and seen it on sale a month later. Ugh. That’s what happens when you shop for what’s “happening” at the beginning of the season vs. the end.

4.       Know the promotion strategy of the workwear brands you like.

You should NEVER under any circumstance pay full price at Banana Republic, J.Crew, Macy’s, or Ann Taylor. Occasionally White House Black Market will have promotions. These retailers typically carry workwear styles in their online stores in Tall and Regular as well. Become familiar with what they carry and your sizing, then you can load up your cart and wait for the next 30-40% off sale to hit. If I’m shopping retailers I’m not as familiar with like Reformation, Boden, or InterMix, I’ll check for 10-15% off discounts for newsletter sign-ups, using their new app, or taking their surveys. 

Nordstrom has end-of-the-year sales, but many times I will buy items regular price knowing that they could sell out. I do like Nordstrom’s semiannual sale, and every time they release their catalog I go crazy circling all the items I’m going to buy. I’ve realized, however, that if I “sleep on it,” each day I’m in love with less and less. This goes back to buying only what you love. The bottom line is this – I will wait for the sale. I love designer clothing, but I only buy it on sale. 

5.      View your accessories as their own outfits and double your wardrobe.

A classic wardrobe will feel more exciting and stretch further with necklaces, earrings, bracelets, belts, and scarves you can mix with basic, indistinct items you already own. No one will remember that you wore that black pants and white blouse ensemble at the beginning of the week when they’re staring at that gorgeous necklace around your neck (with the same ensemble) at the end of the week. This is especially great for women who are pregnant and don’t want to invest a lot in clothing over those nine months, knowing it will be of no use (hopefully) after that beautiful child is born.

6.       Use website alerts to tell you when items go on sale.

Shopstyle is an aggregator I use often if I’m shopping for a particular item, like yellow heels. Additionally, you can easily “heart” the item to receive an alert when it goes on sale. You just enter your email address and wait.

7.       Give yourself a clothing allowance every month.

If you looked at my monthly budget, you would see a clothing allowance for my work wardrobe – my casual wardrobe, not so much. My husband does it differently: twice a year he hits the Nordstrom sale for men and stocks up. We view this as an investment in ourselves and our brands at work. Now, of course, I’m a workwear blogger, but even before this whole STOMP thing I was style obsessed. I use this allowance to fund my looks for big meetings where I am presenting, facilitating, or team building with peers and employees across the nation. 

8.       Treat your clothes with care.

Don’t just throw that sh*t on the floor! Extend the life of your clothes by taking decent care of them. That means buying good hangars – not wire hangars – and actually folding sweaters and tees, not wadding them up in your drawers. I have wood hangars that won’t warp your tops’ shoulders. Before you do your laundry, make sure anything that has a zipper is zipped up, so it doesn’t tumble around in your washer or dryer and pull at other garments. Also, to prevent scuffing, don’t stack your heels on top of each other, and invest in shoe polish!

9.       Beware of outlets.

Here’s the deal with outlets: they either carry items from past seasons that haven’t sold (and there’s a reason no one buys them), or they’re a made-up 50% off. The mistakes I’ve made involved crazy, adrenaline-fueled purchases, because I wasn’t stopping to really think through whether I needed those mustard-colored leopard pants. I’m hypnotized by the low price tag, and that there are only a few of them, and oh my gosh, someone’s going to get to them before me! With that said, I really like outlets for one thing – handbags. It’s easier for me to understand whether the discount I’m getting is a good one because I can easily Google the item for information.

10.   “Dry clean only” means you’ll keep paying for that item.

We’d like to think there’s not a hidden cost for clothing, but if an item is dry clean only, you’re going to keep paying for it long after you purchase it. This is, what, an extra $10 each month? It adds up fast. I have very few dry-clean only pieces in my closet because I don’t have the time or the money to manage them. Buy clothing from the retailers listed in number 3 that can be washed on the gentle cycle in cold water then laid out to dry. Home dry-cleaning kits are another option, but for those who have some arm pit action to clean up – they’re not that effective. For the more expensive clothing I buy, I try to extend the time between visits to the dry cleaner.

Building a great work wardrobe does cost money, but by following these tips, you can make sure you’re the best dressed in the room without wearing the most expensive clothes. And remember, investing in your personal brand is an investment in your career, your future, and your most valuable asset: yourself.

Rested, Youthful, and Happy -- The Three Potential Benefits of a Wee Bit of Filler

Rested, Youthful, and Happy -- The Three Potential Benefits of a Wee Bit of Filler