Workplace wardrobe doesn't have to bust your budget


Fashion trends are as fleeting as the seasons they complement; so is the money we throw down to keep pace. Take jeans, for example: Designer pairs cost up to $250. While your backside may be stunning, that kind of shopping can wreak havoc on a bank account.

Admittedly, after college you need to build a wardrobe for work. And occasionally falling victim to fashion is almost inevitable - I've certainly brandished my credit card more than once for clothes now buried in the closet.

So stylists and personal shoppers offer these pointers for maximizing your look without blowing your budget.

Depending on your gender, you will wear certain clothes over and over again: a sport coat or blazer, nice slacks, a black dress and, of course, a complete suit. Since these pieces are meant to endure, it's worth spending a little more for quality.

Browse first at a high-end store, paying attention to how different styles and fabrics fit you.

Men may want to start at a small, free-standing men's store. "Often these have professional salesmen who have watched people try on suits for eons and have a clue what will be great for your body style," says Debra Lindquist, an image consultant in Denver.

Meet personal shopper

The less tailoring needed the better, especially for jackets, which are more difficult - and costly - to adjust than pants.

If you do shop in a department store, ask whether you can meet with a personal shopper. Often free, a personal shopper will help you wade through the racks, even setting aside items in a dressing room before you arrive if you call ahead.

It used to be that a department store's in-house brand offered the lowest price by sacrificing quality. Not any more.

"Retailers across the board are making private label a more significant component of their overall merchandise mix," says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president for Retail Forward, an industry marketing consultant.

Because the department store controls the cost of production, it can discount its label by as much as 30 percent.

For instance, men's dress pants from INC International Concepts, a Macy's brand, cost from $69 to $79, compared with designer labels that often sell for more than $100.

And styles are current with the latest trends, so you don't risk looking dowdy by saving a few dollars. Some stores even offer discounted yet exclusive lines from famous designers, such as Isaac Mizrahi at Target.

Shop the sales

If you're set on buying a high-end brand - those $250 jeans sometimes are worth it - you can save money by shopping the sales. Typically in June and early July, stores discount spring and summer clothes and then typically place fall and winter items on sale in January and February.

If that must-have skirt isn't discounted yet, call customer service or ask a sales rep when it will go on sale. "And always ask if there are any promotion codes or discounts going on that you might not know about," says Amanda Doll, a personal shopper and stylist for Girlshop Inc., based in New York.

E-mail notices

Die-hard shoppers who live in major cities may want to sign up for e-mail notices about local sample sales - essentially, discounted designer clothes - from For online deals, Lucky magazine lists promotions at

For trends that likely will last just one season, don't spend a bundle for designer labels. Stores such as Old Navy will carry the same look for a fraction of the cost.

Brooke Rinehart, a 24-year-old fashion publicist in New York, says most of her wardrobe is made up of red, white or black pieces, which might seem a little "boring."

But she easily livens it up with inexpensive accessories.

"You don't want your staples to be so trendy or fashion-forward that you're going to have to throw them away," Rinehart said."You want to wear those over three seasons - and keep them for a few years."

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at

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