dress to impress

How to Dress to Impress, Without Breaking the Bank

As a female professional, it’s important to ensure you look the part and dress to impress. Women in any profession face many challenges, the most common of which is that they are often confused with other staff. This stems from preconceived notions that people have about what a woman in the workplace looks like. For instance, a physician is often mistaken for a nurse, or a team leader is assumed to be a secretary.

We are rarely ever assumed to be the boss or the leader.

Dress to Impress

While nothing is wrong with any of those other positions, it can be quite discouraging if you’ve worked hard to attain a higher degree or high-level position only to have people make assumptions about you.

Battling this “norm” can be frustrating. It’s not just about having the position. As a professional woman, you want recognition for your hard work and achievements. Combating societal assumptions means gaining credibility with those you work with and serve.

To be taken seriously, we all need to work hard, be confident, and dress to impress or dress for the part we want. There is something about dressing well and making a good first impression that can go a long way towards building credibility.

Why Clothes Matter

While clothes are not everything, what you wear can affect how you feel. In addition, how you dress gives off an impression. Depending on your goals, the impression you want to make can change.

So, what do you need to look the part?

Types of Clothes to Consider
  • Tailored slacks, button-down shirts
  • Blazers and cardigans
  • Closed-toe flats, heels, or wedges
  • Dresses
  • Clean cut shirts, tanks, blouses
What Not to Wear
  • Ripped jeans, baggy pants
  • Scuffed shoes or tennis shoes
  • Ill-fitting shirts

Business attire can be expensive, but obtaining an appropriate wardrobe should not cost gobs of money. Even when upgrading and updating, there doesn’t need to be crazy spending. Ultimately, the goal is to look put together so that people take you seriously.

It was Shaq who said this (yes, the basketball player):

“It’s easy to make money, it’s harder to keep it.”


Truer words.

No matter how much money you earn, you have to be careful with where you put it and how you spend it. It’s easy to think that you can afford more expensive items, but at the end of the day, especially with clothes, is it worth your hard-earned dollars?

As any fashionista will tell you, clothes that fit you well ARE worth the investment. Plus, any article or item you know you will be using frequently is worth it. Everything else—all the quirky fashions, crazy colors of the season, and fleeting fads—not worth it!

In addition, a higher price does not always equate to higher quality, and vice versa. Instead, it’s important to find a balance between the two.

Which Stores Can Help You Stay On Budget

What follows is a list of stores and resources that are budget-friendly. Some of the stores are all about fast fashion, which is easy on the bank account, but may not be worth it for the quality. Whether or not you shop there should rest entirely upon the pieces you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend.

  • H&M – This fast-fashion option is suitable for last-minute items on a budget—e.g., the last-minute tank/dress/shorts/skirt/shirt for the weekend/trip, etc. Their professional clothing is also good for purchasing pieces to fill up a need in your closet.
  • Gap—You can find great basics and super-soft fabrics that hold up well.
  • Zara—This international chain can be hit or miss with the fashion portion as their options are refreshed every two weeks. However, you can pick up unique pieces at affordable prices and get styling ideas.
  • Ann Taylor Loft —They are an excellent option for professional work outfits. Their prices are higher than the above options, but they have solid sales and high-quality garments.
  • Kohl’s—Try out this option for workout gear and basics. They also have sales, especially around the holidays, that can add to significant savings.
  • Target—Another avenue to purchase basics at affordable prices.

For Higher-End Clothing:

Nordstrom Rack–The outlet option of Nordstrom, the Rack has all the Nordstrom brands and options you love at much lower prices. The quality is high, and the benefits are unique. All purchases qualify for points that can earn you cash back vouchers, and you get access to their alterations department.

Last Call from Nieman Marcus is another option to check out. They offer high-end designer-level clothing. Depending on what you’re looking for, the prices are super budget-friendly. There is also a wide range of formal options if you’re looking for something for a special occasion.

Other Resources to Help You Dress to Impress & Get the Best Deals

Online Shopping Tricks

Try using ebates.com. If you’re an online shopper, this is an incredible resource. How it works:

  • When you have to shop, go to ebates.com and look for the online store you need. (you can also download a browser plugin that will notify you of cashback deals related to the site you’re using.)
  • Click on that site to activate a shopping code.
  • Each store will have a different percentage of cashback that they offer.
  • If you make a purchase, ebates will give you that percentage of your purchase total BACK to you.
  • The amount gets stored on your ebates account, and they send a check in the mail every three months.

This service works at no extra charge to you or your purchases. Many cash back percentages are low; however, the savings can add up over time. Given that so much of our shopping occurs online, it makes sense to use something that can offset some expenses.

Personal Services

For those individuals who hate shopping or never seem to be able to make time to do it, you can still dress to impress by using personal services or clothing subscription boxes.

Some options on the market include:

Stitch Fix. Input your preferred styles and types of clothes you need and then arrange for your “fix,” which costs 20 dollars upfront. A stylist will assemble a box of 5 items and send it to you. Upon receipt, you have three days to try everything on and decide what to keep. You send anything you don’t want back in a prepaid clothing envelope. You only get charged for the clothing you keep, and the 20 dollars you pay will go towards those purchasing those items. 

MM LaFleur–They are geared toward the working women and curate their “bento boxes” to serve your needs. This is not a subscription service. Instead, you order a box when you feel the need to get some new outfits.

Le Tote-This company mixes it up a little bit. It’s still a mail service; however, you’re renting the clothes instead of purchasing them. You can keep the garments as long as you like and re-wear them as often as you want. Once done, you return it in a prepaid envelope. You pay half price for anything you decide you want to keep for good.

Rent the Runway--For formal occasions, this is a unique resource for looking fabulous and trendy without having to upset your bank account. As the title says, you rent outfits for your special occasion and send them back once it’s over. It is a smart solution to prevent formal, once-worn dresses from piling up in the back of your closet. Think of all the dollars saved! This site also includes accessories; you can rent bridal accessories for less than $100!

Shop With Purpose

An important thing to consider is that often we go shopping and just buy something because we like it. Consider changing this habit.

Instead, focus on the things you actually need in your wardrobe. Advice from a stylist:

Rearrange all of your clothes by type and color. So all t-shirts and tank tops from white to black, all long-sleeved white to black; all jackets, etc. 

In doing so, you’ll be able to see exactly how many black shirts you own, how many purple pants are hiding in the back of your closet, and the number of sweaters you really have. It will also highlight what is old and should be tossed out and what is missing. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year and focus your shopping expeditions on filling those missing elements.

Stay True To Yourself

While it’s important to dress to impress, each person should do so with their own, personal, style. Being yourself and bringing your unique strengths to the table is still the most important thing in establishing yourself at your job. Dressing in a way that reflects the real you can help.

So, find the right outfit style for you. Some ideas to consider on professional attire:

  • Dress pants, a dress shirt or sweater, the occasional suit jacket, and flats.
  • Elevate your look with high heels.
  • Go casual with tights or leggings and long shirts.

No matter what the idea is to look professional and put together. Do so in a way that reflects you, keeps you comfortable, and helps you ooze that confidence.

If You Hate Dressing Up

If you’re not the type to ever “dress up,” that’s ok. The definition of that today varies. It’s less common now for companies to require employees to wear fancy black dresses or business suits to work or events. Usually, they want to make sure that people aren’t coming to work in tennis shoes and ripped jeans. In which case, following those guidelines should be simple.

Use these resources to see what works for you, your style, and your budget to find a happy balance between your expectations from the job and yourself.

Why Does Any Of This Matter

Each person you meet makes a snap judgment about you as soon as they see you. This is especially important in the professional arena if you are trying to expand your network or make connections.

While your personality will shine through no matter what, having a wardrobe to back it up can go a long way towards making a positive first impression that sticks.

In Summary

Dressing to impress does not require a crazy jump out of your fashion comfort zone. Instead, consider it a method to ensure that you are productively pursuing your career goals. You are dressing for the part you want and putting your best foot forward.

On that note, you do not need to spend much money to impress others. There are tons of resources available for all budgets to accomplish what you want to achieve.

Be brave—throw away old clothes; you won’t be wearing them again.

Be savvy—try those online resources; every bit of cash back or saved helps.

Be a professional—set yourself apart from anyone who’s not. Look the part and dress to impress.

Be the badass boss that you are.

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