Dress for Success

This is probably the last week I'll be posting so consistently. School is starting next week! And I'll be working too! Ahhh! Since this is one of my few creative outlets, I'll make an effort to post at least once a week.

It's funny how when I'm in school, I can't wait to get done and start working, but when I'm at work (now I know why lawyers hate discovery so much), I can't wait to get back to school. I guess the good thing about work, besides picking up valuable practical experiences and getting paid, is that I get to dress up for it. However, dressing for work can be a challenge when you're short on cash. I'm very lucky that I work in a business casual office where I can get away with a lot more than someone at a big law firm, but who knows? Maybe even the big firms will start to go with the flow. If you're lucky enough to work at a place with a more relaxed dress code, a little creativity will help you make the most combinations out of a small number of inexpensive pieces.

Let's start with a basic top, shall we? Dress shirts can be a bit expensive, but you've got to have at least one to go with your suits. For non-suit days, a shell or a even a nice t-shirt will work. I've gotten a sleeveless shell at Express for $5, but I did even better than that with 2 t-shirts (one black, one gray) for 3 bucks each from Charlotte Russe. Now, I'm not talking something you got for free when you signed up for a credit card, or even those in little packages from Fruit of the Loom or Hanes. I'm talking about fitted t-shirts in rayon blends or combed cotton, something won't get creased easily and has a nice sheen to it. Wear a cardigan or blazer over it, put on a nice skirt or slacks, add a simple but pretty piece of jewelry, and no one can tell:

Yup, that's the gray Charlotte Russe t-shirt. The fabric felt silky and looks like it's worth much more than what the price tag said. However, in order to make sure you actually save money, take good care of your clothes. Rayon makes things look expensive, but it's notorious for its cheap qualities. Cheapy t-shirts generally pill quite easily, so put them in lingerie bags before dumping them into the washer, then air dry them.

Tees with 3/4 sleeves look classier; you won't have to hide behind some outerwear in order to look professional. As long as it's fitted, it doesn't matter what material it's made of:

This outfit is one of the cheapest (if not *the* cheapest) work outfits I've put together. The Three Dots cotton tee was purchased for $3 at Rhino Mart, a store that sells past-season merchandise from department stores (it's the same place where I got the Max Studio skirt from above for $8). The skirt was $4 and bag $2, both of which came from the Goodwill. I'll talk about the shoes a little later.

If your office is more casual, you can wear a dress and a blazer or sweater over it...now you don't have to worry about buying separates.

Offices get cold, so it's important to have a good cover-up. You've got a couple of choices--sweaters or blazers. Blazers are blazers are blazers, but sweaters come in all sorts of varieties (pull-overs, cardigans, cowl-neck, sweater coats, and so on). That makes playing dress-up more fun. You can get sweaters for cheap from practically everywhere, so I won't spend much time on it, but when it comes to knits, I recommend buying new instead of second-hand. Knits are subjected a lot more wear and tear, and with second hand stuff, you don't know how much life it's got left.

A good, inexpensive blazer is harder to find because they don't stretch like sweaters do. Since blazers connote serious business, you definitely don't want them to appear cheap. For suits in general, you might want to read this post I wrote last year. I've found really good blazers at the thrift store; as I've mentioned before, suits are things that people tend to take good care of. What's even better is the price--$6.99, more or less depending on how your local thrift store prices them. However, a lot of the blazers in thrift stores I've found tend to run large. If you can't find one in your size, I have a few recommendations:

-If you want to shoot for the best, hit Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, or those huge premium outlets in the middle of nowhere that sells high-end stuff.

-If you're willing to brave the craziness, try sample sales, but all I know is that I won't be going back to the BCBG one this year.

-Ross or Marshalls may not be the best places for tops, but they have a passable selection of blazers and knits.

-For those who don't want to bother digging, I'd suggest Target, Sears, and JC Penney. Target: while I find the fabrics for the Issac Mizrahi blazers to be deplorable, the Merona blazers feel surprisingly great...I guess they spent more on the fabric and less on the designer and marketing. Despite my disdain for the blazers, I absolutely LOVE the Issac Mizrahi cardigan (shown in first picture above) that my friends gave me for my birthday. Sears: I actually like their suits, though I'm too skinny for them to fit me correctly. JC Penney: the clothes are functional enough and not too impressive, but when it's time for sales, the deals are stellar.

When it comes to bottoms, I don't have a whole lot to say. As long as it's something dark, people won't be able to tell what the quality is. All you need is a really good skirt/pair of pants to go with your one good dress shirt and one good blazer. It's pretty easy to find cheap bottoms for the non-suit days.

Let's wrap up with shoes and accessories. In a sense, they really do make or break an outfit. If you're dressed up professionally, you don't want to ruin it with ratty shoes or a casual bag. Fortunately, it's not expensive to complete the package. Thrift stores are great for classic bags and shoes...if you can find them. I got a pair of black pumps, completely unworn, for $3. It's often hard to find shoes, but bags are plentiful. This is my current $2 favorite:

My favorite cheap shoe stores remain DSW, Payless, Target. Target shoe clearances are the best! After that comes Ross and Marshall. I also lurk around department store clearances and department store outlets. (If you happen to be near a mall that has both a Macy's and a Robinson's May, go to Robinson's May for their clearances. I've seen discounts with additional 50% off this past weekend, and most of the shoes were gonnnnne.) If you want higher-end shoes, there are outlets and some crazy sales. The Barney's Warehouse Sale is one of those famous ones where people can get ridiculously good deals if they're fast and lucky. With the Shoe Frenzy that happens every year in the West LA area, you'll get jaw-dropping deals...if you managed to camp out hours ahead of time. I snagged a really nice pair of mules (in the second picture above) for $20 in the crazy BCBG warehouse sale. Unless you're really a shoe freak, I don't think it's worth going through torture to get shoes. As if wearing sky-high heels isn't torture enough...

OK, I'm tired. Off to bed...

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