Style on the Cheap: Dress Professionally on a Budget

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Something about the words “professional dress” are just so intimidating for most college students. We’re not 100 percent sure what professional dress means, and in every business-y situation we find ourselves questioning what is appropriate or not.

Dressing professionally is easier than you might think, though. It all depends on where you work. As an intern in Central Michigan University’s communications department, I’ve had a crash course on what it means to dress professionally. During the past 10 weeks, I’ve learned that no, dark blue jeans do not count as professional attire, except, of course, for Jean Fridays.

Here are the top five things I’ve learned:biz attire

  1. Dress to the culture of the workplace. You can never be too professional, but if you work in an office with a more casual atmosphere, leave the power suit at home and opt for more trendy pieces. University Communications is pretty relaxed, so I’ll often wear one of my favorite sundresses and a pair of tights.
  2. Black pants are your best friend. When it comes to dressing professionally, black pants are a staple worth investing in. No matter what the culture of the workplace, you’ll always be good to go with some black pants.
  3. Dressing professionally doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. Business attire can be really expensive, but you can look good without spending your entire salary on clothing. My best advice would be to invest in a few quality pieces (one really good suit for interviews, a pair of black pants that fit perfectly, etc.) and get the rest from clearance racks, secondhand stores and garage sales.
  4. If you can wear it to the club, you can’t wear it to work. Sure, you might be able to repurpose your favorite sparkly black tank top (pair it with black pants and a blazer, maybe?) but the majority of the time, keep your work and social wardrobes separate.
  5. Don’t hide your personality. Just because you have a big kid job in a big kid office doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Show off your personality and unique style; just make sure it’s office appropriate. I show off my personality with pops of color and unique pieces (most notably, a pair of pink and white pants with hearts all over them) while still keeping my overall look professional.

The bottom line? It’s all about where you work.

Because University Communications is more casual, I leave the suit at home. I still wear black pants almost every day, but I’ll add on a fun blazer and cool shoes. Dress to the environment you work in and you’ll never go wrong.

Pants: Plato’s Closet, $10

Jacket: Charlotte Russe, $10

T-shirt: Plato’s Closet, $3

Shoes: Goodwill, $3

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