5 Tips to Dress for Success on a Budget


What you wear is a representation of who you are. As a professional, this means you have to dress for success to show people you mean business—but you may not be ready to shell out for the expensive pieces you’d like to call your own.

If you want to dress well, but don’t have the budget for high-end clothing, use these tips to get what you need without breaking the bank. There are many ways to score great clothes without paying full price, and no one will ever know the difference.

Be Patient at Thrift Stores 

Thrift stores are a gold mine for great clothes at a steep discount. This is especially true in wealthy areas, where you may be lucky enough to dig out designer duds between ripped jeans and a 1980’s tee.

The key to getting the most bang for your buck, however, is patience. Find the section where you need to look and spend time flipping through every item on the rack. Sometimes the best finds are squished in the middle, and if you just breeze through the store, you’ll miss them.

If you’re in the military, have a military I.D. card or are a student, you can score even more savings. Most thrift stores offer these discounts; all you have to do is ask and show proof. 

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Take Good Care of Your Best Clothes

The best way to look great without spending a lot of money is to keep key items like expensive blazers, dress pants, and your other favorite pieces in great condition. If you can keep your clothes looking fresh, you don’t need to replace them—which can be costly.

To keep your favorites looking new, build dry cleaning into your budget. While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, the guide, Why Dry Clean Compared to Machine Clean?, gives a few undeniable reason to make it a priority:

  • The washing process is more delicate, keeping clothes in pristine condition.
  • Solvents used help maintain the “new” appearance of your clothing.
  • Dry cleaning provides a deeper clean, removing stains, like oil and grease.
  • No more wrinkles; clothes are returned crisp and fresh.

If you can’t afford to pay for weekly dry cleaning, use it on a monthly basis to give your best items the deep clean they need. Bonus: Find a cleaner that offers a wash-and-fold service to take one more task off your ever-expanding to-do list. 

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Invest In Well-Made Staples

A few high-quality items, like a blazer and a good pair of dress pants, may be all you need to get by. You can pair these with your favorite casual items to give a little personality with the professional.

To make sure your minimalist closet will allow you to dress for success, follow the 70/30 rule. Catherine Brock, of Budget Fashionista, explains:

“70 percent of your wardrobe should never go out of style. We’re talking classics like a dark pencil skirt, a black pair of pumps or a basic white button up that can be tucked into anything. The last 30 percent of your professional wardrobe can encompass some fun–try statement, but work appropriate jewelry, red pumps, or a trendy ruffled blouse.”

Invest in high-quality, timeless items when you have a little extra room in your budget, and you’ll always have something that’s professional and stylish.

Plan Your Shopping

Instead of shopping whenever you get an itch to hit the mall, wait for annual or semi-annual sales. Most retailers share these via email marketing, and even on their website, so you can plan ahead and shop when you know you’ll get the best deal.

There are also certain times of year that are better for shopping than others. AllWomensTalk suggests the following times to score a deep discount:

  • End of the season
  • Black Friday
  • January (“When retailers attempt to encourage customers to go shopping. Since traffic in stores usually drastically dies down after the holidays, retailers try to offer discounts to rev up their sales.”)
  • After major holidays, like Christmas
  • September (back to school)

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Rent Swanky Pieces 

Renting clothes online is easier than ever, thanks to the wide variety of etailers now offering this service. If you’re on a budget, and only need professional or dressy clothing every once in a while, use an online rental service to get what you need at a fraction of the cost.

The good news is that’s not the only perk: “Not only will you spend less than you would buying the clothing for yourself, you will constantly have new outfits to wear. Starting at around $50/month, most these services will also allow you to purchase any clothes you absolutely adore, too,” says Tiffany Martin, self-employed freelance writer.

Dress Your Best, On a Budget

You don’t need to spend a lot to look and feel great. Use these tips to keep your closet stocked with high-quality, professional pieces and you’ll have enough money left to celebrate that next big promotion.

Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels


Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women who are fed up with being told how to look and how to get there, yet still don’t feel like enough.  She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.

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