Here’s an outfit I’ve worn to my internship several times already. I bought the floral dress at Buffalo Exchange for $12, the Aerosole shoes at Salvation Army for $5 and the cream-colored blazer at H&M for $40.
If you’re a communications major like me and scored an internship this summer, chances are, you’re going all season without a salary.
If this accurately describes your situation, you might experience a wave of panic when your boss sends an email saying that office attire is “business casual.” This feeling of dread might happen for one of several reasons. For one, the closest thing to business casual that you own is that dress you wore to your sorority formal. Two, you don’t know what business casual is. Three, you have one pair of black slacks dating back to your high school band banquet and that’s about it.
Without an income to replace what you obviously have to spend on some new business attire, what are you supposed to do? Overdrawing your checking account is not the answer –– “thrifting” is. Here are three steps you should take to build a killer business casual wardrobe without having to ask Mom and Dad for reimbursement.
Take a look at what you already have
First and foremost, realize that you might actually own a few more business casual items than you initially thought. Business casual usually includes slacks, blouses, nice jeans, sundresses paired with blazers or cardigans, ballet flats and so on. For example, you might own a floral summer dress. While the dress alone might not scream business casual, when paired with a cream-colored blazer and nude flats, it’s a perfect office-appropriate look (assuming the dress goes a little past mid-thigh and cleavage is non-existent). Check with your supervisor to see if dark skinny jeans are acceptable. If so, make a mental note that they are great to pair with modest blouses or tank tops and a blazer. Lay out what you already have and determine what complementary pieces you still need. Also, make a list of what you need to avoid extra spending and to ensure that your wardrobe will be balanced. Now you can move to step 2!
Avoid stores with shiny floors
It sounds strange, but in all seriousness, avoid sleek, high-end stores like Express, The Limited, New York & Co., J. Crew and Banana Republic, all of which sell business casual attire. Don’t let their glittering display cases and shiny floors lure you in, because you absolutely will walk out spending no less than $300 on four items. You have to start smaller than that.
For a more formal look, I bought black Limited pants for $3.50 at Salvation Army, the blazer and heels at T.J. Maxx years ago (I can’t remember the price) and the floral silk tank at Salvation Army for $2.
The Salvation Army, Buffalo Exchange and Goodwill are places you should check out first. I was ecstatic to discover that the Salvation Army offered slacks and business pants of all sizes, styles, colors and brands. The great thing about the racks of pants at Salvation Army (and most thrift stores) is, aside from offering literally hundreds of choices, they are color-coded to help you eliminate the time-consuming digging process. During my trip at Salvation Army, I managed to get three pairs of slacks from The Limited (black, gray and off-white) for $10 altogether. Considering one pair of women’s business pants can run you up to $70, $10 for three name-brand pairs is unbelievable.
I didn’t find blouses at the Salvation Army quite as appealing –– many were clearly made in the ’80s and ’90s, but who knows, maybe that’s your thing –– but it’s not the end of the world. You still have the Buffalo Exchange.
Buffalo Exchange is what I would call a trendy thrift store. Unfortunately, it’s usually only located in major cities (i.e. Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York). But if you’re nearby, you must check it out. You’ll find great blouses, vests and dresses usually priced at about $15 each, and some of this stuff is quality vintage. During my most recent trip to the store in D.C., I found labels like Marc Jacobs and BCBG! A lot of the blouses go for as low as $8 each, and for the quality and style you’re getting, you won’t find anything better. The clothes are lightly or barely used and almost always stain- and rip-free. Modest heels and flats, which are necessities in the workplace, can also be found at Buffalo Exchange, usually for $20 and up.
If you aren’t near a Buffalo Exchange, Goodwill or Salvation Army, check out TheThriftShopper to see what thrift or discount stores are closest to you. I guarantee you’ll have multiple options regardless of your location.
If you did a good job, treat yourself
After thrifting for clothes for my internship, I was impressed at how much money I didn’t spend. So, I allowed myself to go to H&M to get a few more moderately priced pieces that I knew would last all summer. Though most blazers are priced anywhere from $20-$50 at H&M, a single blazer can be used several times each week, making the purchase worth it. In addition, stores like H&M and Forever 21 offer pretty jewelry pieces like rings and necklaces (anything gold or silver, as well as bib necklaces, are great options) –– all of which you should include to look your best at the office. Those usually start at about $10.
T.J. Maxx and Target are great options, too. You’ll find pricier shoes at T.J. Maxx, but I recently discovered a plethora of Calvin Klein professional dresses and suits during my last visit. I left the store with some beautiful Calvin Klein skirts and dresses that weren’t more than $30 a piece.
And lastly, if you don’t have a ton of luck shopping at a second-hand store one day, don’t be discouraged. Try again in a week or so, as new items are constantly coming and going at these stores. If you use these tips and allow yourself to splurge a little at stores like H&M and Forever 21, you’re bound to create a very professional wardrobe that looks deceivingly expensive.
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