Mix, Match and Add a Layer of Confidence

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Q. You've been putting off buying new work clothes, but your wardrobe is showing signs of wear -- and some of the items are outdated. You are on a tight budget, so what should you buy?

A. Focus on classic pieces, says Ali Levine, a celebrity stylist in Los Angeles and owner of Ali Levine Design. For women, she says, those should include a jacket, dress pants, a pencil skirt, blouses and a wrap dress, where one side wraps across the other and ties at the back of the waist. "A solid-color wrap dress is very stylish and versatile," she says. "You can wear it with a jacket, a sweater, a colored tank top or camisole underneath and the look changes."

For men, the best choices include a suit, a blazer, two or three shirts and two pairs of dress pants. Choose neutral or dark colors like black, charcoal, navy, gray or brown for pants, jackets and suits, Ms. Levine says, as those tend to look more expensive and can be played up or down. "You can find inexpensive work clothes at places like Old Navy, Target, H & M and Zara," she says.

Laurie Brucker, owner of LaurieBstyle, an image consulting business in Los Angeles, recommends J. C. Penney, Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack. She also advises avoiding fabrics that require dry cleaning, which is costly.

If you're interviewing for jobs, Ms. Brucker suggests a bold contrast, wearing a light or bright-colored shirt against a darker suit or skirt.

"Women should wear a bold piece of jewelry, like a chunky necklace, which is sold inexpensively at stores like H & M and Forever 21," she says.

Q. Aside from department stores, where can you shop for work clothes that are bargain-priced?

A. Web sites like 6pm.com and myhabit.com are great places to find discounted clothing, Ms. Levine says, and you may be able to buy used, good-quality clothes at resale shops in your area.

Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert and blogger in Bakersfield, Calif., suggests coordinating a clothes swap with co-workers or family and friends to swap gently used work clothes, or using the site Swap.com. She also advises following stores and brands on Facebook and Twitter for special discounts.

The men's department at Marshalls, for example, is a good place to find inexpensive dress shirts, Ms. Brucker says. "And they have whole sections of ties at deep discounts," she says. "You can also find men's and women's dress shoes there and at T. J. Maxx for about $35."

Q. Is there some trick to making inexpensive items of clothing look higher-end?

A. A good fit is important. When people see you wearing clothes that fit well, they perceive you as successful, Ms. Brucker says. Pay attention to shoulders, waist and sleeves. Shoes needn't be expensive -- and cheaper ones can be made more comfortable with insoles available at drugstores -- but they should be shined, she notes: "If you have a great suit but your shoes are scuffed, it looks like you're faking it."

Don't try to hide extra weight with a bigger jacket, which only makes you look messy. Instead, find a jacket that fits your body type and nips in at the waist, defining it, Ms. Brucker says. Men should wear shoes when trying on pants, Ms. Levine says, to ensure the length falls just to the top of the shoe.

Q. You're worried that co-workers will notice you are wearing the same skirt, jacket or pants several times a week. Is there a way to make that less apparent?

A. Women can use jewelry, like a big necklace or several layers of necklaces, to draw attention from skirts and pants. "Wear it over a plain crew-neck T-shirt with your pencil skirt and it changes the whole outfit," Ms. Levine says.

Put different shapes on top of skirts and pants, advises Kat Griffin, founder and chief executive of the fashion and career advice blog Corporette.com. One day wear a fitted T-shirt, the next day a flowing blouse and the next a cardigan instead of a blazer, she says.

Men should have a few solid dress shirts, lots of ties and a couple of inexpensive V-neck sweaters to wear instead of a jacket, Ms. Brucker says. If you switch looks, no one is likely to notice if the shirt and pants are the same.

Q. Is there a particular piece of clothing or accessory that's essential for communicating that you are successful?

A. Ms. Levine says the best accessory is confidence. "When you're in an interview and you feel really put together," she says, "you come across as someone who knows what she's doing."

Ms. Brucker agrees. It doesn't matter if your outfit came from Goodwill -- you need to feel fantastic in it. "If you believe in what you're wearing," she says, "I'll believe it, too."

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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