Dress the Part, Don’t Part With Too Much Cash: Frugal Fashion Hints for Job Seekers

IT WAS EARLY IN THE MORNING in the Temecula office of AppleOne. Branch Manager Lisa Dana stood with her entire office staff in front of the bleary-eyed audience of the Navigating the Hiring Process seminar and asked the candidates to “Please write down how much you think each of our outfits cost.”

The question at hand is a topical one: how does someone without a lot of income to spare effectively dress for success in the job search? When the attendees read each of their guesses – $300 for a pantsuit combo, $100 for a nice pair of pumps, $250 for a pencil skirt, blouse and sweater ensemble, Dana smiled and instructed each member of her staff to hold up their sign. Not a single outfit cost more than $50 in total, and one associate’s entire matching slacks/jacket combo cost her $18.

The outfit you choose to wear on interview day represents a demonstration of your commitment to represent your future employer in a professional manner. You want to show the interviewer that you’re willing to go the extra mile to be a positive brand ambassador facing their customers and business associates.

With a wily shopping strategy and an eye for pairing cast offs with formal flair, you can look like you belong in the office without pawning your belongings to get there. Here are some tips for job-search shopping that allows you to wow hiring managers and nail the interview:

  • For women, shoes and accessories can really set the tone of your outfit. Sensible, work-appropriate closed-toe shoes can be obtained very affordably at sale aisles at J.C. Penney, Ross and Nordstrom Rack. Adding inexpensive and tasteful jewelry – small earrings matched to pendants and so on can show an attention to detail that interviewers will notice.
  • Online bargain-hunters get rewarded. Sites like Zappos, BlueFly and 6PM are almost always offering deep discounts and deal aggregator sites like Ben’s Bargains can alert you to the real sweet steals across many web retailers while discount-clubs like Gilt can give you auction access to cheap overstock from name-brand designers.
  • For gents, the fit is what makes the man. A pair of neat slacks from the sale rack at Old Navy, H&M, Express or the Gap can be dressed up with a blazer and a simple button down as long the cut is crisp and flattering.
  • Learn to love Goodwill. You can find full suits in perfect condition for under $10 for sale at the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul’s and so on. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can alter loose or dated cuts to reflect more modern businesswear lines. And if you’re not, many laundries and tailoring shops offer alterations for less than $20. Having a great suit or pantsuit combo hanging at the ready for whenever the interview call comes is a perfect way to feel empowered and confident in your job search.
  • Get that ironing board out of the closet. You might have a sharp look, but your impression will be spoiled by wrinkles and rumples. Remember, for the interview, you only need one great outfit, so be sure to keep it pressed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
  • Details, details, details. Showing off your individual style is great, as long as you keep it simple and tasteful. For guys, matching your metals (silver versus gold-tone belt buckles, watches, etc.) and your leathers (brown belts and watchbands with brown shoes, black with black) is important and as above, can be achieved thriftily. Cheap, high-quality reversible belts are available at stores like K-Mart, Walmart and Target for $10 or less, and perform double duty. Pairing neutral pants and jackets with brighter solids in your shirt, your tie, your socks and/or your pocket square adds a bit of modern pop to an otherwise blah getup.
  • Err on the side of conservatism. For ladies, if your blouse dips a bit low, add a cami underneath to up the professionalism quotient. Stick with understated makeup, hair and nails, since you want the interviewer to see you, not your neon palette.
  • Cover up tattoos and take out facial piercings. We are all entitled to self-expression, but the job interview is about conveying that you can represent the company’s brand, not your own. Toning down your wilder styles for potentially conservative interviewers is a good idea for your first impression. As you get to know your new workplace, you can decide for yourself whether or not to reintroduce your unique flair.

It’s not how much you spent, it’s how you choose to present. Like Lisa Dana’s frugal AppleOne staff, you can become a savvy discount shopper, an online deal guru and a second-hand-clothing treasure hunter and affordably get the look that says “I’m ready to get to work – hire me!” Ultimately, what matters most is picking an interview outfit that makes you feel confident, so when the tough questions come up, the best you can shine through.

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