How to Budget for Work Clothes at Different Stages of Your Career

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You’ve probably come across the age-old saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Translation: your workwear is a device for you to make clear your professional intentions.  So whether you’re a graduate, or whether you’re well into your mid-career, the way you dress carries significant weight (…no pressure!).  Despite this, it doesn’t mean you have to fork out a lot of your hard-earned dollars to look the part.  With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can approach shopping for workwear in a considered manner and make some strategic choices along the way to get more bang for buck.

Sarah Lloyd jacket* (sz 8 – use WVW20 for 20% off full price items from Sarah Lloyd), Arket tee (sz S), Everlane trousers* (sz 2, Short), Gucci belt (review here), Sarah Flint pumps (review and discount code here), Ray Ban sunglasses, Celine bag (review here, affordable dupe here)

When it comes to budgeting for clothes, I always make sure I have my financial goals in place (it’s something my husband and I square away at the start of each year).  I wasn’t always this responsible, particularly in the early stages of my career where I now look back and cringe at the proportion of my take-home pay that I used to spend on clothing (ie. all  🤦🏻‍♀️).  

When working out how much to budget, there’s a lot of literature out there from financial whizzes about budgeting and the amounts of money to set aside for clothing.  The ranges are broad, with recommendations anywhere between 2% to 10% of your income, but the majority of literature out there recommends setting aside around 5% of your take-home pay (ie. the part of your salary that ends up in your bank account after taxes, superannuation or 401K, and any other deductions).  I realise everyone has a unique financial position and you’re best placed to judge what’s best for your situation, but if you’ve yet to go through a budgeting exercise, the 5% guide is a good place to start.  

And just to get granular about it, the 5% guide relates to all your clothing – both work and off-duty attire.  So if you work full time, you’re spending around 70% of your waking hours at work – so I’d apportion your clothing budget accordingly.  

Here’s how budgeting might work for different stages of your career: 

whatveewore blog post about budget for work clothes wearing everlane, gucci belt and sarah lloyd

Sarah Lloyd jacket* (sz 8 – use WVW20 for 20% off full price items from Sarah Lloyd), Arket tee (sz S), Everlane trousers* (sz 2, Short), Gucci belt (review here), Sarah Flint pumps (review and discount code here), Celine bag (review here, affordable dupe here)

If you’ve just graduated…

As you approach your first day, the dreaded “I have nothing to wear” feeling will inevitably set in.  Don’t stress – it’s a rite of passage!  But it’s important to take a step back to plan and prioritise what you should be wearing so you can avoid potential impulse purchases that won’t end up working out.  Chances are, you won’t have that much money to spend on clothes.  But a modest budget isn’t a barrier to stylish workwear. 

Items to prioritise:  Set aside some cash to get yourself started – whether you dig into your savings or you’ve earned some cash from a part-time gig (I personally kicked things off with around $1,000 saved from part-time work while at uni).  As tempting as it may be, stay away from low-quality fast fashion – nylon and polyester are not your friends.  Instead, focus on acquiring good quality key staples.  Depending on what you already have, these might be a blazer, tailored trousers, a couple of dresses, some basic knits and a couple of pairs of work appropriate shoes.  These pieces can be mixed and matched with other basics in your wardrobe and will see you through the first few months in the job.  

Ways to save:  Getting paid for those first few months is sah exciting!  But rather than frivolously spend your entire pay (like yours truly), establish those good habits early.  If your take home pay is $3,000 per month, set aside $100 – $150 each month for workwear.  And rather than shop every month, build up your workwear bank and shop seasonally.  I’d avoid prints to start with and stick with those core colours of black, white, navy, browns and greys during this building phase. 

whatveewore blog post about budget for work clothes wearing everlane, gucci belt and sarah lloyd

Sarah Lloyd jacket* (sz 8 – use WVW20 for 20% off full price items from Sarah Lloyd), Arket tee (sz S), Everlane trousers* (sz 2, Short), Gucci belt (review here), Sarah Flint pumps (review and discount code here), Ray Ban sunglasses, Celine bag (review here, affordable dupe here)

If you’re well into your mid-career…

Depending on your career trajectory, you might be well established into your career or you might have switched industries altogether.  Some of you might have even taken a career break to study or taken parental leave.  Depending on where you’re at, you might not need to do that much shopping – or you might have to start from scratch! 

Conduct an assessment of all the pieces in your wardrobe before deciding what to keep, repair or recycle (I’ve got a comprehensive post about that topic here).  Work out the gaps that need to be filled. 

Items to prioritise:  When filling in wardrobe gaps, prioritise fit and quality – you want to feel polished and put-together.  A new blazer goes a long way, as does a sophisticated coat for the cooler months (it is, after all, the first piece that everyone sees you in when you walk into the office).  

Ways to save:  Continue sticking to the 5% rule when budgeting for clothes.  Though as you earn more, that percentage should decrease.  

whatveewore blog post about budget for work clothes wearing everlane, gucci belt and sarah lloyd

Sarah Lloyd jacket* (sz 8 – use WVW20 for 20% off full price items from Sarah Lloyd), Arket tee (sz S), Everlane trousers* (sz 2, Short), Gucci belt (review here), Sarah Flint pumps (review and discount code here), Ray Ban sunglasses, Celine bag (review here, affordable dupe here)

If you get a big pay rise…

Go you!  You totally deserve it.  And yes, your wardrobe deserves a step-up now that your career is going places.  As far as your wardrobe goes, if there’s a piece you’ve been eyeing for some time and it’s within your budget – get it! (and forever associate that purchase with that career milestone).  But you should soon reassess your clothing budget – you might have more dollars in the bank, but you should still proceed responsibly. 

Ways to save:  Just because you’re earning more doesn’t mean you should be spending more on clothes.  It should prompt you to reassess your priorities and your budget.  If you’ve already built yourself a solid work wardrobe, now might be the time to save for a handbag or some accessories that’ll really lift your outfits!

As always, thanks for stopping by! 

P.S. My top 10 workwear favourites from Everlane and shoes so nice, I got them thrice!

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