Look like you mean business on a college budget

By Perri Stewart, University of Missouri

Making the transition from sitting in class in leggings and an oversized sweatshirt to dressed in full blown business formal clothes, is a move that takes a lot of thinking.

How am I going to afford to buy a business clothing when I’m used to buying the usual cheap, fast-fashion trends? My broadcast journalism professor gave us her lecture on on-camera appearance and a big wave of stress hit me.

Yes, I had a few pairs of business pants, a blouse and button-down or two, but that wasn’t going to cut it for a semester long reporting class. Whether they were outfits for on-camera live reports, working in the newsroom, or going to meetings and meeting sources, I needed to look as serious and professional as possible. Looking the part was something I thought would put me in the best mindset, giving me the confidence to talk to anyone I needed or wanted to.

The first thing I did was raid my mother and grandmother’s closets. I know it sounds weird, like, why would I want to wear something that was made in 2006? Don’t think like this. I searched for staple items that were out of my budget. I found a few pairs of great slacks that my mom never wore, but they were perfect for fall and winter. At my grandmother’s, I found classy button downs and jackets that fit today’s business world trends.

Finding big staple items like these helped figure out my look, they were both high quality and fashionable things I could re-wear over time. These important additions made it easier to mix and match some cheaper ones in. When organizing my shopping efforts, I researched which stores had the best combination of professional and pocket smart.

I had the most success shopping at Zara, Gap and White House Black Market. These stores had a big selection of reasonably priced, on-trend business clothes which helped me put outfits together. I relied on Zara for swanky blouses and cute modern silhouette dresses, these cost around $60. At Gap, I bought a collection of comfortable business pants including a pair of khakis which are now my favorite, all together costing $75. I had never walked into White House Black Market but I saw a sale sign and came across their shoe rack where I found two pairs of shoes that I now wear reporting. I bought black velvet low top sneakers and patterned slip-ons, both of them are comfortable for long shifts and they help complete my business looks. They were both 30 percent reduced, coming to around $45 each.

My shopping journey turned out to be much less expensive than I thought, I ended up spending a grand total of about $225. Although the number seems like a painful hole in the bank account, it could have been a lot worse. Buying all of the items I acquired via my family members and these three stores could have made my total upwards of $500.

The task of finding all of these new expensive business clothing options was a bit daunting. The biggest advice I would give is take advantage of the resources around you first. Do you have an adult in your life who owns a plethora of formal clothes they no longer wear?

Start your searching there and you’ll be surprised with what you can make work. If you don’t have that resource, try second hand stores for some formal wear, you never know what you will come across. Then, move on to stores that offer business options for reasonable prices like Zara and Gap. Soon you will be able to put yourself together with all of the new items in your professional wardrobe. If you follow these instructions, you’ll be able to enter your workplace with confidence and a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Stewart is a broadcast major at the University of Missouri.

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