dress to impress

How to Dress to Impress, Without Breaking the Bank

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As a female physician and professional, I make it a point to make sure I look the part and dress to impress. To give an example from my own life and profession, women physicians face many challenges, the most common of which is that we are often confused for other health care staff—nurses, nurse practitioners, medical students, etc. I think this largely stems from preconceived notions of what a doctor “looks like”.

In other industries, I know that professional women are often assumed to be secretaries, or hold mid-level positions. We are rarely ever assumed to be the boss or the leader.

Dress to Impress

While there is nothing wrong with any of those other positions, for me, it’s not what and who I am. In addition to all of that, I look a lot younger than I am, making this issue even harder to tackle. It can become very frustrating battling this “norm”. As a professional woman, you want the recognition for your hard work and achievements, and you want the assumptions to stop. Combating societal assumptions means you have to gain credibility with those you work with and with those you serve. It’s not just about having the position.

To be taken seriously, we all need to work hard, be confident and also, I think, look the part, or dress to impress. We have been told that you should always dress for the part you want. I agree with this. There is something about dressing well, and making a good first impression that can go a long way towards building credibility.

An example from my own experience:

My staff dresses either in scrubs or in professional clothes with a white coat on top. I make every effort to do neither. I wear professional clothes only, NO white coat (honestly, they’re disgusting). My goal is to stand apart.  When I see patients, they definitely recognize that there is something different about me as compared to the staff. No matter how young I look (or the fact that they ALL comment on it), they know that I’m the attending/boss.

Confidence may take time to develop, but I think upgrading your wardrobe to look the part can be done a bit more quickly (and can also contribute to building confidence).

Why Clothes Matter

While clothes are not everything, what you wear, as I mentioned, can contribute to how you feel. In addition, how you dress gives off an impression. Depending on your goals, the impression you want to make can change.

Obtaining an appropriate wardrobe to look the part you’re aiming for should not cost you gobs of money. Even when upgrading and updating, I don’t believe in crazy spending.

I think it was Shaq who said this (yes the basketball player):

“Its easy to make money, its harder to keep it”.

~Shaq

Truer words.

While you make more now, as a professional, you have to be more careful, I think, with where you put it and how you spend it. It’s easy to think that you can afford more expensive items, but at the end of the day, especially with clothes, is it really worth your hard-earned dollars?

As any fashionista will tell you, clothes that fit you well, ARE worth the investment. Also, I think, any article or item that you KNOW you will be using frequently (I mean like almost daily) is also worth your money. Everything else—all the quirky fashions, crazy colors of the season, and fleeting fads—not worth it!

In addition, a higher price does not always equate to higher quality, and vice versa. I think its important to find a balance between the two.

Some of My Preferred Stores Include:

What follows is a list of stores and resources that I have found to be budget-friendly in helping me build my wardrobe, for both work and outside of it. I will say, some of the stores I mention are all about fast fashion, which is easy on the bank account, but it may not be worth the discount given that the quality is not as great. Whether or not you shop there should rest entirely upon the pieces you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend.

  • H&M – I go here especially for stuff that I know I’ll only wear a few times, or to get something last minute—e.g., the last-minute tank/dress/shorts/skirt/shirt for the weekend/trip, etc.—I have a couple of dresses from here that I use for work also.
  • Gap—great for basics—super-soft fabrics, holds up well; my work pants are from here and cost me only $35 each. I wear them almost every day.
  • Zara—can be hit or miss with the fashion portion (for me) and sometimes the sizes are off, but I love the pieces I do have from there. Plus I get some cool styling ideas from them.
  • Ann Taylor Loft (I’m petite)—great for work outfits…a little on the pricier end for me, which is why I always keep an eye out for discounts and sales.
  • Kohl’s—great for work out gear and they have amazing sales
  • Target—they have everything. I feel they need no explanation.

For higher-end clothing:

Nordstrom Rack–I’m low key obsessed with this place (and with Nordstrom, but this is the budget-friendly option), and I love their “clear the rack” events.

Dress $30, Shoes $20 from Nordstrom Rack

Last Call from Nieman Marcus–slightly more expensive, but great quality clothing (as you would expect).  I’ve gotten some amazing work out clothes from them, and fancy dresses at a huge discount.

Online Budget Friendly Tricks to Help You Dress to Impress

Try using ebates.com. If you’re an online shopper this is an awesome resource. You sign up and if you use Safari on Mac computers or Google chrome, there’s a plugin you can download. Basically how it works is, you first go to ebates.com and look for the online store you’d like to shop on. You click on that site, activating a shopping code. If you make a purchase, ebates will give you a certain percentage of your purchase total BACK to you. The amount gets stored on your ebates account and then every 3-4 months you get a check in the mail. If you have the plugin for Safari/Chrome, then you can just go directly to whichever website you need to shop on and if that site is represented on ebates, you’ll receive an alert and an option to “activate” the cashback code.

I have done this and received multiple checks. It works. Often times the percentage back that you receive isn’t much, but over time, especially with consistent shoppers, the savings really do add up.

Personal Services

For those individuals who hate shopping or never seem to be able to make time to do it, you can still dress to impress by using personal services.

One to try is Stitch Fix. You put in all the styles you like and the kinds of clothes you need and then arrange for your “fix”, which costs 20 dollars upfront.   A stylist with the company will assemble a box of 5 items and send it to you. Upon receipt, you have three days to try everything on and decide what you want to keep. Anything you don’t want, you send back in a prepaid clothing envelope. You only get charged for the clothing you keep and the 20 dollars upfront that you paid will go towards the kept items. 

I’ve used this with mixed success. I’m so petite that sometimes I have size issues; plus, the items are slightly more than I’m usually willing to pay. However, I will say that I received a pair of dark jeans once that fit so well, I didn’t even care how much they were. So, overall, definitely worth a try.

Other styling services have cropped up over the last few years, and advertise as helping you to “look the part” and dress to impress, including:

Trunkclub–This is part of Nordstrom, so you benefit from Nordstrom’s alteration services should you need them.  Plus instead of 5 items, you get 6-10 in each “trunk” and are able to pre-approve the shipment before they send it to you.  I haven’t tried this one yet, but plan to do so soon since I love all their clothes.

MM LaFleur–geared toward the working women, they send you “bento boxes”.  This is not set up as a subscription service (as stitch fix and trunk club can be).  Instead, you order a box when you feel the need to get some new outfits.

Le Tote-this company mixes it up a little bit.  Its still a mail service, however you’re renting the clothes versus purchasing them.  So you browse their selection, choose what you’d like, they send it to you for a cost, you wear the garments as many times as you like and then return it in a prepaid envelope.  Anything you decide you want to keep, you pay half price for.

Rent the Runway--for all your formal occasions, this is a great resource for looking fabulous and trendy without having to upset your bank account.  As the title says, you rent your outfits for your special occasion and then send it back once it’s over.  I think this site is a very smart solution to prevent formal, once worn dresses, from piling up in the back of your closet.  Think of all the dollars saved!  This site also includes accessories; a good friend of mine rented her bridal accessories from here for less than $100!

Shop with Purpose

An important thing to consider: oftentimes we go shopping and just buy things because we like them. Stop.

Focus on the things you actually need in your wardrobe. A friend of mine is a stylist and gave me this advice–>rearrange all your clothes by type and color. So all t-shirts and tank tops from white to black, all long-sleeved white to black; all jackets, etc, etc.

In doing so, you’ll be able to clearly see exactly how many black shirts you own; exactly how many purple pants are hiding in the back of your closet and exactly how many sweaters you actually have. It will also highlight what is old and needs to be tossed out and what is missing. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year and make note of what is missing.

Your shopping expeditions should then focus on those missing elements.

No Matter What, Still Be You

While it’s important to dress to impress, I think each person should do so in their own way with their own personal style. The idea is to make first impressions that last, however, you should still feel comfortable and be yourself. Being yourself, and bringing your own unique strengths to the table is still the most important thing in establishing yourself at your job.

So, find the right outfit style for you. To give you an idea, for me its dress pants and a dress shirt or sweater with an occasional suit jacket, and flats. I have colleagues who wear high heels, and others who wear tights and long shirts. We are a mixed group of business casual attire as our job has no real dress code other than to look put together.

If you hate dressing up

If you’re not the type to ever “dress up”, that’s ok. The definition of that today varies. It’s less common now for companies to require employees to wear fancy black dresses or business suits to work or events. Usually, they want to make sure that people aren’t coming to work in tennis shoes and ripped jeans. In which case following those guidelines should be simple.

Use the resources above to see what works for you, your style and your budget so that you can find a happy balance between your expectations from the job, and your expectations from yourself.

If you have trouble figuring out why you should care

Think of each person you meet as a job interviewer. Especially in the professional arena if you are trying to expand your network or make connections. In a job interview, you aim to put your best foot forward. The same holds when you are networking, when you are climbing up the ranks at your job or trying to grow in your career. Each person you meet makes a snap judgment about you as soon as they see you.

While your own personality will shine through no matter what, having a wardrobe to back it up can go a long ways towards making that first impression stick.

In Summary

Dressing to impress does not require a crazy jump out of your fashion comfort zone. Instead, think of it as a method to ensure that you are pursuing your career goals in a productive way. You are dressing for the part you want, you are putting your best foot forward, and are intent on making a good first impression.

On that note, you do not need to spend a lot of money to impress others. There are tons of resources available for all budgets to accomplish what you want to achieve.

Be brave—throw away old clothes, you won’t be wearing them again, I promise

Be savvy—try those online resources, every bit of cashback or cash saved, helps.

Be a professional—set yourself apart from anyone who’s not. Look the part and dress to impress.

Be the badass boss that you are.


Do you have any savvy shopping secrets? If so, share them below!!

Featured and pinnable images courtesy of unsplash

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1 thought on “How to Dress to Impress, Without Breaking the Bank”

  1. Pingback: Why You Should Channel Your Inner Harvey Specter. | BeThree

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