Starting off the new year on a budget but want to upgrade your wardrobe? Here’s how: Get larger pieces (pants, skirts, and jackets) in neutral colors that mix and match. Neutral colors — black, navy blue, gray, tan (or taupe or camel), cream, white — work best, as they not only mix with each other, they don’t stand out so you can wear them repeatedly and not make it obvious that you’re wearing the same thing. (Navy blue isn’t technically a “neutral” according to color theory, but it blends so well it’s effectively one when it comes to fashion.) Remember that five well-chosen shirts combined with two pairs of pants will give you ten combinations, but two outfits that don’t go with anything else will only give you two combinations. Here are some suggestions you can aim for:
- Men: 3-4 jackets, 3-4 pair pants, 5 button-front shirts, 5 pair dress socks, 3-4 ties, 2 pair of shoes.
- Women: 2-4 jackets, 3-4 skirts, 5 tops (button-front shirts or solid-color knit tops), 2 twin sets (matching tank and cardigan), 5 pairs dress socks and/or pantyhose, 2 pair of shoes (low heels, or flats if you can’t wear heels at all).
- Consider suits. People often assume suits will be more expensive than buying separates, but you often get a jacket and skirt for less money than if you bought them separately. Suits in solid colors or with subtle patterns are best for splitting up and using each half separately.
- Shoes should be comfortable and well-fitting, preferably leather. Even if you buy your shoes in a thrift shop, look for pairs that appear to be hardly worn, as shoes do mold themselves to the wearer’s feet and your foot is different! Don’t try to squeeze into a pair that doesn’t fit. Better sources for shoes would be the larger discount shoe stores or outlet malls. Also look for sales circulars from the department stores in your area — often bargains can be had. If you know you consistently can find shoes in your size that are comfortable, online retailers or auction sites can be a good resource — but make note of their return policies and the hassle involved if you need to do that.
- Shoes for women: If you can only start with one pair of shoes to go with everything, choose black. For your second pair, choose a color that will go with more of your wardrobe. If you have a good deal of blacks, whites, greys, blues, pinks, and reds, navy shoes would be a good choice. If you tend to have more earth colors, such as beige, brown, tan, yellow, green, and orange, look for tan or dark brown shoes. Do not dismiss the importance of avoiding very high heels in the office — remember, you will be wearing them for at least seven hours or more, and may have a job which entails getting up from your desk and walking to many locations in the office. Shoes with heels over 2 inches (5.1 cm) high will likely feel very uncomfortable at day’s end. Neutral beige hose works best with all color shoes – avoid white, dark “suntan,” very shiny hose, and tights.
- Shoes for men: As for men, black is the color to choose if you can only start with one pair of shoes. For your second pair, dark brown or oxblood (a dark burgundy or maroon) is recommended. Navy is usually not an option for men. Dress shoes for men should be simple, with 4 or 5 holes for laces and no design or contrasting trim that stands out. Dress loafers or dress boots can also work if very plain leather. Socks should be black or dark brown (small patterns are acceptable). Don’t wear work boots, hiking shoes, or white athletic socks to the office.