How to Dress for an Interview on a Budget

Everyone knows you should look your best for an interview, but what if you can’t afford — or can’t fit into your old — fancy work clothes? Not to worry. We’ve got some cost-conscious tips for pulling together stylish interview outfits.

Access Accessories

The easiest way to look like an A-list candidate on a D-list budget is to accessorize wisely. The right accent piece shows you know how to dress for an interview, tastefully and inexpensively. Start by putting your best foot forward — literally — and invest in a really good pair of shoes.

“You don’t need to go crazy and spend $500 on the latest Manolos,” cautions professional stylist Ruth Levy, who co-owns The Fashion Code with her sister, Sara Levy. “Just get a good pair of leather shoes in a neutral tone which suits your outfit. Keep in mind too, even if you’re paying double what you normally would spend, good shoes should last twice as long as cheap ones, so it all works out in the end.”

Other important accessories for women include scarves, simple but elegant earrings and necklaces, and a good handbag or briefcase. For men, a good-quality tie and belt are musts, as well as a nice pocket square and a good briefcase. If you really want to wow them, “an outstanding pair of cuff links should do the trick,” says fashion expert Amy Salinger.

Closet Couture

Before you buy any big-ticket items, check your closet. “We have found that most people — regardless of their budget — have exactly what they need to get started hanging right there at home,” says Levy.

“You might be thinking, ‘What? That old stuff?!’ But many times, all your clothing needs to look more stylish and updated are a few simple alterations to get it to sync with your body’s own unique proportions,” she continues. “Something as minor as changing a skirt hem or jacket length can magically transform an old suit into an elegant new suit.”

Designer Discount

If you have to shop for new interview clothes, shop smart. “Going to a discount designer store will save you money, and you can still purchase something that is great quality,” says Salinger. Outlet stores are a great option, too.

Courtney Greer, a Raleigh, North Carolina, fashionista on an educator’s budget, is the queen of the sale. She shops high-end stores during sales and in the off-season, when items are deeply discounted. Her best find? “A long cashmere coat that looks great over suits. It was an expensive piece that I purchased for under $100. It was a great deal and a timeless piece.”

And don’t forget “gently used” clothes. Consignment shops and vintage boutiques are great places to find designer interview clothes at low prices. Some larger cities even have suit rental services, too.

Versatile Vestments

Get the most bang for your buck by picking up two suits in basic colors like navy, black, grey or brown. “You can mix and match all week long,” Levy notes.

“If you buy a navy and a grey suit, you can mix the navy jacket with the grey slacks and the grey jacket with the navy skirt. By changing out your shirts and accessories and adding a new tie or scarf, you can have a whole new look every day, but with a minimal amount of clothing investment.”

Fine Fit

Whether you’re working with your existing wardrobe or a new one, fit is crucial. “I always say that a good tailor is like a good surgeon, you should have one readily available,” quips Salinger.

“If a sleeve is too long on you, the entire jacket will appear oversized and drown you,” Salinger says. “Changing the buttons on any jacket will quickly vamp up the feel and quality of the suit.” And pay attention to skirt and pant hems. A good tailor will know where they should fall for you — just remember to take your dress shoes along for the fitting. “These quick alterations will completely update your wardrobe and not cost you.”

Following these tips will help you dress for interview success. Says Greer: “You want to feel self-assured in the interview clothes you select. Once you know how to dress for an interview, that confidence will show in how you present yourself.”

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