How To Dress For Success On A Budget


By Lee Hurley

I’m sure many of us have heard the saying “You don’t get a 2nd chance to make a good first impression.” For better or worse part of that first impression is how someone dresses. What they wear. And as much as we hope we are judged by the content of our character we also judge others by how they look so for better or worse it is critical to look our best when interviewing for a job. So, first of all we have to tackle the subject of what to wear to an interview and what not to wear and then we need to tackle the subject of how to dress for success on a budget.

Val Johnson, a construction senior assistant in Leeds, Alabama tells the story of interviewing for a job at a manufacturing facility in 2004. She was called back four times. The 4th time they called her on the phone to come in she said “gentlemen today it’s time to decide whether to hire me. I have run out of interview clothing.” They broke out laughing and she got the job. 

On that note, here are some tips on how to dress for success on a budget.


The answer depends on a number of factors including what type of job someone is interviewing for of course but there are ways to learn on your own.

What is the culture like? Obviously, you want to dress nicer than you might typically dress when you start work but it helps to look at how most people at the company dress in general? We all know that 20 years ago the business suit was almost always the safest answer but today that is not at all necessarily the case and while underdressing is a faux pas, so is overdressing. To show up in a suit when the person interviewing you is casual can make everyone feel ill at ease.

Simply Ask. The easiest most honest and straightforward way to find out what to wear to an interview is to ask. This may feel uncomfortable but most people respond to honesty and appreciate someone with enough confidence to ask “Would you mind telling me if the typical dress for an interview involves a suit or something less formal?


So now that we know what to wear or at least whether to dress up formally or more business casual, let’s consider how to get this done without breaking the bank. 

Start with your closet. Many experts suggest that you probably already have one or two nice things to wear. Your wedding outfit so to speak. Buying something new just for an interview is only appropriate if it helps you with confidence or if you have no other choice. Your interviewer has no idea how long you have owned that black dress nor did they see you in it two weeks ago.

Think Seasonal. Thinking ahead about buying clothing can save a tremendous amount of money for an interview or any other day of the year. If you start looking for winter clothing closer to spring you will find retailers much more willing to sell their inventory at much cheaper rates.

The World Wide Web. It is possible to find really nice used clothing for sale online at a fraction of their retail price. A type of the word Blue Blazer into eBay recently yielded 638 results. 

Buy a year-round weight suit. Unless you live near the equator or in Alaska a suit that can work all year long. That means you don’t buy poplin and you don’t buy heavy wool. Try something in between.

Outlets. Don’t forget the outlets. Most medium-sized cities and above have them and there are serious deals to be found on everything from button-down, all-cotton shirts and Khaki pants.

Dark plain suits mix and match better. The plainer the suit the more items you can wear with it.

Accessorize wisely. Consider the smaller things that help make up the larger picture of a well-dressed person. Start with a good pair of shoes. 


Okay, these don’t fall into exactly into how to dress for success on a budget but they are important enough to mention.

  • Make sure your clothes fit.
  • Don’t overload on perfume or aftershave.
  • Wear something that makes you feel confident, not self-conscious.
  • Be well-groomed…clean your nails.


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