does my new job expect me to wear expensive designer clothes?

A reader writes:

After 6 months of job searching, three offers, and two, yes two, offers falling through, I have finally secured a job: was given an offer, accepted the offer, new hire paperwork, background checks, and start date set. The position is a senior admin role for my department in a high-profile fundraising foundation in NYC. 

As much as I am over the moon for this position, there is a slight unease at the back of my mind. When I went for my final round interview, I actually got to see the whole office and met some coworkers from other departments. During the walk-through, I noticed many of the employees’ clothing and accessories; Louie Vuitton bags, diamond earrings, perfect/expensive make up, Burberry scarfs and coats, really beautiful dresses and tops and expensive shoes. I met all levels of employees, including the Executive Director who as stunning and highly accessorized as the other employees. I asked after the tour about the dress code, and was told “oh, just wear whatever everyone else is wearing.”

From this, I have a feeling at least a third of my paycheck may have to be put towards the dress code. It is also important to note that the office is all female, which I find awesome but feel contributes to my unease a bit towards emulating the other employees because I don’t want to stand out that far from the crowd if I don’t buy the Christian Louboutin heels like everyone else and go for some nice but inexpensive non-name-brand shoes .

How important is keeping up with this type of unwritten dress code? Does a dress code matter, when it comes to brands? Is it okay to dress a bit different in an office environment, as long as it looks professional?

Totally depends on the office. I would love to tell you that you’ll be fine as long as you look professional, but the reality is that there are some offices where this stuff matters. But I have no idea if you’re in one or not.

If you hadn’t already accepted the job, I’d tell you to ask about this directly before accepting. It’s unlikely that you’d ever hear, “Yes, we expect everyone to wear expensive designer clothing,” but you might get an answer like, “We all love fashion and stay on top of it,” which I might interpret as “Yes, you’ll stand out if you don’t do it too.” It would be better to hear, “Oh, that’s just the fundraisers. As long as everyone else looks professional, no one will even notice.” Whatever the response, you at least would have had a bit more information about the culture to help inform your decision.

But since you’ve already accepted the job and are about to start working there, at this point the better answer might be to simply watch and wait. See if people are really dressed like that all the time, or if it’s only occasional. See if it’s really at all levels, or if people in roles similar to yours aren’t really so designer-clad. (It really might just be the fundraisers and people with higher-profile jobs.) And once you know people a little better, pick someone you feel comfortable with and ask them for a candid answer on how this stuff is perceived.

If it does turn out that this look is part of the job, then you’ll need to decide if (a) you’re willing to play along, (b) it’s not for you and it’s something you’d leave over, or (c) it’s not for you, but you’re willing to stay and deal with being judged for not dressing the way they do (or whatever the fall-out is for not dressing like they do — and there might actually not be any, so that’s important to figure out too).

Whatever you do, though, don’t go out now and buy a bunch of expensive clothing. Wait and see how this plays out.

{ 234 comments… read them below }

  1. anon

    Just pretend you’re a person who doesn’t notice labels: wear what they’re wearing in terms of skirt vs. pants, earrings vs. none, heels vs. flats, tie vs. no tie, makeup vs. none.

    1. B

      Take this to heart. Look at the fashion and what people have on. Even if you know you are not wearing the designer label, emulating the look of the office will certainly help you feel more confident. Most likely go for neutral bottoms and then fun it up on top. Find an amazing tailor, they are worth their weight in gold. Once you have good fitting pants and dresses you will stand taller and be more confident.

      As for makeup – head to the counters to find an easy foundation for you, powder, blush, mascara, and lipstick/gloss (see which one they wear more). Just keep the powder and lipstick/gloss with you for touch-ups during the day.

      Do not forget about TJ Maxx, Marshalls, DSW (especially the clearance section), Banana Republic sale section, LOFT sales, Macy’s – Lord & Taylor clearance and sales section while using coupons. I have gotten some great deals.

      The one item I do suggest investing in – a good steamer. I hate ironing but steaming my clothes the night before makes them look crisp and clean, takes two seconds, and makes me stand a bit taller. I got mine at costco for $60. It’s the kind that is tall (not the little space saving thing), can hang my clothes on, has auto shut-off, and in under a handful of minutes am ready to go.

      1. Sascha

        Those are excellent suggestions, especially the tailor. The difference (usually) between designer and lower-end is the cut and fit of clothing, so if you find a good tailor and make small adjustments so the clothes fit you better, they will look higher-end.

        In addition to coupons, some stores do loyalty cards and you can get great deals that way. My sister scored some $500 shoes at Saks outlet for $50. She gets deals like that all the time. Yes, you have to sacrifice your email account, but a while ago I set up a special email address just for these things and it works out great.

        1. the gold digger

          Consignment stores in rich neighborhoods and eBay. You can get some really nice clothes inexpensively that way. I got a pair of look like new Ferragamos for $9 at consignment.

          1. Jamie

            This! I started going to consignment stores when I was a newly divorced single mom years ago and now I keep going for the thrill of the hunt.

            I went this weekend in fact – I got 13 sweaters all Liz Claiborne and Izod (I so don’t look at labels as a status thing and never notice it – but I know that Liz Claiborne’s stuff hangs on me like nothing else and I always feel 20 lbs thinner and a lot more professional in her clothes) for less than $90 bucks.

            There is always the mall if I need something specific right now, but for just browsing around I like being able to have a much bigger wardrobe than if I paid full price and I love supporting the mission (when the consignment shop is tied to a charity I believe in).

            And a couple times a year I go through my closet and get rid of all the stuff I bought and never wear – rotating is fun and doesn’t break the bank this way.

            FWIW I make a decent living and our consignment/thrift stores are always filled with shoppers who drive much nicer cars than I do – so all kinds of people go there.

            And sometimes you go and there is nothing. Other times it seems like someone who had your exact taste and size just dropped by because you can’t fill your cart fast enough.

            On a side note – I do notice cute shoes and a cute bag – but unless they are emblazoned with the logo I have no idea about brands. I have seen some $500 + bags that I didn’t think were anywhere near as cute as the one I picked up from Target last year.

            1. The Other Dawn

              How are these shops fixed for larger women’s sizes? I haven’t gone, because I just figured they won’t have my size. I would love to buy some high-end stuff for lower prices.

              1. Jamie

                Oh – don’t let that hold you back – there is a huge variety of sizes – even more than a regular store because they get their stuff by donations or consignment from the general public.

                My daughter is a size 4 and I am ….definitely not :)…and we both walked out of there yesterday with really cute stuff (but I found much more this time – last time I found nothing so you really have to keep going. It’s like a hunt.)

                It’s important to note all consignment/thrift stores are not created equally. I’ve been in some that I turned around right away because I didn’t want to touch anything…but some are really like cute little boutiques and everything in between.

                The nicer the neighborhood the more high end stuff you’ll find…so it’s worth a drive to your more affluent areas if you’re looking for designer stuff.

                For those in the Chicago area I don’t know if they still have this, but Evanston used to have The Worlds Biggest Garage Sale once a year and stores would have CRAZY discounts on stuff.

                While you’re out that way I’d recommend the Winnetka Thrift Shop, The Crowded Closet in Evanston, There is one in Glencoe that I can’t recall the name. I haven’t been up north in a while – these used to be great finds. I’ve found great stuff at Savers and Spree. And in my town there is someone supplying me with Liz Claiborne and if I ever meet her I’ll buy her lunch!

                It’s funny, as it gives me the freedom for more turnover than if I paid retail I’ll often see my own stuff on the racks after I’ve donated them back.

                But yeah – size is not an issue because as long as people of all sizes are in the demographic there will be all sized clothes in these shops.

                1. Job seeker

                  You are lucky to find a shop like this one. I am a size 4 too, but the only consignment shop here is for speciality items. I have never went to a consignment shop to shop before but sounds good to me.

                2. Editor

                  I’ve heard the Bryn Mawr consignment shop (Goodwill or Salvation Army?) in the Philadelphia region has top-notch stuff.

                  Another thing to watch is whether people are swapping out their designer stuff weekly, seasonally or daily or whatever, or if the same set of diamond studs appears every day or the same Coach bag appears for two years. If someone has worked for eight or ten years and she bought a Coach bag every two years to have different seasonal styles, then that’s a different expense than keeping up with styles every single season.

                  You might be seeing shopaholics, but you might also be seeing someone with a pair of reasonably priced slacks bought this year to ensure the cut is trendy, a classic shell that’s been in the rotation three years, a scarf that comes out a couple of times a season, one of three pairs of shoes and so on. I have some basics and accessories in my wardrobe that have become useful after a few years of exile because the color came back into fashion six or ten or so years later.

              2. KellyK

                Like Jamie said, usually pretty good. I wear a 22 and I haven’t had any trouble finding cute things at the thrift stores near me. (With the caveat that I haven’t shopped specifically for designer clothes.) With consignment stores, I have heard of some stores that have a max size and will turn away plus-size consignments, but I’m not sure how common that is.

                (This assumes that I’m using the terms correctly—by “thrift store” I mean Goodwill and similar places where you donate stuff, and by “consignment store,” a store that takes goods on consignment and pays you (taking their cut) if something sells. And I have the general idea that consignment stores tend to have higher-end stuff than thrift stores.

                There’s also a third category of closeout stores–places like Ross that resell unused clothing, usually overstocks and that kind of thing. I’ve also had good luck there, particularly because their stuff is organized by size.

                1. ARS

                  My Coach bag came from the Outlet Mall north of where I live. Outlet stores are a great place to get discounted designer labels. The outlet malls around here have Coach, Ann Taylor LOFT and other higher end brands at a fraction of the cost. The styles may not be up to the minute, but classic pieces never really go out of style. If you can supplement with a suit from X, a handbag from Y, and maybe some shoes, your wardrobe can go a long way.

          2. Frances

            Since the OP says she’s in NYC: there are great consignment and thrift stores on the Upper East Side that get some awesome things. I’d also recommend Duffy’s, which is in the TJMaxx/Marshall’s line of deeply discounted designer/brand name items.

            If you just want high quality stuff for good value, you should also check out Uniqlo and Brooklyn Industries, which have some really nice and fashion forward work items for excellent prices (Brooklyn Industries has online sales ALL the time, too).

          3. Kara

            Co-sign. Consignment stores are great because you never know what you’ll find. And I’ve gotten designer jeans on eBay – I go to stores, find the style and size I want, then set up a search on eBay for that style and size. You can also try sites like Rue La La, Gilt, and Bluefly.

      2. B

        Speak of the devil – just checked my email account. Lord & Taylor is having an extra 50% off sale shoes plus there is an extra 20% off clearance coupon.

        As the person below says – sign up for those discount emails at places you like to shop or those that you would like to shop at. You can great great deals.

    2. Steve G

      Sounds good, because only in NYC does it make sense to wear overpriced clothes to ask for money to give to a charity, as opposed of foregoing the money for the clothes and allocating it directly to the charity!

  2. Anonymous

    As you get to know people there, you will likely find that a lot of the people working there are not buying those items with their salary – they have family money or wealthy spouses (or both). If you are supporting yourself/your family on the pay from a non-profit, the fact is, you simply cannot afford to spend the same amount of money on clothes and accessories as these people do. Even if you were willing to do it, it seems like it would be the road to financial disaster to try and keep up.

    My advice is buy the best pieces you can REASONABLY afford, look neat, polished and professional every day and then let it go – concentrate on doing the best you can at your work. Know the possibility exists that some small-minded people may judge you based on your wardrobe, but at any job there are going to be small-minded people who judge you based on things unrelated to your job performance, that’s just the way it goes.

    1. Ruthie

      This is very good advice. Remember that you went through multiple rounds of interviews without wearing designer labels, and they hired you.

    2. Ariancita

      Or actually, they are getting it on ebay or Bonanza–especially designer bags. I know a lot of serious collectors and few in their collection were paid for at full price at a boutique (especially LV–they never go on sale and there is no outlet, so many people are buying them on eBay, etc–just be sure if you do that, you get the bag authenticated before buying).

      Truly, if you’re going to spend, spend on the bag first. Accessories second. Nobody will notice anything else, but they will notice those.

      1. Jamie

        This is absolutely correct about the authentication.

        I work in a manufacturing plant and not one of the managers carries a designer bag (that I can see – no logos) but every so often down the block this guy with a truck comes by to sell knock-offs and so a lot of the entry level floor staff have fake designer bags.

        It’s so prevalent you really want to be careful of this on line.

        1. Ariancita

          Yep yep, very true. It’s easy to get authentication before purchasing and after (since sometimes sellers will load pictures of a real bag and send you something else–BUT PayPal almost always sides with the buyer if you dispute–plus, if you pay via credit card on paypal, you can withdraw the payment).

          OP: There are different known authenticators for different brands. If you respond and want to know more, I can give you more information.

    3. Elizabeth West

      They may be buying on sale, in outlets, etc. Just because it has a label doesn’t mean they paid full price for it, or that you should.

      Myself, I recommend well-fitting clothes that are clean and in good shape. I could care less about fashion/labels, however, which means I have a peculiar mix of really nice stuff my sister insists on getting me and discount items. Think Etienne Aigner boots worn with Walmart pants. As long as I’m not naked, I don’t give a hoot!

      Disclaimer: I got the boots at TJ Maxx for 50% off. :)

      1. Rana

        I’m amused, because my wardrobe splits along those lines, too. I tend to either buy really well-made stuff that will last me ten years or more, or cheap fashionable crap I expect to look good for a season at most.

        The trick is actually tossing out the latter when it needs to go…

  3. badger_doc

    Also don’t be afraid to try the consignment/thrift stores in the area. If it is an affluent area, many of these stores will have the types of clothing you are looking for at a fraction of the price.

      1. Sascha

        Not necessarily. If she buys classic styles and not super-trendy things, she won’t look out of style. And those people may not notice – depending on how much they can afford, they may be wearing designer but not the very latest, either.

      2. Jamie

        Not for classic pieces – and once you’re buying professional clothes it’s not the same type of trend turnover as it is for teenagers.

      3. Ariancita

        Actually, if you have a designer bag and nice accessories, they won’t notice much else, label-wise. As I posted above, this is what people look for first and foremost.

      4. Rana

        I was thinking that, too, Mike C. One way around it is to buy timeless main garments and accessories – suits, skirts, purses, that sort of thing – and then bring them up to date with things like scarfs and jewelry and cheaper blouses.

    1. Jen

      This. Also, people who regularly wear designer clothes on salaries that make you go hmmm are often well connected with news on upcoming sample sales, discount daily deals (gilt.com), and services that allow you to rent designer clothes. They also ebay in addition to local consignment, and get everything tailored so it fits like a glove.

      If designer dressing is a must for your role, and you decide it’s a game you want to play, approach some of your more friendly, stylish colleagues, and ask if they have any local shopping tips they wouldn’t mind sharing. Hopefully that will help you get on in designer-dressing-land, without destroying your budget.

    1. Lana

      I thought about it, too!! Hahaha, I’m sure if people in that office really spoke about their shopping routines, we would find out that a lot of them also shop at the Outlets, on sales, etc.

  4. Not So NewReader

    OP, I am not sure if this helps… but the NPO I worked for did expect a certian image from the people who were in the public eye. Yes, $500 suits. (This was back a few decades, I cannot imagine what it is now.) The people who did the front line work with the care recipient could dress casually- as long as they looked neat.

    The problem came in when the receptionists were expected (directly told) to wear the clothes that the public greeting people were wearing. The receptionists were paid less than the front line people in jeans. Five hundred dollars was a week and a half of pay.
    The middle-aged receptionist was replaced with a younger receptionist with cleavage. It sent a strong message to those of us in jeans.

    I am wondering if you can deduct your wardrobe expense off of your taxes- one third of your income is a good chunk.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary

      I’m not an accountant but I’ve looked that up before. You can only take off work clothes if they reasonably can’t be worn outside of work. So, you could argue that the cost of your academic robe (if you taught at Hogworts, for instance) could be deducted but you couldn’t really say you can’t wear your Manolo Blahnik’s to anything else but work.

  5. name

    “It is also important to note that the office is all female, which I find awesome”

    Why do I feel that if the OP wrote “male” instead of “female” we all be booing?

    OP, you like gender discrimination?

    1. Jen in RO

      I agree, that sentenced sounded a bit off to me too. I’m not sure if the OP meant “yay, this workplace hires women, so my career prospects are great” or “yay, I can relate better to women so I’ll enjoy this place socially”, but I’m sure that if a man wrote in and said he was happy the office was all male, he would get told off.

      I’m also sure you’ll get flamed for saying this, but oh well.

      1. Jenna

        I wouldn’t flame, but, I’d like to point out that many of us have worked at some point (or mostly) in offices where the lower levels of staff were mostly female, but, the higher levels gradually became more and more male the higher you looked. Someone who hadn’t seen their gender represented at the top levels of management might very well walk into an office where they see women at all levels and breath a huge sigh of relief. Whatever OTHER problems that employer might have, at least this one thing (being female) won’t be held against them on the way up at this one employer.

      2. Julie K

        I was on a conference call when I first read through the comments, so it took me a while to compose my response, and by the time I did, several other people had posted similar responses, but here’s my experience with this issue:

        I used to work for a software training company, and in addition to offering public classes, we used to spend time at customer sites, so I’ve been in a lot of work environments. Most if the offices I’ve spent time in have been heavily male, so when an environment has a lot of women, it feels more comfortable to me because I assume that means the company values women’s participation and leadership. I don’t think that is the same as a man saying the same thing about a male-dominated company. Sometimes you can switch the genders in a comment/statement, and the meaning would be equivalent, but in this situation, I don’t think it’s the same.

        As a side note, my impression of the people who tend to comment here is that they thoughtfully reply to other people’s comments, rather than flaming (which is great!) I’m not criticizing anyone for being concerned about that – just making an observation.

    2. K

      Hmm, I wonder why some people see a difference between noting that the office is filled with people who have historically been marginalized and excluded from the workplace and that it is filled with people who have historically been dominating the workplace. Fascinating question; I just can’t figure it out.

      More seriously, I suspect what the OP meant is “it’s great to see a place where women fill the leadership roles, because that’s still really rare,” which is true. At most places, they don’t.

    3. moss

      Please familiarize yourself with the concept of false equivalence.

      OP may feel safer around women. That’s not gender discrimination.

      1. Anonymous

        The safety argument in the “cabin without phone reception” I understand, but I think this one’s a bit of a stretch.

        How about this for an equivalence: “The office is all-white, which I find awesome” – why not? someone may feel safer with white people rather than black people.

        1. RF

          When trying to argue something by replacing groups, please don’t replace a historically minority group with a historically superior group. It does not work.

          Yes, a black person might feel better in an office where all or many of the other people are also black. That’s not racism.

  6. Tiff

    I agree with the first poster – it doesn’t take a million bucks to look totally fly, and as long as you choose pieces that flatter your figure and are professional you should be good to go. I would also suggest getting some of your pieces tailored, it’s a cheap way to make your “regular” clothes look more expensive.

  7. Marie

    My job DOES (unofficially) require designer clothing. I’ve found, though, that as long as I plan my outfits carefully, save my entire clothing budget to spend at the sales, and take things to a dressmaker if they don’t fit me perfectly, my designer-clad colleagues can’t tell the difference between expensive and well-fitting. Specially since the truly classy designer items don’t come with visible labels. They regularly compliment me on dresses that cost me $10 on a sale and then another $15 for alterations.

  8. WorkingMom

    Keep in mind that people who are asking very wealthy people to donate their money, for a living, have to maintain a certain degree of appearence. I come from a NP fundraising background, and when you are meeting with multi-millionaires, yes – you want to “look the part.” That doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire salary on the clothes, though. Shop second-hand stores in high-end neighborhoods – they will often carry designer pieces that are well taken care of for a steal. Imitate expensive looks with less expensive pieces. It’s all about presentation, not the price tag.

    That said, I agree to wait and see what those at your professional level are wearing. You may feel at ease when you notice other admins dressing a little less Devil-Wears-Prada. Best of luck to you!

  9. Anonymous

    As things need to be replaced, buy classics within your budget. Perhaps Gap instead of Old Navy if you really feel like you need to make an upgrade. It won’t be Prada, but you’ll feel less self conscious.

  10. Anon

    I bet this dress code (which for me, sounds like eye candy :-)) is just for the fundraisers, top executives, etc. I would wait and see. Just make sure you stay on top of your fashion game (which doesn’t mean running out and maxing out credit cards, but looking sharp within your means). Congrats on the new job!

  11. Anonymous

    There may be a difference for fundraisers, important meetings etc. Keep an eye on discount sites (bluefly, ideeli, etc) and thrift stores to buy a few nice pieces that can supplement at a reasonable price. The other suggestion I have is if it is a high expectation kind of place, if you are up for it cultivate a “timeless” style for yourself that means you don’t have to be buying new clothes every single season. But one or two fashionable pieces can update your wardrobe per season so you don’t have to spend nearly as much because most things can stay the same.

  12. AMG

    Consider a part-time job at a nice store so that you can get the discount. I did this in college, especially during the holiday and was ridiculously well-dressed for a student.

    Also, stick to classic pieces (LBD, black pants, cashmere, etc), especially at first and then add fun, trendy items from less expensive places.

    I agree with the advice to shop consignment. People also get rid of things that don’t fit anymore, not just that are out of style or last season. Seasonality can also just be a color–wear an inexpensive item that is the latest color. There are tons of apps and websites that have deals. Zulily, MyHabit, Gilt, RueLaLa, etc.

    Good Luck!

    1. AMG

      Just to add to my comment about store discounts–In order to pay people ~$10 an hour to wear expensive clothes around the store (Banana Republic), the discounts were 50-60%, and if a returned item came back, it was even cheaper to buy. We got a free item quarterly, too. I have so many clothes that are back in style from 10 years ago; all kinds of things come back around.

      Consider it a long-term project. Don’t go crazy all at once. Start with the staples and build it gradually.

      1. Mary

        I know what you mean but a part time job on top of a full time salaried job that probably comes with hours that are not ‘just’ 9-5….? Am I sounding really out of touch by saying some people like having time off…?

        1. AMG

          yes, but at the time I was working 30-40 hours/week, full course load in college, volunteer work, working out and still had time for a social life. If the clothes are a must, and depending on how much wardrobe building needs to be done, it’s an option. I understand it’s not for everyone, and I wouldn’t do it now, but I don’t have to.

        2. KellyK

          No, not at all. It would have to be *really* important to my career progression to even consider taking a second job to support the first.

          But I think everyone has different needs for work, social time, alone time, exercise, and rest, so it might be a valid option for some people but a horrible, horrible idea for others.

          1. Laura L

            Same here. But I need down time where I can relax on my own and just be lazy. not everyone needs that.

    2. Anonymous

      I will say any job that expects someone to work another job to support the main job isn’t a good job. (I couldn’t quite fit job into that sentence 5 times.)

      1. Tiff

        I don’t think that’s the meaning behind her suggestion. I was in a similar position in college, where I had 2 summer jobs. One as an intern at a corporate office, and another at The Limited. Not that the Limited is all that high-falutin’ but it really scratched my shopping itch, for work and play. It was something that I couldn’t and wouldn’t do now, but at the time it was perfect.

        1. AMG

          Exactly. I needed some extra money, and I needed professional clothes for interviews and my up-and-coming career. It was the perfect fit. I wouldn’t do it now, either. I also used the discount to buy Christmas presents. I got everyone really great gifts and spent very little.

  13. Mike C.

    For the folks who are saying that their jobs unofficially require these sorts of clothing, could you go into greater detail here?

    Why is it so important that you’ve spent a ton of money on clothing? Are there particular designers that you have to wear? What if you were to walk in having spent thousands of dollars on an outfit from a designer that no one else in your workplace knows about, is that a good thing or not?

    The whole thing feels like something out of a perverted anthropology project, so any comments clearing this up would be appreciated.

    1. JLL

      At my old job, I was the board “liaison,” and like it or not, they expected you to look a certain way, with a certain look to impress the money. Fortunately, on my non-meeting days, I could camp out in my office and wear regular ass clothing, but when Board members came in, I had to suck it up. But I advise the OP to spend the money where it counts- nobody will care if your white button down shirt is from the Gap or Old Navy, but spend on a few nice pairs of pants, some nice skirts, get them hemmed properly, and some nice shoes, and then get cute with accessories- even check Etsy or Wanelo for one-of-a-kind stuff that is not commonly found. I can’t tell you how many times I was complimented on a ring or a pair of earrings or a necklace, and I was thinking “Thank you, Forever 21/Toni Daley/H&M.”

      1. AMG

        Redbook magazine is great for that–they have so many cute things that are so inexpensive and so trendy or just outright cute.

      2. the gold digger

        nobody will care if your white button down shirt is from the Gap or Old Navy

        Never spend a ton of money on a white shirt. It doesn’t matter who you are – that shirt is going to get stained within a few months and be useless.

            1. Jamie

              That’s exactly what I spill! Or it will be the one time I am nice enough to change the toner.

              Tide to Go is my best friend – but even it can’t save the crisp snowy white shirts.

            2. Elizabeth

              Indian food, especially if it has tumeric in it.

              OxyClean will get out tomato-based sauces, but nothing seems to get rid of tumeric. I’ve dyed a no-iron buttondown shirt yellow after dribbling eggplant curry down the buttons.

              1. appleblossom

                Sunlight will get rid of turmeric stains. Wash out the oil and dry in the sun. Its a trick my mom taught me.

          1. Kathryn T.

            I once got tangled up in a white shirt while putting it on, tripped and fell, got a nosebleed, and bled all over the shirt. Thus managing to ruin it before I had even technically finished putting it on.

            WINNING!

            1. Elizabeth

              In the case of my no-iron shirt, bleach would eat at the cotton part, when the oils from the food had already bound to the oil-based coating that kept it from wrinkling.

            2. Editor

              I use Resolve Max Stain Stick from Spray’n’Wash to remove stains. It comes in a container that is shaped like a deodorant dispenser — an oval stick (it used to be cylindrical.) I can’t use bleach.

              Keep the stain stick near the laundry hamper (closet, bathroom, whatever) so you can coat the stain when you take the garment off. Put stain stick on the outside and inside of the fabric, rubbing in a couple of different directions to coat the fibers from all angles. Let the garment sit for at least a few hours. Then wash with regular laundry.

              With a horrible stain, let the stain stick sit on overnight, then the next day recoat and run through a soak cycle in the washer with detergent. Then wash garment with regular load. Check the stain before garment goes in the dryer!

              If the stain doesn’t come out after a soak and wash, put on more stain stick, wait a day, soak, wash, and check. Just don’t dry anything using heat until the stain is gone. I managed to save badly stained dress shirts my husband loved by doing this. The routine is a pain, but it even worked with ink sometimes.

              Stain stick doesn’t seem to cause colors to run the way some sprays do. Over time, if the exact same spot gets stained repeatedly, the fabric will weaken.

              I use this all the time on cotton and cotton blends. I haven’t tried it on silk. I don’t wear wool. but I assume my soaking routine would felt wool, even washable wool.

              My kids did their own stain stick work — I left one in their bathroom so they didn’t have to traipse down to the washer to deal with the problem. Funniest crisis in my son’s life was when he was sent overseas for three months by his job and forgot his stain stick — and couldn’t buy one in the country where he was. We had to mail one to him.

        1. AnotherAlison

          Hey now, I still have a stain-free white shirt that I bought with my 1999 interview suit. But I guess it probably doesn’t count if you only wear it once every few years under a sweater.

          1. A Bug!

            “Under a sweater” is the key point for me and white shirts. Sweaters are basically smocks.

            I also often wear one of a couple of nice-looking scarves that I got on clearance. Their practical function is “stylish bib”. If I get food on it at lunch I can take it off or rearrange it so the food isn’t visible.

        2. Rana

          Oh, white shirts…

          Part of me loves the look of them; the other part reminds me that (a) I am messy, and (b) unless I’ve got a summer tan and can wear them with jeans and a turquoise bracelet, white is just not a good color for me.

          (Cream is even worse.)

          1. Nyxalinth

            Have you tried winter white? Cream might be too yellowy, and white too stark and cold for your coloring.

            1. Rana

              Cream is too yellowy, yes. I used to be able to wear white, but then I started going grey, and now it just makes me look washed out (at least during the winter). If I can have something in a more flattering color between my skin and the white of the shirt, though, I can make it work.

  14. anon in tejas

    I used to work for a boss who was a fashion and shoe clothes horse. It was a bit intimidating, especially because I was finding my own footing professionally and she was a mentor/role model.

    I would also point out, that you can be fashionable (on trend) without spending a fortune. Investing in some basic pieces (from nicer retailers– Banana Republic, Talbots, Ann Taylor) like pencil skirts, black wool trousers, etc. and supplementing your wardrobe with more trendy pieces (like blouses/tops/sweaters, scarves, some heels) from more budget conscious retailers (like Zarah, H&M, etc.) may work for you.

    I have not been in this situation, but I have found that looking professional and put together can be a classic timeless look– and look rather upscale. Whether or not your employer’s office is looking more classic or trendy may make a big difference. If it’s more classic, that may be easier. Also, most fashionistas I know love a good deal/bargain, and they aren’t that brand/label conscious unless they can really afford ($$) to be. I can’t tell if you get that impression from your potential new coworkers or not.

    I would also suggest perhaps following some professional fashion blogs (i.e. Corporette, Capitol Hill Style/Belle, Boardroom Belles)

    1. Rana

      Zara is a great suggestion. Their entire business model is “just in time” manufacturing, so they don’t have much overstock (so prices are low) and tend to focus on whatever is fashionable at the moment you buy it.

      Sometimes you can even find Zara sale stuff which is even cheaper. One warning, though, for any and all of these: choose your garments carefully. Some inevitably look cheap – especially when next to higher-end garments – so it’s useful to spend an afternoon in Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom looking at the expensive in-season stuff first, to calibrate your standards of what looks nice and what looks cheap.

      1. Editor

        Also, try to spot trends that aren’t timeless. A few years ago tweed jackets with fringed edges were stylish. I didn’t buy any because I didn’t think I could get three years out of them, which is kind of my minimum.

        For other reasons, I avoided things with sequins and beads. Being willing to say no to a garment that doesn’t meet your expectations even when you love the color but not the cut, for instance, is a big part of getting value out of your shopping.

  15. Sascha

    If you do spend the money on something expensive – not necessarily designer, but higher-end – make it shoes. Not only will your feet and lower back thank you, but the materials tend to fall apart faster. You can still get some great deals on high quality shoes (I found an awesome pair of designer heels at a Marshall’s once for $20).

    All this being said…still wait and see. You may not need to spend any money at all. Also, you can build up your wardrobe, like others have said. Just slowly start adding some high-quality, versatile staples. And since you are in NYC, I suspect some of the thrift stores will have really nice clothes that were worn maybe once.

    1. JLL

      THIS. Nothing will mess up your day faster than realizing those trendy shoes will not last through lunch, or feeling like you want to chop off your feet if you have to take one more step.

      1. Sascha

        Someone once told me you should invest in the things between you and the ground – cars, mattresses, shoes. Wise words.

        *I just realized my comment is a little off because of editing – I meant to say lower quality shoes are made of cheaper materials that tend to fall apart faster.

      2. Jamie

        Yep – this. The thing I remember most about both of my weddings were how much my feet hurt.

        Shoes were cute both times – but so not worth the pain.

      3. Rana

        Yes, yes yes yes.

        I will put up with a fair many things in the name of looking good, but I will no longer tolerate cute but uncomfortable shoes.

        (Also on the no list: straps that fall down, and waistbands that ride up.)

  16. Legal Eagle

    1. Start reading corporette.com. This blog will help you dress professionally. The commenters are excellent at answering questions. She also alerts readers to massive sales and will highlight great professional items that are 70% off.

    2. Find a selective resale shop. I found a resale shop that clothed me while I was law student working at a law firm. I bought plenty of very expensive clothes for less than what clothes cost at the Gap.

    3. Find a tailor.

    1. K

      Yeah, I agree about Corporette. That site often drives me crazy because it is so, so not applicable to my life or budget but it is perfect for someone in this situation.

  17. Lana

    I would just dress nice and try to fit in the style of the office but not buy designer clothes. There are plenty stores out there that sell nice-looking office clothes which doesn’t cost a fortune. I personally buy my clothes at JCP and I find pieces that look amazing! Good luck with your new job.

  18. Long Time Admin

    Do you really want to work someplace where you’ll be judged by what you wear instead of the quality of your work?

    Wear what you like and to hell with fashion snobs.

    1. Jamie

      I agree with this in theory – but in reality if I had been job hunting for 6 months and had 2 offers fall through already I wouldn’t jump ship on principal over this either.

        1. Cruella DaBoss

          LOL….the principle is to remember the principal is your PAL!
          (channelling the voice of my English teacher)

      1. Long Time Admin

        I might not turn down a job under those circumstances, either, but I wouldn’t allow them to pressure me into buying designer clothes.

  19. The IT Manager

    Ha! The OP is already twelve steps ahead of me for this. I would have never in a million years noticed that these people were wearing designed clothes and accessories. I would have only noticed that they were dressed nice and well accessorized. Except for those ugly Coach bags with the Coach logo all over them. I can’t help but notice them.

    Good thing I work virtually and can sit at work today in Sketchers, department store jeans, an almost t-shirt, and a fleece sweater because the AC is too cold. This is at the absolute low end of the office dress code, but I declare today to be casual Monday, and the people I interact with on my project are all virtual. They only hear my voice and see my emails and IMs.

    1. Jane Doe

      Yep. I would never connect “these people are dressed stylishly” with “these people are wearing designer clothing and I am expected to do the same,” because I have no idea how to tell designer clothing apart from high-quality regular clothing if it’s not plastered with logos.

      1. Jamie

        Can I just say I hate the logo thing?

        The last time I was in the market for new prescription sunglasses I saw the cutest pair at the nationwide chain of overpriced glasses which held me captive since it used to be the only place that took my insurance…

        Sorry – digression.

        I tried them on and loved them, except for the little Chanel logos on the side – I really don’t know why the world needs to know who makes everything.

        Anyway, I looked at the price tag and they were $450 BEFORE the lenses. Needless to say they were no longer as cute to me.

        I was talking about this to someone later, who felt sorry for me, and asked me if I thought about talking to my husband and maybe he’d let me put them on the credit card.

        1 – my husband wasn’t the one forbidding me to buy them – I made that choice all on my own like big girl!

        2- it wasn’t that I didn’t have access to the $700 or whatever it would have been once the lenses were in. I have a job – but if I’m paying that kind of money for sunglasses they need to have magical powers to either give me winning lotto numbers or come to life at night and clean my house.

        No offense to those who spend that kind of money on sunglasses – but seriously, if I were a millionaire I couldn’t do it on principal.

        And why is it every pair of even decent sunglasses I’ve owned like Ray Bans I’ll lose within a week – but pay $10 at Walgreens and I’m wearing them 5 years later. I do think sunglasses may be sentient beings.

        1. Laura L

          “I was talking about this to someone later, who felt sorry for me, and asked me if I thought about talking to my husband and maybe he’d let me put them on the credit card.”

          What?? How did we travel back in time to the ’60s without me noticing?!

          1. KellyK

            Yeah, and if we did all jump back to the 60s, how are we on the *internet* having this conversation?

            Sure, big purchases should be discussed and mutually agreed upon unless you have separate checking accounts, but I never ever want to hear the phrase “Maybe your husband will *let* you” where spending money is concerned.

            1. Laura L

              Exactly. Good thing I’m not married. The only person I have to check with about big purchases is me!

        2. BW

          I had a co-worker who would order designer frames online at a fraction of the cost and then take them to a place to get the lens prescription filled.

          I hate the logo stuff. I just don’t give a crap beyond “Are these comfortable?” and “Do I like them?”

          1. Jamie

            Do you know what website she goes to?

            If anyone had links for buying Chanel sunglasses online at a discount I would be really grateful. And these aren’t knock-offs – right?

        3. Elizabeth West

          I never, ever spend that kind of money on sunglasses. I will lose them or destroy them and it’s just not worth it.

          Someone left a pair of Liz Claiborne sunglasses at the deli I worked at in CA once, and I snagged them from the lost and found box after it became clear they were never going to be claimed. They were green, with oversized lenses. I LOVED them. Alas, I only wore them for a year until that fateful day when I put them on the bed, forgot they were there, and sat on them. I miss you, green movie star sunglasses. :(

        4. Natalie

          This is exactly how I ended up paying for most of my glasses myself. The only places that took my vision insurance were the chains, and they didn’t have a single pair of glasses without a visible logo. I refuse to pay good money to advertise for people. It should be the other way around!

          1. Jamie

            Four out of our family of five wear glasses and it was making me sick that the insurance was only taken by the big chain – but a lot of times even with the insurance we ended up spending more on one pair than getting 2 for whatever at 4 Eyes. They just started taking our insurance this year and it was all I could do to refrain from hugging the woman behind the desk when she told me.

            1. FreeThinkerTX

              If you aren’t married to designer labels, you can outfit your family for a fraction of even the insurance cost (or, at least, a fraction of what my old vision insurance covered) at internet sites like goggles4u.com, zennioptical.com and eyebuydirect.com.

              I’m wearing a pair of progressive bifocals from zennioptical that cost $48.75, including frames, lenses, UV & anti-scratch coatings, and shipping. I use Groupon-type coupons for my eye exams (usually paying around $40-$50) and then get a written prescription for the lenses to use on the internet.

              1. Jamie

                This is awesome – thank you.

                And no – I don’t care about the designer stuff at all – I just wanted those specific frames which happened to be designer but I’d be just as happy with something just as cute without the little C’s.

                I will definately check those out. Our vision insurance is something you almost need a lawyer to figure out what they cover.

        5. The Other Dawn

          “I was talking about this to someone later, who felt sorry for me, and asked me if I thought about talking to my husband and maybe he’d let me put them on the credit card.”

          And I would be saying, “My husband doesn’t LET me do anything. If I want it, I get it. As long as I can afford it and it won’t take money away from any pressing bills.”

        6. Rana

          Oh, I loathe obvious labels. To me it always feels like I’m paying to play billboard for someone else. I don’t even much like patterns or words on my clothing either.

          1. T

            A lot of times the obvious labels don’t even look good! Also, Many designers don’t always include obviosu labels (Prada, Marc Jacobs, Eileen fisher)

      2. Laura L

        “I have no idea how to tell designer clothing apart from high-quality regular clothing if it’s not plastered with logos.”

        Same! Which is why (some) brands plaster their logo all over the place!

        1. kristinyc

          Sorry to highjack this – but have you all heard of Warby Parker? It’s an online brand of glasses that are a flat $95 rate (for frames and lenses). You can pick 5 pairs to have sent to you to do a Home Try-On, figure out which ones you like, and then order them online. They’re made in the same factories as the ones you buy at Lenscrafters, and they’re the same materials. They are “brand name” in a sense – WP is its own brand! (but the branding is all on the inside of the frames, so the average person wouldn’t see them).

          Check it out! http://www.warbyparker.com

          *I’m slightly biased because I work at WP, but I was a happy customer for almost a year before I started working here.

          1. Laura L

            Oh! Question for you:

            Is Warby Parker based in Brooklyn? And did they start in Philly? I was just discussing this with someone the other day and we weren’t sure.

            1. kristinyc

              Our HQ is in Soho, but we have showrooms at a few stores in Brooklyn.

              Our founders started it while they were still in business school at Wharton in Philly, so it technically did start there (but they moved to NYC as soon as they graduated).

  20. Laura L

    I like all the advice, but it sounds like people at this place wear designer clothing, not just style-ish and trendy clothing. Wouldn’t the OP still be out of place if she is wearing Gap or Loft when everyone else is wearing Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana or whatever?

    Also, how do people know what clothes are “designer”? I look at websites like gilt and ideeli sometimes and I’ve never heard of most of the brands they are selling.

    This all sounds way too time-consuming and complicated for me!

    1. Jubilance

      With most designer clothes, you can’t tell that they are designer unless they have a destinctive logo. For example, I can always spot a Tory Burch bag or shoes, because she has a specific logo that is on most of her items. I can also generally spot a Gucci bag even if its not covered in the Gucci logo, simply because I’m a fan & I droll over their website wishing I could buy all the bags I love.

      I agree with the comments on investing in quality classic pieces, finding a great tailor, and shopping sales/consignment stores/sites like Gilt. I also suggest checking out the book “The Lucky Shopping Manual” from the editiors of Lucky Magazine. It’s a great book that highlights what staple items you should have in your closet, both for spring/summer & fall/winter. If you focus on trying to get those staple items in your closet, that are well-made & well-fitting, no one will notice that your blazer is from Ann Taylor instead of J. Jill.

      1. Laura L

        “With most designer clothes, you can’t tell that they are designer unless they have a destinctive logo.”

        Which is another reason I don’t understand designer clothing. :-)

        1. the gold digger

          Plus the logo is tacky. I have some nice purses – my vice – and I have removed the stupid little brass logo thingy from each one. I didn’t get the purses to flaunt them. I got them because I think they are attractive and well made. (And most of them, I have bought on eBay. Or my sister my sister bought it on eBay after bidding against my husband for it.)

    2. B

      Yes and no. She might not be totally in-step but if they are tailored and fit well many times it is not noticeable. Good tailoring goes a long way. Not just to fit in but also for the OP to feel a confidence. I know when things fit me well, I stand taller and feel better personally – not because of others.

      1. Laura L

        Oh, I completely understand how important fit is for looking good.

        It just seems to me that if people are wearing designer clothing, they will notice when others aren’t, even if the non-designer wearers are wearing the same style and look just as good.

        And if they don’t, then, again, what’s the point of designer clothing? ;-)

    3. Ellie H.

      I don’t really get it either and I’m someone with a vague interest in clothes. I usually dress “nice” but no designer clothes; everything I own is from the Gap, J. Crew, Ann Taylor/Loft, Anthropologie or Banana Republic – and I don’t think I would feel out of place in such an office if I were wearing what I consider one of my really put together outfits. Then again, my boss dresses in expensive clothing (I can tell it’s expensive, but not necessarily that it’s “designer” or which brands) in a vaguely similar style to mine, and I notice this, so maybe I’m being too optimistic.

    4. Ariancita

      I’m not convinced that her office is wearing all designer labels. Few people do that–typically those who are really into it and those of some foreign cultures. I think she noticed what people do invest in–handbags and accessories, sometimes shoes (though I’d argue that unless it was a style that was known to OP or the iconic red sole, I doubt it was recognized. I have a blessing of designer shoes [like unicorns!] and no one can tell unless they have the red sole). What OP saw was probably well styled and well fitted clothes.

    5. Alana

      Designer clothes often have details that are less common in lower-priced clothing. Some design trends are easy to bring to us regular folks, like polka dots, or green, but othe trends require more work and expense.

      People who are into fashion often follow it via the web and other media. Some articles of clothing stand out, and people remember them. Others who are into fashion have a great memory for images, so they can remember designer fashions of today and yesteryear.

  21. Jamie

    This reminds me of that King of Queens episode where they had to borrow money from Doug’s dad to get something done to the house, and he and his dad went through the closet seeing how much Carrie spent on clothes.

    She said she had to because she worked in Manhattan. I laughed because to me it defied logic that any workplace would expect a secretary to afford a designer wardrobe – but reading here I guess this is a thing?

    If this is what it’s like out there I’ll never leave manufacturing. Our dress code lies more along the lines of tidy appearance and not naked. It’s a pretty low bar.

    1. K

      I have to say, I might have the wrong idea of what is expected in New York, but this has always been one reason I’m grateful I live in D.C. instead! New Yorkers may mock our fashion sense, but at least I don’t have to worry about my clothing except to make sure it’s neat, clean, and professional!

      1. Laura L

        Yes! My only complaint about DC fashion is that everyone dresses like they’re going to work when they go out for a Saturday night.

        But it’s really easy to dress for work.

      2. Julie K

        This made me laugh because I moved to Boston this year after living in NYC for 20 years, and I was so overdressed here. I think that would probably be true anywhere outside of NYC. And it’s mainly because of my own habits from years of wearing suits to work. In the last several years I’ve noticed that the clothing a LOT of people wear to work in NYC is much more casual than it used to be.

          1. Julie K

            I love it here! And I don’t think the people are the worst-dressed – just not dressed the same as in NYC. :)

            1. Jamie

              I lived in Mass briefly – but not Boston. Westah Wistah as they say…but I’m glad I moved because I’d get nothing done in that state.

              As soon as a man – any man of legal age – started talking I began to fall in love. That accent is so sexy it’s completely distracting. I don’t know how the people of that state accomplish anything with that going on.

              1. Ellie H.

                Jamie I’m about to die laughing. That’s so funny. I have some weird accent preferences (I find the Ukrainian accent so, so sexy) but Boston accent is probably the least sexy accent I can think of in the world. I’m not sure if it’s just a proximity thing (I’m in Boston) or not.

          2. Laura L

            That article listed Manhattan in the top five, which, based on this thread, I would guess would not be on that list at all!

    2. Mike C.

      Seriously. The worst thing I’d ever have to do is tuck in my shirt and maybe put on a sport jacket.

      1. Sascha

        During the summer here in State University Land, our department regularly sports flip flops and free t-shirts from conferences. I could probably show up in my yoga pants if I wanted to (and I’ve been sorely tempted).

    3. Rana

      I remember a few years ago when skinny jeans were A Thing, and all of the fashion magazines were talking about them, and how everyone should own some, and everyone could wear them, and on and on. I was living in Indiana at the time (with family on the West Coast) and was completely baffled by this, because I only saw maybe one or two people wearing them, and they were all young college women. Then I flew out to New York for a wedding… and indeed, nearly every woman I saw on the street was wearing the damn things!

      That’s when I developed my theory that New York regularly gets two things completely wrong: that no other city has things like restaurants and cabs and ethnic neighborhoods and theater, yet everywhere else in the country is wearing and doing the same things New Yorkers do.

      1. Rana

        It’s also very true that different cities and regions have their own fashion sense, even for casual wear. I go to New York, and I’m underdressed and unfashionable; in Boston or DC I’m too casual; in Los Angeles I’m not trendy enough; in Chicago and San Francisco I can fit in more or less; in Portland I am Among My People. It’s partly wardrobe, but also just what colors, fabrics, cuts, etc. seem attractive and comfortable to me.

        Travel hint: if you want to fit in with the local population, watch them for a day or two, then hit up the thrift store.

    4. Chinook

      I remember when I got a job to work in Japan fresh out of a Canadian university. I was told dress code was business. I asked “Edmonton business or Vancouver business?” When they replied “Toronto business” I silently swore as I knew that was going to cost money. My mother, an expert shopper, then when hog wild with me in West Edmonton Mall where she outfitted me me on a budget with various suits and dress shoes.

      I know love living in Calgary where business suits can include jeans as long as they are well cut and paired with the right items (men-good dress cut, women-well cut button down shirt and jewelry)

  22. Janet

    Another tip for cheaper designer clothes – “daily deal” sites. I know that there are a few like Ideeli and MyHabit and they do designer clothes at reduced prices. I’ve been able to find some really great deals on work clothing.

    I would say to go basic for your bottoms (get some black pants at Gap or Limited and some pencil skirts, etc) and then you can have a few designer items for the tops.

    And as silly as this may sound, check pinterest if you’re not on it already. There are some great fashion blogs out there where they show people mixing designer with stuff from Old Navy or Target and it really comes together well.

  23. Elizabeth

    Sign up for RueLaLa.com, Ideeli.com, Gilt.com & Zulilly.com. The first two are direct competitors in the designer sale space, the third does mostly accessories, and the fourth specializes in clothing for kids & pregnant women. You’ll get daily emails for what is going to be on sale for the next 48 hours, and every day has something I go “I’d really like that”. RueLaLa & ideeli both routinely have items for 80%+ off retail, which makes them even more enticing for me.

    I don’t have to dress as well as I do. But, when I slack off (summer days when the temp starts out at 90 and goes up, for example), I can see how I’m treated changes. Most days, I will take every advantage I can get.

    1. Kara

      I canceled my ideeli membership some months ago because I kept sending back their stuff – it was always flimsier than expected. But otherwise I agree. I especially love Gilt and Rue La La – I just bought something from Rue La La last week.

  24. Ann

    I work in an office where most of the ladies wear expensive labels. Of course, most of the ladies are from a particular foreign country and wearing designer clothes and toting a Yves St. Laurent bag or wearing Chanel earrings is de riguer and a sort of status symbol (I guess it is here too, but less prevalent). I have never owned a single piece of haute couture. It’s a good day if I’m wearing makeup (or a bad day, because I look bedraggled enough to need it). No one has ever said anything to me, and I don’t feel judged. In fact, I get the occasional compliment when I wear something unique (a pair of earrings my sister made me, a vintage skirt from the consignment shop, and I most frequently get complimented on a dress from Target). I wear what is professional and makes me feel confident and comfortable. I think confidence in yourself is probably the best label.

    1. Julie K

      I’ve been complimented on clothing that I bought at K-mart, so if it looks good on you and fits well, that’s what counts. I recently needed to get some wool sweaters (it gets really cold here, and I had recently moved, so I wasn’t prepared), but my budget is very tight, so I went to Goodwill. I found six really nice (must have hardly been worn) wool sweaters (one was cashmere). I also found three pairs of jeans (again, they looked like brand new), and all of it was $60. I had never shopped at Goodwill before, so this was a pleasant surprise.

      1. Ann

        :-) I am an expert Goodwill and consignment store shopper. You can find amazing deals, you just have to have patience.

        1. Julie K

          That’s true. It took me a couple of hours to go through all of the sweaters and all of the jeans to find what I eventually bought, but it was worth it!

  25. Liz in the City

    There are many industries and offices where those working have to dress up for clients. I’m in advertising. Though most of the time, we can get away with business casual or nice jeans and shoes, when clients come in, the entire office dresses up to portray a certain image (yes! entrust your tens of thousands of dollars to us!).

    OP-if there is a Talbots clearance outlet, get thee there. I’ve gotten dress pants for $4 and sweaters for $10 that were originally over $100.

    And don’t buy anything until you’ve worked there a few weeks. Just be dressed professionally and as coordinated / neatly as you can (I know that I, personally, can look business-appropriate, but I know that certain outfits make me feel shlumpy and others make me feel really put together — wear those until you figure out who needs to dress up!)

    1. Anon

      I second the Talbots Outlet. I got a beautiful gold silk dress org $200 for $40 and a leather jacket that ran about the same.

  26. Ariancita

    OP, here’s my advice if you want to dress the part; this is something I have quite a bit of experience with. I’ve mentions bits and pieces above:

    1. The handbag. This is the most important piece and what people will notice most, especially for the label. For classic office, I would go with LV (very conservative–lots of other great and in my opinion better handbags out there, but this sounds like your kind of office culture). They never go on sale, nor are there outlets, but most people buy them off of eBay and Bonanza (get it authenticated first).

    2. Get a second handbag, that’s nice, to switch out the LV, so it doesn’t wear out, but much much cheaper (Kate Spade–which has fantastic sales–or Coach, no monogram, which have outlets).

    3. Accessories: A nice scarf (like Burberry you saw–iconic), nice jewelry, but cheap (see Etsy or H&M, even F21 has conservative nice pieces sometimes).

    4. Nice outer coat, high quality, midrange designer label.

    Nothing else matters. Not even shoes, if they’re nice. I have a ton of designer shoes, and let me tell you, unless they have the red sole, no one notices the difference. And the styles in which you can tell are not appropriate for office. Just make sure they’re clean, nice, and real materials (like leather vs man made if you’re not a vegan). Most people I know into fashion don’t wear designer clothes, just nice, well-fitting clothes that are styled well (or boutique local designer brands–but I’m in NYC, so that’s not readily available else where). It’s the bag and accessories that matter. And they’re fairly one-time type investments (if you take care of the LV, you’ll be able to resell it fairly easily–I resold an LV for 3K).

    1. Jamie

      And they’re fairly one-time type investments (if you take care of the LV, you’ll be able to resell it fairly easily–I resold an LV for 3K).

      I was given an LV dufflebag when I went off to college – over 20 years ago – and it’s still beautiful. My purses come from Target/Kohl’s but if I go away for the weekend I’m fancy. :)

      Seriously, though – it’s still in perfect condition and I haven’t done a thing to it except store it properly. There is something to be said for quality lasting forever.

      1. Ariancita

        Some brands actually go up in value if you take care of it, like Channel classic flaps (though I don’t like the style myself).

  27. girlreading

    I was gonna reiterate what others have said, shop sales. Sign up for emails from stores so you know when the sales are and other discounts. Find secondhand stores and shop ebay and craigslist for used designer items. And if you do get a designer bag, you really only need one. Lots of people carry just one for a long time.

    But I agree with AAM in that you shouldn’t rush out and buy designer stuff. Wait and see if other admins are wearing this stuff. Also try to make friends with other admins and you can ask about this unofficial dress code- if it is requires ask them for shopping tips since they’re probably in the same boat financially.

    1. AMG

      That was something else I was going to point out and forgot. Once you are friendly with some people, ask them how they do it. I love a deal, and I will gladly spill to anyone who asks!

  28. Fishie

    This is an excellent question for the “hive” at Corporette.com. The site is geared toward professional women and focuses on fashion and lifestyle. Also, if you’re not a fashion person you may not know that designer accessories and designer clothes are very different. It’s very possible to dress well and beautifully without “designer” pieces per se, and if status accessories are the thing in that office, it may be less expensive to buy 1 or 2 designer accessories and keep the rest of your wardrobe to mall/department store brands. I highly recommend taking a look at the site and reading the comments. I have picked up lots of tips on scouting sales and found lots of non-designer labels that are high quality and affordbale. I have also taken a lot of advice on building a quality professional wardrobe. The commenting community is excellent – knowledgable, friendly, and inclusive. Highly recommend.

    Remember, quality, not quantity, will go far in a fashion-conscious office. And a tip from me to you (which I got from the Corporette community) is the Nordstrom Halogen seamed pencil skirt. Starts at $69, goes on sale often, tons of colors, well made, can’t hype it enough.

  29. Listmoney

    I think what they’re looking for is a highly-polished, stylish and professional group, instead of you *must* dress in designer labels. It sucks that you have to spend so much energy on this, but I think once you have a few signature pieces down, you’ll be okay.

    It definitely doesn’t take $200 to look like you have a $200 sweater on — you can find a piece that costs $80, but it just takes some time and a good eye. I have a black dress from H&M ($40) that everyone from my previous and current workplaces thought to be Club Monaco-quality in terms of appearance. I’ve found these items go a long way:
    – black (any dark colour would do) turtlenecks: Banana Republic has some well-made ones that are under $100. They’re not turtleneck sweaters (i.e. not itchy), but are made of “finer” material and really comfortable.
    – a well-fitted blazer — Zara is good for this. Note that fit is everything when it comes to blazers (or any clothing, really)
    – wool skirts in winter (or wool-blend): I can’t stand pencil skirts, but wool A-line skirts in grey or black are still stylish and reasonably comfortable
    – dark tights
    – some people recommend shift dresses, although I don’t really get this.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Dark colors definitely hide more flaws (or perceived flaws) of construction and fabric quality than light colors do. Maybe that’s why everyone in NYC wears black all the time. :P

      Wearing dark colors a lot can also hide something else: If your coworkers really are the type to a) notice the difference between Ann Taylor and Louis Vuitton and, more importantly, b) judge you on which one you have on, then keeping things to a dark, neutral palette makes it easier to make a small wardrobe look bigger than it is. If you buy a hot pink dress, forget about wearing that more than once every couple of weeks. But a good black dress can be worn far more often than that without anyone noticing.

      And, yes, consignment shops abound in this city, though good pieces are often still pretty damn expensive.

      Other posters have already recommended some great options for reasonably priced lines. I’d like to add BB Dakota to that list — it doesn’t have its own store, but you can find it at many NYC boutiques. (Just accept that you are going to have to buy a size larger than you normally do. It’s not you, it’s them!) And Aqua, one of the house brands at Bloomingdale’s, has well-made basics and trendy items at a fraction of the price of designer duds.

  30. Anonymous

    I live in NY too and everyone thinks I spend my last dime on clothes when in fact I bought each and every piece, except for the socks and underwear, at a second hand store. NYC is chock full of them. Many, many times I’ve found brand new items with the original tags still on them being sold for nothing. Try HousingWorks. They’re all over the city and they tend to be cleaner and carry more designer goods. My best day ever was to be there when the manager announced over the PA system that all winter coats were then $5. A grabbed a rack full!!!

    1. Lana

      I would totally go for a second-hand store in this case. There’re a lot of shopaholics out there who go broke and bankrupt for their designer clothes, and end up re-selling them to second-hand stores afterwards to deal with their debt. It’s a good idea! I do spend more on shoes and purses, but for the rest of it, what matters is your taste, style and neatness, not the tag.

  31. Anonymous

    I meant to add, do not ignore the dress code. This is New York and even the men–STRAIGHT men–notice attire and gossip. I spent a good 10 minutes this morning with a guy (an Hasidic Jew to boot) who needed to pinpoint the exact color of my shirt. BTW, it falls somewhere between salmon and orange.

  32. Alyssa

    I would also like to add that if it does end up that the OP “must” dress like everyone at the office, there are some great stores she can visit without breaking the bank. I recommend buying 1 or 2 expensive items (perhaps a great watch and designer pants; 1 handbag and 1 pair of shoes; etc.) and then mix in some lesser priced items – as a side note, I’ve had great success with eBay for purchasing expensive handbags and shoes. This is what I have done in the past, and people have always been convinced that I have an amazing wardrobe. Some stores off the top of my head she can visit to mix in less expensive, trendy items: Forever 21, Target, Gap, junior section at Nordstroms (BP), and any neighborhood boutiques that also sell some trendier items at lower prices. Regarding the make-up, with the advent of so many beauty blogs, she can visit these and find items that are dupes for higher priced make-up products. This is all very, very doable.

    1. Jamie

      I’ve tried high end makeup and tbh no matter where I venture I end up back with L’Oreal.

      It’s one of those cases where I have brand loyalty because every time I try another brand I end up disappointed and back with my usual stuff.

      Now I do have an empty compact of Chanel Double Perfection in my purse because I like the mirror – but my skin still looks better with L’Oreal Bare Minerals.

      I don’t know if this is an age thing or what as I’m in my 40’s but the best thing I ever did was switch from liquid foundation/powder to the powder only foundation. It’s so much lighter and looks much more polished and natural – and I don’t have to keep touching up.

      1. Sascha

        I think with makeup, you should use whatever works best for you – no matter if you got it from Walmart or Saks. If the makeup is wrong for your skin, it will always look bad. Or you could be like me and just not wear makeup at all. :) This is one of the many perks of my job!

      2. Kathryn T.

        I was really thrilled/disappointed when I learned how great Smashbox Photo Finish Primer is for my makeup. Thrilled, because damn, it is awesome and means that I use WAY less makeup. Disappointed, because it is $36 for a fluid ounce.

        Then I discovered that Monistat Dry Powder Anti Chafing Gel is virtually the exact same product, and is $8 for an ounce and a half. Done and done.

        1. Sascha

          And there ya have it. So many of these products are exactly the same thing, and the cost just depends on who is marketing it. I try to educate myself on ingredients for this very reason.

      3. Ellie H.

        In case anyone is looking for a recommendation I love the Bare Minerals line of makeup. It is really, really light and natural looking – nobody can tell I am wearing makeup. It’s so easy on your skin that you can actually sleep in it. It’s expensive but it lasts a really long time.

  33. KarenT

    If you need cheaper designer clothes, you are at a huuuge advantage being in NYC. If it does turn out you need designer clothes, head to Century 21. They sell discount designer clothes (lots of really high end stuff) and post their sales on their facebook wall. I’ve gotten Chanel sunglasses and Pucci scarves from there for a fraction of the retail price.
    Also, Woodbury outlets have designer outlets. I know there is one in New Jersey but they are also scattered about. They have Calvin Klein, Burberry, Coach, etc. outlets.

    1. Jamie

      Is this making anyone else want to leave work now and go shopping?

      Because I still need sunglasses…and now I want a new bag. And shoes.

      And I want one of you to show me how to wear scarves without looking like a dork. I see women look so stylish in them and I always feel like Mary Poppin’s frumpy sister when I try.

      Oh – and I have a clothing question and I do not want to ignite the pantyhose debate – but what do you guys wear on your feet under nice shoes if you aren’t wearing pantyhose. Those little nylon things I bought end up scrunching down or are visible. Is there a particular brand of those I should look for?

      1. KellyK

        I wear knee-highs, but they do tend to scrunch. I have wide calves, and I’ve noticed that queen-size knee-highs tend to work better than one-size.

        I’m still looking for a good pair of thigh-highs that I can wear with skirts.

        And I’m with you on the scarves…I definitely want to know how to wear them and what to wear them *with.*

        1. virago

          KellyK — I had to step out of lurker mode to tell you about Sock Dreams! I’ve ordered from them before (both thigh-highs and wool tights), and they’re the bomb — reasonably priced, swift delivery and a range of sizes. Diverse models, too, in terms of size, shape and gender. (No, I don’t work there!)

          The descriptions of the items they sell (socks, tights, thigh highs) include useful tips like “these are a snug style and are very comfy once on, but getting them on will take a little effort” or “These can be a bit loose around the feet and ankles.”

          Here are their thigh-highs. Some of them are obviously not office-friendly, but there are also more low-key selections, too. Have fun shopping!

          1. KellyK

            Thanks, Virago. I really love looking at Sock Dreams. In the past, I haven’t been able to find anything from them that’s both work-appropriate and my size, but it might be a good idea to break out the measuring tape and see if I can find something that works.

            1. virago

              I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find something workable at Sock Dreams. For me, at any rate, thigh-highs and cotton boy shorts are much more comfortable under long skirts than pantyhose. (This is not a salvo in the Pantyhose Debate — just my personal preference.)

              Nthing the need for scarf instruction. There’s a short story by Dorothy Parker in which one character says about another, “You mean those clothes of hers are intentional? Heavens, I always thought she was on her way out of a burning building.” That’s me in a scarf.

      2. Elizabeth

        I agree, I’m not up for another pantyhose debate, and I’m still not sure why anyone cares what another person is wearing in that respect. Our dress code only recently changed to allow bare legs, and I still don’t find a reason to care.

        I wear a lot of trouser socks & knee highs under pants. I have to have socks or hose of some kind with the prescription insoles I wear to be able to walk, or else the insoles start to smell. I wear size 18 slacks & 9 1/2 shoes, so I buy the queen-size version, and they pull up over my calves and stay put. The regularly sized ones don’t.

        I’ve tried the little nylon things that are supposed to be foot covers. They fall down the back of my feet, scrunch up between my toes & generally make me miserable.

        1. B

          I wear nice trouser socks that go up to the knee. This way they do not fall and you can also wear them with boots. Otherwise it is tights for me.

        2. FreeThinkerTX

          I was able to quit wearing knee-highs when I found Dr. Scholl’s “Odor-X” spray powder. Took care of the odor and my feet sticking to the insides of my shoes. I spray it on my feet and in my shoes. Can go all day in the Texas heat without a problem.

      3. The Other Dawn

        Yes, I am dying to shop right now.

        And I agree about the scarf thing. Other women look so nice in them, but I don’t have a clue as to what to buy, how to wear, or what to wear it with.

        1. Jamie

          I have a couple people have given me – by boss brought be this gorgeous silk scarf from her last trip to Iceland…but there is an art to wearing them.

          I wonder if it’s just an attitude. Like hats. I love hats – nothing is cuter than a fabulous hat…but I feel so self-concious in them that I can’t pull off the look. I’m not a “hat person.” and I so want to be.

          But scarves aren’t as showy as hats so maybe I could master becoming a scarf person.

          1. Elizabeth

            The hat thing is really about attitude. I wear them in the summer, because my office is across the street & technically 2 blocks from the main building, and I get burnt easily. I have a couple straw fedoras that coordinate with the basic colors I wear, and I just blow off any comments about them. But then, I get called the IS fashion plate by a couple other departments because I have a strong personal style that I stick with.

          2. The Other Dawn

            I’ve often thought the same thing, that it’s an attitude. I think it’s a little of both. You have to know what looks good on you and then be confident in the way you carry yourself. Maybe I’ll experiment sometime.

            I’m definitely not a hat person. I have naturally curly hair and for years I fought it, always spending at least 45 minutes blow drying, styling and hair spraying. Of course, it was no use because I would go outside and either the humidity would curl it up again, or the wind would blow and knock it out of place. If I spend that much time and effort on my hair, I’m sure not going to risk getting “hat head”. LOL I’ve since let my hair go completely curly though (last year). Now all I do is take it out of the towel, run some gel through it, and shake my head a few times. Done.

          3. Rana

            The hat thing also depends on the shape of your head and wearing them often enough that people just register it as “your thing” instead of “What IS that on her head?”

            I wear a LOT of hats, especially in winter, because I get cold even indoors, but I get away with it because (a) the rest of my outfit tends to be boring, (b) I have a tall forehead, so I wear hats instead of having bangs, (c) I have fine hair so I never get “hat hair,” and (d) most of my hats tend to fit closely to the head instead of having large brims, lots of flowers, etc.

        1. KarenT

          Yes! And if the OP is going to designer shop, then I strongly recommend ShopBop, Piper Lime, and Blue Fly for designer clothes on discount. All high end designers at discounted prices.

      4. Natalie

        I’ve just resigned myself to those little footie socks being somewhat visible and bought a color that matched my skin tone closely. In general, if one of my co-workers is scrutinizing my feet I think the problem lies with them. :)

        As far as scrunching, I recently bought some of the little socks from Banana Republic to get an order to qualify for a really good discount and they were miles better than the ones from Target.

      5. Megan

        Jamie – check this out for scarves: http://www.scarves.net/scarf-tying-index.html

        They all seem to have step-by-step photo instructions, and at least some have videos as well (thank god – sometimes I can’t even figure the pictures out). I’m a fan of the ones they call “four-in-hand” and “boho loose knot.”

        I get those little tan mini-sock things, even though they show and I often have to pull them up. One day I’ll find something better…

  34. Kate

    I work in fundraising. While of course I can’t speak to your particular office, it’s pretty common that development officers dress much nicer than the rest of the staff. In the hierarchy of staff dressiness, it goes development officers (well-tailored suits, designer accessories, always heels), outward facing staff like volunteer coordinators (dressy clothes but not designer), and inward facing staff like marketing, IT, and some admins (business casual). Where you fall in that hierarchy depends on how much interaction you have with donors.

    This is commonly recognized to the extent that “Hey, you look like a development officer—big meeting today?” is a running joke.

  35. Anonymous

    In NYC, head to Second Time Around. There are several around Manhattan and at least one elsewhere (Hoboken). Also, there is a Goodwill store on W. 25th St and 6th Ave (I think) that is great. Lots of work-appropriate clothes.

    1. anonoposter

      This a a huge second for second-hand. I purchased a wool Burberry skirt suit at the 25th street Goodwill last week. I’m having both pieces taken in just a smidgen, but it was only $60, all of which goes to a good cause!

    2. Ellie H.

      There are a lot of Second Time Arounds including a couple good ones in the Boston area. I’m wearing a fantastic J. Crew grey tweed wool miniskirt (not too mini for work) that I got there for $25 right now.

  36. kristinyc

    Okay, I’m in NYC in a fashion-oriented office too, so I’ll weigh in:

    (I’ll preface this with: I work in a very fashionable office in Soho, and I can’t afford to wear designer clothes. I shop 100% at Gap, Banana Republic, and Piperlime).

    Buy classic, versatile pieces with no branding on them at all (think solid color shirts, nice pants/skirts, a good black dress, a good colorful dress, some cardigans, and you’re in NYC after all – some good, tall, black boots). Uniqlo, Gap, and H&M are your friends for basic pieces. You may need to buy a designer bag (or REALLY good knockoff), but that’s better than buying a whole designer wardrobe!

    It’s all about how you style your clothes to make them look more expensive than they are. Tuck in your shirt, wear belts, wear statement jewelry. Buy nicer shoes and get them re-soled once a year. Manicures are super cheap in NYC (especially if you go out of Manhattan – $7 in Astoria!). Accessorize! (NY&Company has a lot of great inexpensive jewelry!)

    Looking put together goes a LONG way! I’ve found that looking stylish and put together in less expensive clothes looks SO much better than trying to wear knock-off designer clothes (or even worse, the cheapest designer clothes you can find that aren’t really all that great – because let’s face it, not all designer clothes actually look good).

    Check out this blog for come great ideas for looking put together:
    http://www.puttingmetogether.com/2012/02/building-remixable-wardrobe-part-1.html

  37. Leslie Anne

    If you invest in anything, invest in accessories, its what people will notice first. Also as a New Yorker, don’t forget about Century 21 (try the one at Lincoln Center), Nordstrom rack and all the fabulous samples sales we have access to! Otherwise, I’ve know many a fashionista who has rocked a Forever 21 or H&M dress without anyone being the wiser! Also, like many have already said, it’s all about fit and tailoring!

  38. ITwannabe

    I didn’t read all the comments to see if this idea had been presented, but one thing I did was to go to a good store, try on some clothing, get my sizes, and then check on eBay for the same or similar items. I got them at a fraction of the retail price that way.

    You might also check the “Capitol Hill Style” blog. Look under “10th Commandment”. She presents a look in a variety of price ranges. I hope this helps!

  39. Mike C.

    As a guy in the tech/manufacturing sector, this thread has been oddly enlightening. I appreciate all of the ammunition you’ve given me the next time someone says, “you spent what on a pen?!” I’m sure it will come in handy in the future. ;)

    1. Jamie

      Oh, that reminds me I forgot to be mad at you.

      Somehow the conversations of pens came up with my husband and I pulled up the links you posted to the ones you use…

      Yeah – he’s browsing. He doesn’t even write stuff down, but apparently he’s always wanted one and you, some guy he’ll never meet on the internet, is validation that it’s worth the money. :)

      So…thanks! You’re like an evangelist!

      1. Mike C.

        Haha! :p

        Point him towards a Pilot Metropolitan. $15, comes with everything, looks professional and writes like a dream. That will start him off on the right foot without going crazy. I have two for work, and they’re even tough enough to let others try out.

    2. Elizabeth

      For me, the recognition that the schlumpy business casual dress that I’d always worn was causing people to discount my abilities was a turning point in how I dressed.

      Dressing better takes some investment, not just of money but of time. I always have to think about what meetings I have on a given day and who will be at those meetings. I have to think about what message the color combination I’m wearing sends (black & red together are inherently aggressive, so they need to be toned down by what fabric the clothing is made of).

      But, being aware of what I wear and how others perceive me pays off consistently. I can be a little funky in my clothing choices (I have a bright pink velvet blazer, for example), but I can do it deliberately. I get results that my colleagues who don’t pay attention to those perceptions don’t get.

  40. Nan

    Nothing to add to the fashion discussion, but as someone who works with charities often, I always find it SO off-putting when someone comes into a meeting with me dressed in majorly expensive designer things while asking for my company to donate X or partner with them on Y. I realize it is totally standard in the fundraiser business, but it definitely causes the person to loose a lot of credibility in our eyes, which I realize is unfair as they are just fitting their standards. Still, I wish more people would think about how it comes across to be dressed so extravagantly while begging for money, particularly when you are working for a charity that deals with economically disadvantaged people – we definitely have joked post-meetings about how one woman’s purse was ten times worth more than the total donation she was asking for our company to give, and how perhaps she should just put it up on eBay and take the tax deduction herself and give herself the rest of the day off!

    On a personal level, while I often will add a little personal donation of my own money when I come across worthy charities in the course of my job, I will admit that I am much less likely to do that when I see the people working on behalf of the charity dressing like they are in a much higher tax bracket than I am – subconsciously I guess I just think “well, my $50 would just be a drop in the bucket, look at her $500 shoes, what good would my piddly donation do, it’s practically embarrassing that this is all I can give, so instead I won’t give anything.”

    I think also its a matter of common sense – our company is very casual and the vast majority of our employees are very working/middle class – something that is fairly obvious from what we do – so when people have meetings with us, they should know to dress business/casual.

    1. Kate

      That’s an interesting perspective. Having been on the other side of it, I’ve found that donors seem to prefer development officers who are dressed up. This is especially true of corporations and foundations. It seems to say to them, “Hey, we’re professional and have it together and will be good stewards of your money,” instead of, “Hey, as you can tell, we’re really desperate for cash.” If it were up to me, I’d go for neatly dressed but not flashy, but it does appear that most donors respond best to more formal (and sometimes expensive) attire.

      1. Nan

        I think you are exactly right with neatly dressed by not flashy. And I think perhaps flashy might work with some people, but it really is a matter of knowing your audience – coming to a small casual business like mine while wearing designer stuff is weird, but I can see where people might respond well in a Fortune 500 company. For us, it raises questions of if they don’t know us as their audience, what else are they clueless about.

  41. MA

    I work for a non-profit where you could say the unspoken dress code is “designer.” We have a lot of women in upper management and they all wear clothes that probably cost more than my paycheck. That being said management doesn’t expect “designer” so much as they expect you to look “trendy.”

    There is no way that I can afford all the labels these ladies wear, but I can use my fashion sense. And as much as it pains me to use terms like this, utilize the “third piece” in your outfit choices. A “third piece” is a great handbag, scarf, jacket, or piece of jewelry that adds a pop to your outfit. I often wear solid colors and pair my outfits with a brightly colored heel or jewelry. Even though my outfits are not designer label, I get a lot of compliments (and was even told I’m one of the best dressed in the office!). The most important part is not the cost but that your outfits look crisp, clean, and in style.

    Is it ridiculous? Yes, but I work where I work so you sometimes have to suck it up. And as much as I hate to say it, this style of dressing is incredibly important in some offices (including mine). We actually had a few fundraising employees who were let go because they wore clothes that tended to look very junior.

    For the employees in our office that don’t interact with the public as much, the standard isn’t as high. However, if you wear a wrinkled shirt or some interesting pattern combinations you will get the stank eye from upper management.

  42. Nyxalinth

    If it’s any comfort at all, they hired the OP because she would be a good fit for the organization. Of course, I’m assuming that they are good at interviewing, too! I stand by all the fashion advice given.

  43. Lulu

    I’m certainly envying all of you who have such luck with thrifting/consignment! Not sure if it’s Los Angeles, the locations I go to, my size or my taste, but I rarely have luck going that route, unfortunately :( Marshalls/TJ Maxx/Ross or Nordie Rack can definitely be a good second choice if your timing is right, but still not as inexpensive as secondhand. I *have* done what someone above suggested re: ebay, although with shoes – figure out your size elsewhere, then keep an eye out for it on auction, although prices there seem to have gone up a bit these days, too.

    OP, hopefully this turns out to be a non-issue, as regardless of the COST of the nicer clothes, sounds like it would also be time & brainpower consuming to have to become so specifically wardrobe-focused!

  44. Ashley

    I only read through some of the comments, so someone else may have mentioned this already, but there are some great online “rental” sites for designer stuff life purses and shoes. You can use the item for a month, send it back, and get something new for a monthly fee. And places like shoedazzle.com have trendy, high end shoes for $40 a month, and you get a new pair each month to keep. Something to look into!

  45. Sara

    Forgive me if this was asked or if it’s off topic but living in NYC, how can you really tell just by a glance if the Louis Vuitton or Burberry scarves are real, or the makeup is expensive? I’ve been in NYC all my life, in many different parts so I’ve seen LOTS of women, AND I love to shop, but I usually can’t tell if someone is wearing really expensive makeup or drugstore stuff. I know if you inspect something closely, you can tell the difference, but I’m not sure if on can get that close during an office tour.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d love to hear if anyone disagrees, but I’d be shocked if people can tell whether someone is wearing expensive makeup or not. I think people generally buy pricier makeup because they themselves prefer it (better for their skin, or longer-wearing, or whatever), not because others see a difference.

      1. Sara

        Exactly–I have gone back and forth between the “cheap” drugstore brands like Maybelline and Revlon and the higher-end brands like Mac and Lancome etc (I’m a sephora junkie!) but I wouldn’t expect anyone to tell the difference.

        The only way I can tell a bag is designer is if it’s LV or it has the logo all over it (coach, Michael Kors, Tori Burch etc)

      2. Job seeker

        I have worn both pricier and less expensive and I really believe your skin underneath the makeup is what makes a difference. I believe in good skin care (soaps, moisturizers, primers, eye creams and serums and some of these can be a little costly. The new BB creams can double as makeup with a softer touch if you have good skin. If you have soft clear skin many makeups look great. Even pricier makeups cannot coverup skin that has been neglected.

      3. Rana

        I agree on the make-up – what makes it expensive (aside from image) is the quality of the ingredients, how they feel on your skin, what they smell like, how nice a container it comes in, etc. With the possible exception of bad foundation (it can get clumpy), I’ve found that the results are pretty similar between department store stuff like Clinique or Bobbi Brown and drug store stuff like L’Oreal and Maybelline. And sometimes it depends on product; I go high-end for lipstick and eyeliner (sensitive eyes) but there’s nothing better than Maybeline’s old standard mascara – even the pros prefer it.

        Bags and clothing… depends on the designer. Most are made of higher end materials (silk rather than polyester), but I’ve found that quality can vary considerably. In some cases the higher cost reflects greater care in the stitching and lining and overall design combined with higher quality materials; those, you usually can tell, if you know what to look for.

        For others, it’s more about the Name and Being in Fashion, and those things can often be of poorer quality than the knock-offs. Want to horrify yourself sometime? Go into a place like Sacks 5th Avenue and play “find the poorly sewn clothes.” I find it horrifying to encounter things like t-shirts with frayed hems and hanging threads going for $700.

  46. Chocolate Teapot

    For cosmetics, I have started reading the list of ingredients to work out the difference in price. Often it seems to be a concentration of a particular product.

    I live somewhere where Saturday afternoons in town can be very intimidating as the streets are full of designer handbags. I tend to stick to smart, less well known brands, but then I do have an advantage of being able to get to Italy or France easily to load up with leather goods!

    I do second the advice about sales and retail outlets though. I have managed to pick up some designer stuff at a fraction of the price.

  47. Jamie

    I have a question about tailoring since we’ve talked about it here.

    I have an amazing cashmere sweater – it’s my favorite shade of pink and feels like I’m draped in happiness when I wear it – but it’s slightly too big to feel totally professional.

    I do wear it to work with chinos and stuff – it’s fine – but the shoulders hang a little lower than they should. I wouldn’t want it taken in as much as just the shoulders put in the right place – because that would take it to where I can wear it for bigger meetings and it would be more professional.

    Can they tailor cashmere? And I don’t want to shrink it because I love the length and the way it fits every where else…just the shoulders and sleeves.

    I’ve never gotten anything tailored ever (IT/Mfg – seriously – no one cares) but you guys have inspired me to spruce it up a little bit.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary

      Knitter here. The answer is YES!!

      Look for a yarn shop (a real one, not like Michael’s). Call them and ask if they have a knitter who you can hire to alter your sweater. They will know their regulars and how talented they are and may be able to hook you up with someone who can fix it for you.

      It will probably cost you more than tailoring a non-knitted garment but if this is a beloved cashmere sweater, you’ll probably wear it for 20 more years anyway.

      1. Jamie

        I saw a comparable one at Lord and Taylor for $700 some dollars (YIKES!) and I picked it up at a consignment store for $8.99 (YAY) and it’s in perfect condition and I do want to wear it forever.

        You are the BEST – I never would have thought of a knit place. We have one in our town that people come from all over the area to visit. Perfect!

        1. Your Mileage May Vary

          I go to Goodwill and buy sweaters that I cannibalize for yarn. They don’t care if the sweater is acrylic or cashmere; it’s priced the same. On half-off day, I can get several thousand dollars worth of cashmere yarn for less than fifty bucks. Feeds my addiction cheaply and supports a good cause. Win-win!!

          Good luck with the sweater.

  48. The Other Dawn

    It’s obviously long after the initial post, but just wanted to say that I took the advice of some people who said to check Ebay for designer items. As a result, I just bought my very first Coach bag!! I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a purse so I never bothered before. Well, I found a gorgeous bag from the 2011 season(NEW) and paid about 25% of the MSRP. :)

  49. Sara

    I’m really late to the response party here but oh wow if you are here in NYC there are sooo many options

    Sample sales sample sales sample sales. Most aren’t really samples but retail overstock. Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, Theory, DVF… The Helmut/Theory damage/irregular sale is also great as many just have a seam pulling out or broken zipper that can be fixed for cheap.

    Loehmanns/Century 21

    Department store clearance – I’ve found great stuff under $150 at Bergdorf, Barney’s, Saks, Bloomingdales

    Seasonal clearance sales at stores like Scoop

    Outlets

    Consignment in-store and online (try Therealreal.com)

    Gilt/rue lala etc

  50. Amber Marchetti

    I’m curious to know what you were wearing during the interview. By your shock, it seemed as if you weren’t wearing anything flashy during the interview so obviously that didn’t keep you from getting the job.

    Just because everyone in the office is wearing designer doesn’t mean you have to. There are plenty of elegant style clothing that isn’t designer yet high-quality enough to be worn several times over the course of your position there. Brand name designs change quickly so stick with classic, timeless styles that will never go out of fashion. You won’t break your wallet but at the same time, you will be able to ‘blend-in’ better with people wearing couture. A nicely tailored suit will never go out of fashion…and will last a lifetime!

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