Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seven Tips for Dressing for a Career on a College Student's Budget

It may be your first job, internship in college, or (in our case) student teaching, but chances are eventually you'll have to "join the professional world" and look like you belong there. Here are seven items and strategies for making a easier transition into the white collar world.

1. Iron. I bought my first iron junior year of college. My husband thought it was ridiculous that he would doing any ironing of his shirts and tried to prove the point by asking our (male) roommate if he had ever ironed before in his life; he said no. Later that day, I found our roommate using it and he admitted that since he had a photography gig later that day he should probably look nice for it. Also, an ironing board is a good idea, but not necessary. Put a blanket or folded sheet down on a wooden table or on the floor and iron your clothes on top of that. If you do get an ironing board, look for a tabletop board (with short legs) or one that hangs on a door and folds ups for storage.

2. Febreeze. On those days when you're running late, or it's Monday and you didn't get to doing any laundry this weekend. Just go over your clothes with a couple of sprays. Yeah, it's cheap and a little gross, but it won't be as noticeable as trying to mask your smell with cologne or perfume.

3. Lint brush. There are two types, a traditional lint brush, and the masking tape kind (or lint roller). Cut corners by just using a piece of actual masking tape and patting down your shirt and pants. This is a duck tape version. This is essential if you have pets, but a good idea for anyone.

4. Tide to-go pen. I know many people who rely on these. There have been dozens of times my husband and I have ruined a shirt because of stains. If you're not used to being careful with your clothes, it's not an instantaneous change when you need to be. They're not too cheap though. Around $3 for one, and just under $2 apiece for the five-pack. Maybe I'll try to find a way to make my own.

5. Wash your clothes in the sink. This saves money on coin laundry machines if that's what you typically use. More importantly, machines also wear out your clothes; if you spent $30 on a shirt, why let the machine shorten its lifespan? Use cold water to prevent shrinking. For white shirts, use spot remover on the cuffs and collars, which get dirty easily. For drying, lay your garment on a towel, roll up the towel with the garment still in it, and step on the rolled up towel to squeeze out water. This a a gentler way of "wringing" your clothes, than simply hand wringing. Finally, put the shirt on the hanger over the bathtub or better yet, lay flat on a drying rack if you have one.

6. Undershirts. It may go without saying, but you'll have to wash your nice shirts less often and you're white shirts will stay whiter. T-shirts for men, camisoles for women. No excuses.

7. Basic Pieces. According to Forbes there are nine different suits you should have, all wool, and all contemporary designer labels like Ralph Laren (I like Ralph Laren, but I buy him at TJ Maxx.) If you need a suit, charcol or grey is the best color, though Forbes thinks navy. Be careful how much focus and money you put into suits. For IT, engineering, teaching, journalism, and many offices, people NEVER wear suits and you'll feel quite awkard if you do. These are the wardrobe basics for the casual office:
- Light pants (tan) - Any color shirts will work with the tan pants.
- Dark pants (grey or black with a pattern) - The dark pants will work with most things (avoid pairing with browns).
- Two white shirts.
- Five other color shirts.
- One or two sweaters/vests.
- For some more variety, consider a blazer for the man and a skirt for the woman.

I hope this helps. These are the cheap tricks we use at least a couple of times a week to make up for the fact, we have no money to throw around at clothes, dry cleaning, or even laundering.

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