How to Look Professional on a Budget as a Male

Men are fortunate when it comes to budgeting money for work clothes because wearing the same suit over and over isn’t as big a negative as wearing a dress over and over. And do we even have to talk about shoes? For most men, a standard black pair and brown pair are all that's required. Men with limited cash to spend on a work wardrobe can focus on accessories to help them look professional. Concentrate on shirts, ties, belts and handkerchiefs to develop a professional, white-collar look on a blue-collar salary.

Meet with your human resources director or your direct supervisor and ask for the company’s dress code. Read your employee manual if the company has one. Ask if suits are required or if jackets will suffice. Look at the other employees during your interview or the first day on the job and notice the suit colors others wear, whether their pants are cuffed or not, the colors and patterns of their shirts, how conservative or loud their ties are, and if they wear pocket kerchiefs.

Ask a female friend what your coloring is and how this should guide you in your clothing purchases. Coloring is a general term based on your hair color and skin tone that can guide you as you buy clothes. You might need to stay away from or gravitate toward certain colors, which can highlight your features, clash with your coloring or “wash you out,” making you look drab.

Purchase one or two suits, depending on your budget, if you will be required to wear one, or if your colleagues wear suits. Choose a charcoal grey suit if you can only afford one suit, and a black or navy suit if you can afford a second. Add pinstripes if you work in a more casual environment. Wide stripes will get you noticed more, but they will also remind everyone you are wearing “that” suit again. Choose wool, if you can afford it.

Shop at thrift and resale stores in trendy neighborhoods, especially ones with younger, professional residents. Contact national chain stores in your area and ask when they will have sales. Take a female whose taste you trust along to make sure inexpensive or two-for-one suits don’t look shabby. Have your suits tailored so they drape and hang well on you. Price tailoring services at local tailor shops before you pay for alterations where you buy your suit. Tailoring is where many clothiers try to make up the money they discount during sales.

Buy five pairs of pants if you won’t be wearing suits. This will give you one pair for each workday and won't break the budget. Choose two black, and one dark blue, brown and grey pair. Choose a light wool/gabardine blend rather than cotton, depending on whether you want to dress up more than wearing khakis. Substitute a pair of khakis if your office is casual or has a casual Friday. Have your pants tailored to avoid a baggy butt, a crotch that pops up when you sit down, and frayed ends.

Purchase long-sleeve shirts in solid colors or conservative patterns. Choose white, blue, gray and other neutral colors. Add a subdued pink shirt for when you want to show confidence and style. Choose striped shirts if you want a more slimming look or a bit more style. Avoid horizontal patterns if you have a weight problem.

Buy one brown belt and one black belt. Choose braided belts if your office dress is more casual, and solid belts if you are wearing suits and ties. Buy one brown pair and one black pair of shoes. Avoid tassels if your office dress is more formal, especially if you will be wearing suits and ties. Ask a woman’s advice on shoes.

Purchase several ties, starting with conservative, solid colors. If you wear suits, choose a blue, yellow and red tie. Add brighter colors and patterned ties based on your coloring and the shirts you’ve chosen. Do not buy novelty ties — look at how many other similar ties a store sells and avoid very unique ties. Ask a store clerk for help choosing matching kerchiefs when you buy, if you want to add a personal flair to your wardrobe.


About the Author

Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.