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Your appearance often reflects how you think about yourself and in turn, gives others a glimpse of who you are as well. So remember, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about this new chapter in your life, just put together a cute outfit, smile at your reflection in the mirror and march forth

Whether you’re on the job search or preparing to start your career, having a presentable appearance is key to making a good impression on employers while also ensuring you feel more confident in your role. One of the biggest issues I have seen people struggle with is not only deciding what clothing items to purchase but also how to stay within budget without comprising on quality and choice. To get you started I've created a list of wardrobe staples to help you nail your workplace attire and make a lasting impression at your workplace.

As they say that when you look good, you feel good – and no, it’s not just a cliché! Studies suggest that how we dress not only influences what others think of us but also how we think about ourselves. When you feel good about what you’re wearing, there is measurable improvement in your mental and emotional state. Researchers call this “enclothed cognition,” which explains how what we wear can affect our behavior, attitudes, emotions, and interactions. 

In addition to making us feel good, what we wear can also have a significant impact on how others perceive us. This becomes especially important when  being interviewed for a job as first impressions contribute to something called the halo effect -- the phenomenom of "positive qualities in one thing or part giving rise to the perception of similar qualities in related things or in the whole” (Dorbin, 2013). In other words, being well put together can positively influence how others perceive your performence in other areas. Thus, your clothing is not just what you choose to wear but also a way of signaling to others who you are, what you value, and even how you'll perform in your new job. 

So here are some styling tips for students who want to look professional on a budget: 

Above the Waist

To create contrast, utilize blouses and button-down shirts to put your outfit together and find a fit that works for you. Some pieces are made to be looser whilst others are more on the slim side. H&M has hundreds of affordable shirts and blouses for around $30, making it easy to purchase multiple pieces rather than spending a large portion of your budget on one or two shirts.

Image separated into 3 boxes; three women wearing different types of button-down shirts

Image of three men in three different boxes, wearing different styles of button-down shirts

Blazers

Blazers are a great addition if you’re looking to polish off your outfit. However, finding the right fit can be a difficult task. The first step in deciding whether any blazer is right for you or not is by looking at how it fits your shoulders. The blazer’s seam should align right where your shoulder ends. If the seam falls closer to your neck, then it may be too small. On the other hand, if the seam is below your shoulder then it may indicate it is too big. Simons has a great collection of workwear including blazers that you can find for under $60. A blazer instantly adds sophistication and a look of professionalism, helping to tie together your outfit.

Image split indow 3 different windows; there is a person in each window modelling a different style of blazer. Floral, Long Sleeve, Short Sleeve

Three men wearing three different blazers; navy, cream and vest

Below the Waist

A popular retailer and personal favourite, Zara always has an array of options for every kind of style. Whether you favour solid, striped, or patterned; tight, slim, or loose fits, Zara offers great quality options for the ideal price. Patterned and striped bottoms work well with solid tops and blazers – perfect for mix and matching. For a more classic and everyday look, try a solid coloured pant and pair it with a coloured shirt.

From Left to Right: Person wearing a midi-skirt, person wearing slim black pants, person wearing floral pants

From left to right: A person wearing slim black pants, person wearing plaid pants, person wearing navy pants

Jackets and Coats

Department stores are great options for finding deals on coats and jackets. Their sales are usually huge, helping you find massive discounts on designer wear. The Bay and Nordstrom offer great discounts throughout the year – be sure to check their websites for the most up to date promotions. Not only can these coats be worn to and from work but can be utilized for other outings and events.

From Left to right: Person modelling a grey, wool jacket, person modelling a plaid jacket, person wearing a black jacket with drawstrings

Shoes

The Bay offers great promotions and sales throughout the year so that you can grab the best for less. One of the most important things to look for in a shoe is comfort – after all, you will be spending your entire day in them. For the ladies, it’s great to have the option of a little pump for important meetings as well as a comfortable flat on more casual work days. Similarly, for gentlemen, a sleek, suede loafer works well for business-casual attire in addition to a more traditional leather dress shoe.

From left to right, top to bottom: Leather flats with ankle support, regular flats, chunky heels with a two inch heel, Brown leather mens shoe, black suede men's shoe, black and brown men's shoe

As students, it can be tough to fund a new wardrobe alongside the lengthy list of alterations that are typically needed. By buying clothes that fit you well, you can save a ton of money and get the most wear out of your items. Every item I have listed here is under $100!

Whilst most of us are quick to think that a business wardrobe is going to break the bank, finding suitable stores that offer great deals and sales is absolutely key to staying within your budget. Investing in some new (and reasonably priced) office attire is a great step toward feeling more confident as you enter the workplace and prepare for interviews. Your appearance often reflects how you think about yourself and in turn, gives others a glimpse of who you are as well. So remember, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about this new chapter in your life, just put together a cute outfit, smile at your reflection in the mirror and march forth.

References:

Blakeslee, S. (2012). Mind games: Sometimes a white coat isn’t just a white coat. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/clothes-and-self-perception…

Dorbin, A. (2013). The power of first impressions. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/am-i-right/201302/the-power-fir…

SFU Student
Phoebe Baker is a fourth year Communications major who utilizes her membership in SFU’s Her Campus chapter, as well as the OLC, as a creative and expressive outlet. Beyond her degree, she aspires to have a career in digital journalism with a primary focus on social media.

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