After I graduated college and began looking for my first job, I realized that I didn't have much in the way of business-friendly clothing. I wanted a skirt suit for interviews, as well as a few pieces that could be worn to work in a professional environment.
The first thing I bought was the suit. We went to Nordstrom, and bought a suit off the clearance rack. It was a simple, classic black affair of decent quality. We got it for close to 70% off. The suit was perfect for job interviews, and it could also be mixed and matched, since I could wear the skirt, sans jacket, with different shoes and blouses.
As I built the rest of my professional wardrobe, here are some things I kept in mind, since funds were limited at the time:
Look For Versatile Items
Versatility is one of the best ways to avoid spending a great deal of money on business attire. Look for solid colors, and try not to buy too much that can only be worn with one other piece. My husband has a few different slacks, in black, brown and dark blue, that he can mix and match with button down shirts.
Versatility can also include buying classic pieces. While one or two trendy items can be fun to have (and cheap to pick up if you get them on clearance just as the trend is on the way out), you will always be replenishing your wardrobe to keep up with the latest. Classic clothing items can be used for years, giving you more bang for the buck, and saving you money.
Buy On Discount
There are a number of ways to buy on discount. The Internet is full of discounted clothing. Additionally, you can look for clearance items and big seasonal sales from department stores in town. And, of course, don't forget stores like Marshalls, Ross and TJ Maxx. You can find a number of quality name brand clothing items (and accessories to go with them) for low prices. However, if you do end up with flawed clothing, make sure that the flaws aren't noticeable. Buying clothing for less, especially if it's versatile, can ensure that your wardrobe budget stretches that much further.
Search for high quality second hand clothing. Ask your friends and family for hand me downs. You can also head to consignment shops. Some thrift stores also have high quality clothing, gently used, at low prices. However, if you do buy at a thrift store, try to identify the day of the week on which new items are set out. Many thrift stores have a regular schedule, so if you are there on the day new merchandise is displayed, you have best pick of what's available.
Sometimes, you can also find good deals on second hand clothing at yard sales, but you are likely to have more success at an estate sale if you are looking for something a little more high end.
Of course, I no longer worry too much about a professional business wardrobe, since I work from home. But if I ever need to rejoin the professional workforce, I'll have a strategy ready.