How To Dress Professionally In College When You’re On A Budget

How To Dress Professionally On A College Budget

This post is sponsored by UniDays and Her Campus Media. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Macarons & Mascara possible!


While I do love scrolling through Pinterest to look for super cute interview-ready, business-y outfits, I’ll be the first to admit that dressing professionally and stylishly can be quite difficult and expensive at our age. I’m pretty sure I can buy at least a dozen pairs of leggings with the money I’d use to buy one pair of dress pants (and that’s if I don’t go to the super expensive stores!). Plus, we’re young, so we sometimes think that it’s acceptable to just wear nice leggings (the ones we don’t workout in) and a blazer to a meeting or interview, or we stress ourselves out and overdress and end up feeling awkward and out of place.

And it’s really important to have professional items on hand as a college student (especially if you dorm) because you never know when the opportunity for an interview or professional meeting will arise. So basically, I’m here to reassure you that looking professional and cute as a college student can actually be less expensive and less stressful than you might think. I’m sharing my college-budget-approved tips for saving money and pairing items that work, so read on for the deets!

Related: How I Landed A Beauty + Fashion Editorial Internship In NYC

1. Be on the hunt for sales and discounts.

This is seriously the easiest way to save money on items you really want to purchase, and the good news is that discounts are available for so many of your favorite brands. UNiDAYS is a savings service network particularly for college students because, you guys, I’m pretty sure none of us know an undergrad who will gladly pay full price for anything. They offer discounts from brands like Apple, Urban Outfitters, ASOS, and Express (where I was able to purchase the outfit you’re going to see at a discounted price!). Need a new laptop case but don’t want to shell out $50 for one? UNiDAYS has your back. Studying abroad and need a few items to bring along? Yeah, save the real spending for when you’re buying souvenirs abroad.

Yes, you do have to sign up for UNiDAYS, but it’s insanely easy so you can literally have discounts and deals at your fingertips (perfect for when you really don’t want to run up your credit card bill this month!). Not only that, but they also have a really cute, really insightful blog called The Edit that gives career, beauty, and fashion advice. I loved this post on Summer Internship Outfits because it actually breaks everything down by industry (so helpful!).

I personally prefer UNiDAYS over company newsletter sign-ups because sorry, but I don’t want to receive 20 emails in the same day all about the same sale that isn’t really a sale because the original price gets jacked up by a lot before any discounts are applied. Since you’ll have an account, you just need to sign in and browse the brands you’re interested in purchasing items from. Just click on the site to get the discount code and apply it at check out. Voila! P.S., they also have member-only giveaways on a variety of things ($500 for back to school shopping sounds ah-mazing!).

2. Purchase patterned blouses.

Collared shirts with cute patterns and designs like subtle polka dots or stripes are the perfect professional closet essential because you can still look like a fun, young intern or interviewee while also looking put together. I found a discount for Express (one of my favorite stores) on the UNiDAYS site, so I purchased this flowy, floral print top. I don’t have too many floral tops for professional occasions, so when I saw this one I knew it would be the perfect way to add a little flair and personality to an outfit (which is totally okay for interviews!). You guys, it’s SO PRETTY and I can’t stop loving it! The V-neck is subtle and I love that the material is breathable and doesn’t cling onto you (Lord knows I’m trying to avoid sweating through my clothes during interviews!).

How To Dress Professionally On A College Budget

Don’t waste money going after any uber complicated outfit sets or anything like that. Find three or four collared tops with patterns you like and keep them in your closet for that job interview. Pair them with solid colored pants (more on that later) and you’ll be good to go!

3. Invest in one good, versatile blazer.

You seriously only need ONE blazer in your closet right now. Just. One. Not six, and definitely not 20. You shouldn’t be spending money for a new blazer every time you have a new occasion to wear one for. So opt for darker colors like black or navy blue that are more likely to go with whatever you have in your closet so you don’t feel like you have to keep purchasing new pieces to make your outfit work. I know it can be tempting to buy blazers in a variety of pretty colors so you can mix and match pieces for your outfit like a Pinterest pro, but it’s always better to stick to more versatile options first. Especially if you’re like me and will probably change your mind about your outfit at the last possible second.

4. Purchase solid-colored pants.

Again, the more versatile the better! It’s easier to pair more elements with a simple pair of navy blue chinos than it is to pair with blue and white striped slacks. I purchased these beautiful pink pants alongside the floral top from Express because I knew they’d work perfectly together and I’m not disappointed! The pants looked so appealing because I wanted something that would be a little on the loose side. And I love the self-tie at the waist because it ads a cute, girly element to the piece while still keeping things simple. These pants would look so good with lots of other blouses that I have, too, so it won’t be difficult for me to figure out what to wear.

How To Dress Professionally On A College Budget

That’s my full outfit above (I’m so in love!!!). If you’re thinking of being a little ~adventurous~ and purchasing, say, green, red, or other colored pants, just run through the tops you have to make sure you have enough items to pair with the bottom you’re thinking of getting, or you might have to spend more money to have at least one complete outfit.

How To Dress Professionally On A College Budget

5. Take advantage of “buy one, get one” deals.

Buy one blouse, get one blouse half-priced? Sounds pretty good to me! You might as well snatch up these kinds of in-store deals while they’re available because you never know when that second pair of slacks will come in handy. This is also your chance to purchase the same thing in different colors or patterns.

6. Have one pair of trustworthy black heels or flats.

You don’t need an array of shoes to select from, so don’t go buying new pairs every time you plan a new outfit. Black goes with everything, so you can’t go wrong getting a comfortable pair of shoes in that shade. Make sure your shoes are practical; don’t get anything that hurts your feet five seconds after you put it on. As you saw, I wore my classic pair of black pumps with my outfit and they worked really well. They kept me looking put together and didn’t take away from the outfit.

Related: 6 Pairs of Shoes You Need For Your Summer Internship

7. Go through your mom’s closet!

I know, some people may not jump at the idea to wear the same thing as their mom, but give her closet a chance! I’m sure you’ll find at least one pretty, professional piece in there you can borrow from time to time. My mom is really good at picking out stylish and professional tops and bottoms, so whenever I feel like my outfit is lacking something or doesn’t look as nice as I thought it would, I pay her closet a visit and I usually find something I like a little better.

8. Try before you buy!

You guys, don’t be like me and purchase items without trying them on because you’re too lazy to wait on a line. I always think that it’s especially important to try on professional clothes because in my experience, I’ve found that a lot of brands have their blazers, blouses, and slacks run small. So when I buy them without trying them on in the store, they’re actually too tight and I don’t have time to exchange it if I bought it at the last minute.

How do you save money while still looking on point? 

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