I think every personal stylist has an area where they feel most comfortable working.  For me, I love working with clients on their professional styles.  It’s a bit ironic considering most of my clients are high level executives and I never held a corporate job in my life.  I do, however, come from this world from my old design days.  This is my wheelhouse.

Clients most often come to me during a time of transition, be it personal or professional.  Over the past 15 years, I have taken more clients than I can count through the threshold of looking passable and okay at work to creating a style that really reflects the position they have achieved or are working towards.

One of my oldest and dearest best friends recently moved back to the U.S. with her family after working abroad in England for the past few years.  She works in tech and accepted an amazing position in Seattle, which is where she lived prior to the move to England.  With this new job and step up in her career, I have been remotely helping her a bit as she elevates her style to match her new elevated role.   I decided this would make a helpful blog post for anyone out there looking to do the same.

How to Elevate Your Style When You Elevate Your Career

If you are looking to elevate your style for work, take a look at my tips below.

Start investing

I have one client who pretty much wears Louboutins exclusively for work.  Before you roll your eyes in judgement because you think it’s stupid that someone spend that much money on shoes, you need to know that her one pair of nude Louboutins is all she wears.

The point of telling you this is not to suggest you toss out all your shoes for one expensive style or spend beyond what you feel comfortable shelling out, but to look at logical places where it might make sense to invest.  Just like investing your money smartly you need to invest wisely in your clothing in order to get a return on it.   In my client’s case, her job requires a lot of public speaking and she wants to put forth a certain image.  She feels that time and time again, her Louboutins serve this function.  For you, it might be investing in one good suit, a good trench coat, one investment bag, good pants, etc..  These investment purchases should not only get frequent use and wear, but they should be classic enough that they are forever pieces in your closet.

Investing takes time.  Some things to consider is to have a wish list of investment buys you would like to make.  You can start by setting some money aside towards each purchase, using part of a bonus as a treat to celebrate your achievement, and so on.  You’ll appreciate these investment items if you earn them over time.

Buy less and buy better

Over the years it seems like the divide between good clothes and generally cheap crappy ones is getting bigger and bigger.  It’s almost impossible to find decent clothing at a fair price.  You either have to slum it or get ready to lay out some serious moolah.  Go back a decade ago and this wasn’t the case.  There used to be a nice middle section of fairly priced clothing that didn’t look like it would go out up like a Roman candle if it got to close to a flame.

If you want a better wardrobe, you practically have no choice than to up your wardrobe budget.  However, there is a silver lining to doing this; you will look so much better.  Cheap clothing just doesn’t wear well, it looks inexpensive, and will become mishapen or, worse, fall apart after just a few washes.  Cheap clothing can very easily wind up costing you more in the end because of the constant need to replace it.

Not only is spending more on clothing a budget change, it’s a mindset change.  We all have gotten so incredibly used to rock bottom prices on clothing that it takes a change in thinking to actually spend money on clothes.  Did you know we pay less for clothes when measured as a share of our income than ever in history?   According to 100 Years of Consumer Spending, a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American family in 1900 had an income of $750 per year and spent 15% of their earnings on clothing.  In 2010, Americans spent an average of about 3% of their yearly income on clothing.  Yet, interestingly, we have a lot more in our closets than we did back in 1900.  The reason?  We’re buying cheap, disposable clothes.  However, spending more and having less is like the new black.  The days of glutted closets of cheap buys is over and women are actually looking to streamline.  In fact, it’s believed that owning fewer clothes equals more success.

Deliberately having less clothing gives off an impression of knowing oneself, of being secure, sure of what you want, who you are, what you need and what direction you are going.  It shows focus, an ability to adapt, make things work, and where your priorities lie.

Buy inexpensively when it is of value at a good price

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not implying that sales racks should be avoided and getting a new wardrobe piece for a song shouldn’t be celebrated.  I was raised by the biggest sale shopper on the planet, my mother.  However, even she will tell you, a sale is not about getting cheap clothes, it’s about getting nice clothing at a good price.  Case in point: A client of mine bought a dress valued at over $1,000.  Buying it at the end of the season, she got it for about $250.

Retail has been soft.  Just about every salesperson I have spoken t has told me how slow the foot traffic has been in their stores.  It’s almost impossible not to be able to get a great deal on something of value with all the sales that have been going on.  If you are looking to save money, instead of perusing your favorite fast fashion store, shop at better retailers and wait for one of their gazillion sales to roll around.  Additionally, consider shopping consignment.  Even if you don’t want to leave your house, you can visit a site like The Real Real for great online consignment scores.

Pair high end with low end

Few people have the luxury of just trashing their wardrobes when they elevate their careers.  The good news is you don’t have to.  Often, all it takes is pairing an expensive piece with less expensive ones.  As you elevate your wardrobe slowly, notice how a more expensive pair of shoes makes that cheaper dress look more sophisticated or how much better that trendy top looks with that gorgeous cashmere cardigan you just bought.  One piece can often elevate an entire outfit.

Avoid identifiable prints and patterns from low end retailers

My trusted salesperson at Saks always tells my clients she gets her tank tops from H&M.  For her, such a disposable easy piece of clothing should not cost a lot.  Using the tip of pairing high end with low end, she often puts these cheap tanks under her most expensive jackets and cardigans.

Another tip about these low end pieces is to avoid very identifiable prints and patterns from these retailers if you are looking to elevate your wardrobe.  I will tell you a quick story to explain why.  Years ago when I was a designer I was in Paris France at one of the largest fabric shows in the fashion industry.  While walking down one of the halls, I spotted two women walking together who were clearly co-workers.  One woman was wearing a skirt in a pattern I had seen from a cheap fast fashion retailer.  My initial assumption?  The woman wearing the cheap skirt was the assistant, or the underling, and the other woman was the boss.

Was I right on this?  I never found out, but I never forgot how I jumped to such a conclusion so quickly.  If you want people to never question your position, never give them an opportunity to do so.  For every bad first impression you make, it takes eight subsequent positive encounters with that person to have them change their opinion of you (you can read more about this here).   This is why buying a cheap tank from a fast fashion retailer is innocuous but buying something as identifiable as the store’s print or pattern can be more detrimental.

One last thought on high end: Avoid knockoffs.  Please!  Can’t afford a Louis Vuitton bag?  Don’t go buy a fake knock off on the street.  Don’t buy a faux Burberry scarf if you can’t afford one.  Instead, buy the best and highest quality that you can afford.  Even if it isn’t designer, it will still show more value than trying to fake looking expensive.

When you feel better you do better

I don’t think my oldest and dearest best friend ever really put much thought into what I did for a living.  Not that she didn’t support me or cheer me on.  In her defense, my job is a bit weird.  Dressing women for a living can seem so superficial and frivolous.  Yet, when I started helping her and could give her direction in an area that was so out of her comfort zone in terms of knowledge or priority, she really started to get it and even began to enjoy it the process of building her wardrobe.  It has been though this that she really started to understand the power of clothing and how it can work for you in fostering success.

Everyone talks about dressing for success, and if you have read my blog long enough you know my perspective on this topic.  In order to be successful you have to feel successful in what you wear.  While I would never say that a good wardrobe trumps a person’s education, skill sets and expertise in terms of being successful, I will say that how one feels in what they wear can go a long way in giving someone the confidence to put themselves out there, to feel powerful and to shine.  If I have seen this phenomenon once I have seen it a hundred times, people change when they feel good and feel confident in how they are presenting themselves to others.  If you want to elevate your wardrobe as you elevate your career, one of the most important things to consider if how you feel in what you are wearing.  If how you feel and how you want to be perceived by your co-workers is a match, you really can’t lose.