Whether it's for an important interview, a big meeting with the boss, a sales call, or a convention, looking professional when required (which should be always) is a key component to being a stellar employee (or at least looking like one). But not everyone is at a place in life when spending big bucks on designer duds is an option.
Looking the part, even on a budget, is expected and doable. You can fake it 'till you make it and look like a pro for pennies. OK, dollars is more like it, but certainly inexpensively enough that you won't need to put in overtime.
Consider these 4 ways to instantly look professional on a budget. Your confidence will spike, those around you will be impressed, and "dress for success" will be oozing from head-to-toe.
1. Behold the Briefcase
Please, do not clumsily and sloppily barge into your boss' office with a piled-high stack of papers, a cell phone in one hand, and a pen behind your ear. Not only will you look a mess but you will look like you're totally disorganized and frazzled.
Carry your belongings to work, meetings, seminars, and even lunch pow-pows in a sleek briefcase, attaché case, cross body bag, tote, or other sort of business-like bag or satchel. Pick a material and color that is neutral (browns, blacks, beiges, etc.) and try to keep the carry-all to a decent size… you're not moving in.
Steer clear from bright colors, bold prints, or logos from sports teams, and if it's broken, torn, or busting at the seams, it's time to invest in a new one. You can find these on sale at department stores and even bargain stores like Walmart or Target. No one will know how much you spent, they'll just know you spent time getting your important work docs and supplies stashed away professionally.
2. Suit Up
Not every profession requires a suit and tie or buttoned-up business-like attire, but whatever your field's dress code is, dress accordingly. If you are in a field where more formal business-wear is the status quo, you can invest in some nice clothing without going into debt.
As per Alison Gary, editor in chief of Wardrobe Oxygen, as told to Power Wallet, "I recommend a simple black suit; buy the best you can afford with the fewest memorable details. With the suit, a couple [of shirts or blouses] in solid colors will get you through all interviews and provide you with the core for a work wardrobe." This goes for men and women.
Gary suggests shopping at thrift stores, resale or consignment shops, and even EBay to find some excellent deals on what would otherwise be pricy wardrobe pieces. My Star Job adds, "Regardless of the cut and style of the clothing, if it's made from cheap fabric, it is noticeable. Therefore, avoid buying anything that has lint coming out easily, or anything that is too shiny. Generally speaking, the thicker and the more textured the fabric is, the more expensive the garment will look."
Be sure the fit is good and your clothing is workplace-appropriate, even in the most creative of fields. Never show up with stains, wrinkles, or tears and you'll be dressed to impress. And unless you leave the price tag on, no one will know how money-wise your shopping trip was.
3. Fend Off Trends
Fads in fashion come and go and not everyone's into fringe, feathers, or freaky fabrics in an office setting. Trends can be pricy and they are generally not considered professional when you're sticking out like a sore thumb at the Q3 overview meeting. Not to say you can't have your own style, but if professionalism is what you're aiming for, save money and side-eyed looks by forgoing trends.
As per Business Insider, "Fashion trends move in and out faster than you think — don't waste your money on a piece you might regret in a year. Instead, invest in classics and staple items for your wardrobe. A neutral-colored blazer with never go out of style, and neither will a simple dress or blouse."
If you're really seeking some experimentation in your wardrobe, stick to something that won't overwhelm your entire look and won't cost much, such as a modern tie or with some nice accessories.
4. Groom with Gusto
One of the best, least expensive, and most noticeable ways to look instantly professional is by keeping yourself clean, neat, and well-groomed. A stylish yet simple haircut, fresh makeup, a clean shave, well-kept clothing and shoes, and nicely manicured nails show that you've got high self-worth and a professional sense of a decent way to show up to work.
As My Star Job notes, "One of the easiest ways to look expensive is to practice good grooming! You can go au naturale if you are blessed with good skin and nice features. Otherwise, exercise good skin care regime or add on a little makeup. Never allow your fabric to bunch up by the sides or to tuck excess fabrics on the back of your pants. Make sure your shirts taper with your body. Excess materials make you appear frumpy and disheveled, and cheapen your overall look."
Keep a comb and lint brush in your desk drawer for emergency touch-ups and you're all set. Grooming is nearly cost-free yet makes a major impact on your presentation.
Look at you, all professional! Momma would be proud.
Toni Morrison has an anecdote about her first ever job, which was cleaning some neighborhood woman’s house. The young Toni arrived home after work one day and expressed her troubles to her father. But he didn’t provide the sympathy she expected. Instead, he gave her something better — his advice:
“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”
Years later, she wrote about this remarkable experience for the New Yorker and said, in hindsight, this is what she learned:
1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you
3. Your real life is with us, your family
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are
What Morrison so eloquently articulated was setting boundaries. I revisited this piece during the pandemic when working from home ramped up in earnest. Back when work was one of the few things that anchored my day.
Without a physical office, the pandemic shattered the work/life balance for many people. There was no more of that physical separation that Morrison talked about. There is no coming home from work physically. There is no real life to come back to — just a manufactured commute to your laptop in your makeshift home office.
But, par for the course, Gen Z are navigating this boundaryless era using TikTok. While internet gurus promote hustle culture and constant online availability since you’re not getting face time with your managers, there’s a trend in town — “quiet quitting.”
@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound - ruby
The trend arose from the depths of the pandemic. Layoffs, salary cuts, and furloughs proved that their employers did not care about their hard-working employees.
The Washington Post dubs quiet quitting as a fresh trem for an old phenomenon: employee disengagement. In many cases, it’s a response to burnout. For much of Gen Z, it’s a way of establishing healthy boundaries in the office and resisting the pressure of the rat race. After all, why work yourself to the bone for a company that just proved it’s ready and willing to let you go?
Despite the term’s negative connotations, Quiet Quitting can provide an empowering shift in thinking for employees.
For far too long, employees have been indoctrinated with a slew of toxic workplace advice. Faced with these old misconceptions and lacking job security or clear paths for advancement, Gen Z is untethering their identities from work.
Quiet quitting — therefore — might be a bit of a misnomer. These employers aren’t completely disengaged. They’re certainly not launching Flight Club-esque sabotage attempts on their employers. NO. Contrary to media panic, Gen Z understands the value of a job — the fickle market they entered ensured that. But they also understand the value of life.
They’re doing what they’re being paid for. Nothing more, nothing less.
According to Chief, a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders, older generations should learn from this approach.
“Gen Z has already endured the largest seismic shifts to the career landscape than any previous generation, having started their careers in the middle of a pandemic that changed office culture forever and a gig economy that makes piecing together work more viable. They’re taking both those realities and therefore demanding more autonomy and flexibility than any other generation.”
Gen Z are less attached to job titles and statuses. They’re more concerned about their lives. Sure, this can lead to problematic outlooks on money and experiences — see the “I can earn my money back” TikTok trend. But it’s better than hustling for no reward. Besides, as some Gen Z-ers put it on TikTok, the office isn’t even a vibe.
“With the ability to work from anywhere and for more than just one place, Gen Z-ers are forging their own paths that don’t rely on old patterns set by previous generations and are redefining what “career success” looks like. Gen Z can take note, as more and more leaders are similarly pursuing multiple income streams of their own through the form of a portfolio career. The way in which work looks like and where it happens is evolving.”
With less single-minded focus on one job, some TikTok business gurus advocate shutting your laptops precisely at 5 pm. And then jump onto your side hustle. Do nails or lashes on the weekend. Become social media managers for your phone. Sell soap on Etsy (again … perhaps not in the Fight Club way).
But this valorization of side hustles is not about hustle culture, either. They say job security isn’t guaranteed. Learning new skills and develop an alternate income stream/s to keep you afloat. Just make sure you’re not left in the lurch. BTW inflation is here. So every little bit helps.
But where do you start? Watching TikToks can only get you so far. Try a course on LinkedIn Learning to sharpen up your skills and learn new ones that you can turn into a verifiable side hustle — or leverage in your job search if quiet quitting leads to … real quitting.
Learn on your own time with bite-sized videos or in-depth courses. Watch them after work, before you clock in, or on your lunch break. Then, after your courses are complete, you’ll have certificates prominently displayed on your profile that prove your skills.
There’s an internet trend that says that everyone has three drinks: one for energy, one for hydration, and one for fun.
Hydration drinks are usually seltzer, a sports drink, or good old-fashioned water. Fun drinks can be anything from boba to kombucha to a refreshing fountain sprite. But the drink you choose for energy says the most about you. Are you a chill tea drinker? An alternative yerba mate devotee? A matcha-obsessed TikTok That Girl wannabe? A chaotic Red Bull chugger? Or are you a lover of the classics, a person after my own heart, who just loves a good cuppa joe?
Coffee can come in many forms. Straight black, concentrated like cold brew for a heartier flavor, or a milky, sugary, frothy treat for a blend of energy and fun.
But the dreaded coffee descriptor: downright bad.
We’ve all been there — free hotel coffee, questionable diner coffee, disappointing overpriced coffee shop coffee. Pour one out for the cups we left unfinished due to sheer revulsion.
In those moments — taking a sip of bitter, bad bean juice and worrying that someone might know if we slyly spit it back into the offending cup — I start to wonder if the “make your coffee at home” brigade is right.
It’s a common point of contention in the personal finance community — but also in the world at large. Is it really such a monumental waste of money to buy coffee instead of making it at home?
If you go by the dollar, of course it’s cheaper to brew a cup at home. Plus, you’ll always know what you’re getting. It’s not exciting, but it’s not disappointing either. You'll never risk a truly awful cup unless you never learned how to use that French press of yours.
But what about the emotional cost? Especially during the heights of the pandemic, going out for a little coffee and a walk was one of the few indulgences we were allowed. Plus, there’s a reason coffee shops are always bustling and busy. They’re a place of communion. Of community. To gather intentionally, to bump into the same 9:47 a.m. crowd every morning on your commute, or to stumble into delight.
And, while the money you save making every single cup of coffee at home could compound into hundreds of dollars over your lifetime…is it worth it?
If your coffee habit is integral to your happiness — for so many of us, it is — don’t give it up. Add it to your budget alongside other delights that align with your values like your Apple Music premium subscription or your travel fund.
Maybe reduce other expenses like that accompanying pastry, disposable cups, or larger sizes over smaller ones. You can also find a middle ground. Save your coffee walks for a special occasion or reduce to a few times a week. A few times a week, why not splurge on an at-home coffee brand you truly adore to make yourself more likely to brew at home. Better yet: one you can take on-the-go. Never stoop to subpar coffee again!
Enter: Cometeer Coffee.
Cometeer is the latest coffee innovation: flash frozen coffee pods. They developed a proprietary extraction system that optimizes all the variables that lead to spectacular coffee. This is achieved with high-quality coffee beans, flash freeze them, and deliver the pods right to your door. Simply melt and enjoy.
26 grams of coffee go into each capsule, brewed with a process that’s carefully calibrated to extract as much flavor as possible from the beans — which are sourced from an array of the country’s best roasters. As soon as it’s brewed, it’s frozen at a chilly -321 degrees to lock in its flavor. The result? The perfect icy puck of the most complex coffee you’ve ever tasted.
And with a travel set to ramp up, having easy coffee pods on hand will be a game-changer. Everyone’s traveling — but travel better by packing Cometeer pods.
Based on research from the travel guidance firm The Vacationer, more than 42% of Americans are expected to travel this summer than last, while only 12% will travel less. (The 42% is a notable jump from the 25% who said they would travel more in 2021's survey.)
It’s the summer of revenge travel, promising lots of trips … which means endless nights, early mornings, and long airport lines. Get through them with coffee, but don’t settle for less than the best.
Cometeer's hyper-flavorful top-tier beans come from the world’s best roasters, ground and brewed with incredible precision, flash-frozen at peak flavor, and ready to be melted by you.
Making great coffee is hard, but melting great coffee is easy. Peel back the lid and drop it in a mug. Add hot water, enjoy. The end.
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.