By Shun McGhee
Contributor, Career Services
I am the youngest of five children and grew up in what would be considered a lower-middle class family. While performing research for this blog, I found there is a large gap between lower middle class and upper middle class families. Rather than demonstrating the disparity with numbers, I thought it would be beneficial to describe using popular television shows. “The Cosby Show,” a house headed by a medical doctor and the other a lawyer fits the definition of an upper-middle class family. While the Bunker’s, of the show “All In The Family,” supported by a ship foreman would better fit the definition of a lower-middle class family. I have taken the moment to offer this description so that when I say my family was of limited financial means; you will better understand how this looks. While my parents had to be frugal in their shopping, they were able to teach me how to look like a million bucks on a budget.
One of the first things I learned is how to maintain the clothes I had. Upon returning home from school I was instructed to take off my “school clothes” in exchange for my play clothes, which were typically clothes I had grown out of or were tattered beyond repair. These clothes were worn strictly because they could get dirty without damaging my school, church, or special occasion wardrobe. This is a tactic I still employ today, being careful to hang-up my work attire when I return so I can get multiple wears out of them.
My mother is a seamstress, and it was from her I learned that just because you have gained or lost a few pounds, does not mean your clothes should now all be replaced. Instead, you may be able to take them to a tailor to have them “let out” or “taken in” to better fit you. Not only will employing a good tailor allow you to keep your clothes longer, though will also improve your overall aesthetic appeal.
Another integral part of my parent’s familial culture was that no one left the house without first ironing their clothes. While this did not apply to play clothes, it did however mean that you didn’t go to work, school, company barbecue, or any other significant social or professional event in wrinkled clothing. This encouraged us to pay attention to detail as even the finest blemishes could be recognized and addressed during the ironing process. In turn this boosted our self-esteem.
Realizing we were not affluent, my parents had to be resourceful about where they purchased clothes. While shopping for bargains we quickly realized that these could not only be found at major department stores, though at thrift stores as well. I often watched my parents attend a variety of stores to find suitable work outfits, a tradition that I have continued.
Another tip I picked up along the way is finding a good cobbler. A cobbler is able to preserve dress shoes by placing taps on the bottoms, or to replace the heels of the shoe. I am also careful to have my shoes shined regularly so they continue to look vibrant regardless of their age. Also, do not relegate receiving a good shine to just wing tips, as I have observed ladies getting heeled shoes shined as well.
However, the biggest tip I learned from my parents, as it concerned dressing, is to be creative. Even some of the more stringent dress codes can leave you with wiggle room. Find that room and tailor it to fit your budget and personality. For example, if the company dress code does not permit you to wear a suit, see if a jacket and slacks combination will work. If so, this will expand your wardrobe possibilities and yield more opportunities to mix and match your clothes. The lessons I have learned to date have helped me to dress well during my most financially lean moments, and they may help you too. After reading this blog, I encourage you to share the tactics you have employed to help you dress professionally on a budget. I look forward to reading and learning from your responses.
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