Dress like Michelle Obama…for the low!

First Lady Michelle Obama took professional styling to a new level during her eight years in the global spotlight. As young professionals, we sometimes struggle with maintaining our youthfulness in our attire while simultaneously sticking to work-appropriate clothes. Additionally, building your professional wardrobe can be time-consuming and expensive. However, there are many tricks to dressing the part without breaking the bank:

Don’t be afraid to shop at “expensive” stores.

First Lady Michelle is dressed by the world’s top designers. A regular citizen may never be able to afford-or willing to pay for-a $5000 St. John suit; however, you can still find inspiration from his designs and less-expensive versions of his timeless pieces. This requires expanding your shopping range past trendy mall stores.

My issue with stores such as Express, the Loft and Banana Republic is that you pay way too much money for the quality of the clothing. I’m very frugal when it comes to buying casual clothes because my size is constantly fluctuating  and I’m stain-prone. However, when I’m purchasing clothes for work, I will spend extra coins to get a perfectly fitting suit.

Department stores such as Macy’s and Dillards are prime businesses for shoes, purses, jewelry, perfume and furniture. Although I do own pieces from stores such as H&M and Forever 21, the majority of my wardrobe comes from department stores.

If you go upstairs in a Macy’s, Dillard’s or Lord and Taylor’s you can find a wonderful area between the BCBG section and the Women’s World. There are a few low-profile designers, such as Gianni Bini, who make beautiful, good-quality suits, dresses and separates. There are also racks sprinkled in with Ralph Lauren, Tahari, Calvin Klein and other brands that you can find in high-end stores such as Neimans or Saks Fifth Avenue.

The average Tahari suit costs about $300 and the average Ralph Lauren dress is about $130. These prices are not ideal to someone who is still paying off student loans. But, because these items usually go overlooked by daily shoppers, during the monthly sales you can find many of them for up to 75% off.


I know you don’t believe me, but it is true. Every month Dillard’s has a 30% off clearance sale. If you do not have a Dillard’s in your city, shop there online. You will be guaranteed to find suits and separates for extremely low prices during these sales and all it requires is signing up for the email notifications. Additionally, if you shop at department stores located in low-traffic malls, you can find similar deals on suits and separates.

Select pieces that are easy to mix and match and designers that make classic pieces that will sustain the test of time. 

I don’t like to put too much thought into what I wear to work each day. I stick with a neutral color scheme: black, white, ivory, gray, navy and blue. Disclaimer-while brown is also a great classic color, I’m a chocolate girl so I tend to stay away from clothes that make me look like I’m in my birthday suit. I also have discovered brands that design suits and separates that fit my body shape, making it easier to online shop.

My signature pieces are:

Polyester Ralph Lauren dresses: these are great for traveling, machine-washable, fitted but not tight, and they come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Blazers: Blazers are an easy way to upgrade from  business-casual to business attire. Thanks to Michelle Obama, wearing dresses instead of suits is now acceptable. So save your suits for important meetings and interviews and collect solid colored dresses that can be accessorized with a nice blazer. Blazers also allow you to get creative with a neutral color scheme. If you like colors but don’t want to be too loud, brighten up an all black or gray outfit with a bold blazer or wrap.

Straight-Legged Slacks: As women we have days where we don’t want to be bothered with a skirt or dress so having black, gray and navy slacks on deck for those days is key to a stylish, yet comfortable wardrobe. Save money by buying your pants from stores such as Marshalls and TjMaxx, which always have top brands in stock. Additionally, having a straight-legged pant creates a more feminine and trendy look without being underdressed.

A Well-Tailored Suit: As mentioned before, I don’t pay a lot for suits which allows me to spend the money I saved on alterations. When you see a good suit on sale, buy it. If the skirt fits perfectly but the blazer is a little too big, it is worth the extra dollars to get the jacket tailored. A woman in a well-fitted, power suit is invincible!

So what did we learn today?

I am not an everyday shopper. I’m not even a weekly shopper. I watch out for the sales and when they come I pick up a few pieces. This has allowed me to collect dresses and suits for every occasion and I never find myself scrambling to find an outfit to wear to a last minute event. I subscribed to the stores that I frequent-Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Banana Republic-and I stick to a strict budget when purchasing certain items; i.e. I won’t spend more than $30 on a pair of slacks. Lastly, I save the heavy spending for the principal items-suits, blazers, dresses-and I shop at less-expensive stores for my blouses and stockings.

As young professionals it is important that we dress in a manner that demands respect, while also maintaining our individuality and youthfulness. Have fun discovering your style and building your professional wardrobe because when done right it can last you a lifetime.


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