Professional Freelancer’s Wardrobe Essentials On A Budget

Freelancer's Professional Wardrobe On A Budget

Professional Freelancer’s Wardrobe Essentials On A Budget

Though outfits are rarely the focus of a boss lady’s workday, it’s true that appearances/impressions can affect how people perceive you on a professional level.  For freelancers, this can get especially tricky because certain jobs require suits/heels while others require jeans/sneakers. This can make putting together your wardrobe essentials particularly challenging.

I’ve been working in the entertainment industry since I graduated college three years ago.  Due to the nature of the film and television world, I’ve had a wide range of jobs from freelance to permalance to full time staff. One major question I can’t seem to crack is:

“How do I build a wardrobe that fits a range of professional environments without breaking the bank?”

When you first graduate, your budget and apartment size don’t often allow for five complete wardrobes to cover every job you may take.  For example, I’ve had positions where sheath dresses and flats were the norm.  On the other end, I’ve had production/technical jobs where hoodies and sneakers were seen as more professional.  If I showed up to a physically intense production job in a dress, it would seem like I didn’t understand the requirements of the position.

So here I sit… writing this article five feet from a closet that won’t fully close because it’s stuffed with sales rack items from cocktail dresses to sweatshirts – a sight all too familiar to the freelancer.

So what do we do, ladies???

I don’t actually know the answer…

Hopefully, as a community, we can piece together advice so that our wardrobes become as efficient and professional as possible.  For me, the goal is to have my closet so functional that I don’t have to waste time sorting my outfits from scratch each morning.  Once a uniform girl, always a uniform girl.  If I’m able to get my clothes to a uniform level of ease, I’ll be thrilled.  I don’t have the perfect answer, but I can proudly say that, after years of college internships and post-grad jobs, I think I have my closet about 70% there.

Here are a few tidbits I’ve gathered over the years.

Wardrobe Essentials for Professional Events

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everyone should consider wardrobe essentials when buying clothes so you can stay within your budget & closet space[/su_column]
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So how many different types of professional events are there? More than I can possibly list… and they vary from industry to industry. Here are just a few you may encounter along the way.

  • Networking functions – women’s conferences and industry networks
  • Work events – from birthday parties to farewell celebrations to company milestones
  • Alumni events – lecture series, annual fundraisers, etc.

In my opinion, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than to be underdressed.  Obviously, you don’t want to show up at company bowling night in a gown but you get the picture. So here are the wardrobe essentials I now keep for professional events.

  • One nice evening dress for higher-end functions.  They may be rare but when they do come up, it’s good to have a go-to outfit.
  • One slightly more casual dress for less formal networking events.



The Wardrobe Essentials You Need for Interviews

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when you learn your wardrobe essentials, you learn how many dresses, blouses & pants you need in your closet[/su_column]
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I hold the same thoughts for interviews as for events.  Dress for the job you want, but play it safe in terms of “fanciness”.  If you’re interviewing for a creative position but are meeting the interviewers at their corporate office, dress up a little more so you don’t look out of place. In an interview, you want to be yourself while showing that you’ve put in the effort.  This sentiment applies to more than just appearance.

You want to present your best self through your wardrobe, resume, and intellectual preparation. So here are the wardrobe essentials I now keep for job and informational interviews.

  • Two interview dresses that can overlap with your more casual event dresses to save that closet space!
  • One interview pants/blouse combo for more relaxed interviews can be a good compromise when interviewing for a job that you know will eventually turn into a jeans and sneakers position.

Dressing a bit nicer than the job itself can make a professional impression, helping you stand out.  Again, don’t go too overboard — you want your potential employer to know you understand the scope of the position.


The Variety Package & Wardrobe Essentials

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staple pieces for day-to-day work are just as important as your interview and networking outfits[/su_column]
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The day-to-day outfits are where my closet starts overflowing with clothes I rarely wear but feel the need to keep around for that one day when I take that one week-long project that requires me to wear that one pair of khakis that I’ve only used for that one other random job.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.  It’s not a complete list of wardrobe essentials, but I’m modifying it with each new job I add to my resume.

  • Multiple sheath dresses: Again, keep closet space and budget in mind.  Don’t go crazy!  Your interview dresses can definitely overlap with dresses for a day-to-day corporate environment.
  • Multiple pairs of dark jeans: I’ve found these work well for casual creative environments, especially ones that can be labor-intensive.  Chances are you wear these in your social life as well – another budget-friendly perk!
  • Multiple work slacks: These are slightly nicer than jeans and can be dressed up or down depending on the shirt/blouse worn.


  • One to two pairs of flats: These are great for corporate environments if heels are not required*.  They’re also a good choice if you walk to work in sneakers and want an “easy to carry” shoe for the office place. * I have yet to work an entertainment industry job that requires true high-heels, but bless those ladies out there who do have to walk around in heels all day.  You deserve a medal.
  • One pair of boots and/or bootie heels: It’s nice to have this fashionable option for more creative environments, especially on days when you have clients/staff meetings.
  • Sneakers: I’m sneakers all the way.  If there’s any chance my job could have me running around NYC, I wear comfortable shoes.  I keep a clear separation between nice work sneakers and gross workout sneakers.  Though sneakers can be an extremely casual choice for the office, I only wear pairs that are still “work appropriate” for more casual jobs (ie. black Nikes, Converse etc.).  If you’d asked me last year, I would have suggested wearing flats whenever possible.  But for on-your-feet jobs, I’ve recently realized how wearing sneakers can make a world of difference.
  • One pair of work jeans: For those day-play gigs where you know you’ll be getting your hands dirty, it’s not a bad idea to have a pair of jeans that you’re okay ruining (ie. covering in paint, etc.).
  • Blouse/shirt/sweater confusion??? The blouse/shirt/sweater combo is where I start to lose control.  I have so many “work shirts”,  but only a few for each type of work environment.  Yes, I’m one of those people who constantly wears the same shirt/pants combo, throws a new scarf on, and calls it a different outfit.  Maybe there’s some validity to that…?  I’m not sure.  Like I said earlier, I don’t have it all figured out yet.

Calling All Boss Girls: Any Other Tips?

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what are your professional wardrobe essentials?














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If you have any tips for myself and the rest of the boss girl community, please leave a comment telling us your wardrobe hacks!

And remember, appearances are definitely not everything.  For me, it’s about making the most of my wardrobe with the budget and the space that I have.  To truly succeed as a freelancer, hard work, talent, collaboration, and networking soar above what style shirt you wear to the job.  But, if you can, why not go the extra mile to dress for success?

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