A Work Wardrobe on a Budget -- See How I Did

Calvin KleinCalvin KleinSo. As most of you know, I have a new job.

And this new job calls for a new work wardrobe.

I quickly realized that my work-at-home-mom wardrobe wasn't going to cut it in the world of TV cameras and politicians.

I needed to look smart. Savvy. Sophisticated.

And that takes money.

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Fortunately, just as the new job thing happened, the people behind T.J.Maxx and Marshalls contacted me and asked if I'd like to work with them on a topic that might be relevant to many of you.

A CONCEPT WAS BORN.

My challenge -- to see how well I could do coming up with a work wardrobe at TJ Maxx and Marshalls on $300 -- a reasonable budget for any mom going back to full-time work and having nothing to wear, and two places where I know many of you would go in this situation.

Want to know what I found (in addition to this kicky little $39.99 Calvin Klein sweater dress)?

Before I went shopping, I spoke with Sonya Cosentini, style expert for Marshalls and T.J.Maxx. Like most of you, I've been shopping at T.J.Maxx for YEARS and figured I already knew everything there was to know.

Well, I was wrong.

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For one thing, T.J.Maxx and Marshalls aren't carrying last year's styles. What you see on the racks was made to be worn this season. While most department stores only send their buyers out once per season, T.J.Maxx and Marshalls have buyers out making deals with designers 40 weeks out of the year, and they can actually buy clothing from a designer and have it out on the racks within two weeks.

This is also why T.J.Maxx and Marshalls never advertise brands. For one thing, they never really know what they're going to have in stock. For another, advertising costs money, so the lack of advertising helps keep costs down.

Most surprising to me was the fact that every single T.J.Maxx and Marshalls in the country gets about 10,000 NEW PRODUCTS PER WEEK. That fact alone made me want to stop in a LOT more often!

Suddenly, it made sense why I've sometimes bought a new-on-the-racks Ralph Lauren dress at a department store, only to be told by someone that SHE just got the same dress at T.J.Maxx for about a third of what I paid for it!

AARGH.

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Anyway, Sonya and I next talked about trends for the workplace. Here were a few of her ideas on what's both current and work-appropriate:

  • Pencil skirts in bright colors
  • The dress
  • Wider leg pants
  • Ponchos (shorter ones that end at the waist can work at work)
  • Retro, Mad Men-type styles
  • Faux fur trim

After talking to Sonya, I felt more confident. I headed first to Marshalls, where I tried on lots of things -- here's what I kept:

MarshallsMarshalls
I loved this cranberry red sweater dress by Cynthia Rowley, which was only $39.99. I paired it with opaque tights, my favorite wedge boots, and a lariat necklace.

T.J.MaxxT.J.MaxxBut this Calvin Klein LBD was my ultimate find of the day. I love everything about it -- especially the price. It had been marked down to only $29.99!!

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MarshallsMarshallsI was also excited to find these fantastic Franco Sarto lace-up booties, on sale for $59.99. I wanted to find work shoes that would work with pants or a dress and tights and that were both stylish and COMFORTABLE. After all, I'm going to be on my feet a LOT. Worn with tights, these actually look great with the dresses I found -- very on trend and less fussy than my boring old black heels would be.

MarshallsI finished up with three pairs of tights. T.J.Maxx and Marshalls have always been the only place I buy legwear. They always have tons of options and it seems foolish to pay full price somewhere else.

My total at Marshalls: $146.95.

On to T.J.Maxx.

First, I picked up the sweater dress you see at the top of this post. Then I did something a little different. Since I have most of the basics -- like a black skirt, black slacks, black tunics and turtlenecks -- I was looking for a few great "showstopper" pieces that would stand out on camera.

T.J.MaxxT.J.Maxx

I've had this discussion with you all before. I'm at a point in my life now where I'd rather have fewer, nicer pieces in my closet than more, cheaper pieces. I've done better financially over the last few years and can now afford to do this, but DON'T HATE, y'all. When my daughter was born, I had maybe $100-$200 per year for all of my clothes -- if I was lucky -- and I wouldn't have been able to even think about buying a dress that cost more than $30. (Thank God for Forever 21.) So if you're at that point now, I get it, I really do.

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Anyway, this is where T.J.Maxx and Marshalls really charmed me this time. You can go in there as a high-end shopper or low-end shopper and find things you love either way. This sweater, for example, is 100 percent cashmere and it was only $69.99. I felt like I had bought something really luxe at a non-luxe price. However, for those of you on tighter budgets, they also had plenty of similar-looking sweaters that were around $19.99-$29. EVERYONE WINS.

But this?

T.J.MaxxT.J.MaxxI saw this faux fur Calvin Klein jacket and may have teared up a little. Because it was identical to one I tried on at Nordstrom a few weeks ago and came THISCLOSE to buying. It's faux, but the fur is so shiny that you really can't tell unless you touch it. And it has a TOTAL Mad Men/vintage vibe, so I knew it would stay in style forever.

Forgive me, Father, but I HAD TO HAVE IT. Luckily, it was only $79.99 ...


T.J.MaxxT.J.MaxxAnd it definitely looked fab with my new LBD. I also plan to wear it with dark jeans, for a casually elegant feel.

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My total at T.J.Maxx? $190. Yes, I went over budget. But come on -- that jacket and I were destined to be together!

(And we won't even talk about the fact that I also picked up a present for an upcoming birthday party, new sheets for my bed, and a frying pan.)

I'm set!

Do you shop T.J.Maxx and Marshalls? Where do you go to find bargains?

Written by Lindsay Ferrier for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.

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