Monthly Archives: March 2013

Looking Good on a Tight Budget

Not long ago, in a drive-by shopping incident, I found a nearly new Burberry all-weather coat, olive green, removable collar and lining, unisex (buttons both ways), full length, and just beautiful.  For $30.  This coat, I happen to know, is so classic that it is still on the rack at the Burberry store, and retails for over $1200.   But I was at the local Salvation Army store, searching for just this kind of bargain. 

On another occasion, I came away from the local Goodwill store with an Austin Reed navy wool suit from a few seasons ago, barely worn, and needing alterations: $4.00. And my list goes on, because I am sold on the value of recycling clothing.  I enjoy checking out secondhand quality brand items in thrift stores before those items fall into the nimble and experienced hands of the more expensive consignment stores, who mark them up, display them at a better address, and promote them as “consigned.”

You can do this too.  If you are in need of clothes for network-building events, interviews, job fairs, meetings, or just because you feel better when you have clothing choices, the local thrift stores are reasonable shopping destinations for you.  Don’t be afraid; if you hate it you don’t have to go back.

Manage your expectations, of course, and allow enough time and patience for such a venture.  Prepare by making a list of what you might like to find (this one is suitable for a professional looking for career-building choices):

  1. Dark suit, navy, black, grey, or pinstripe.
  2. Dress, blouse, shell in cream, beige, grey, or a pop of color, long or short sleeves, or sleeveless.  White or blue oxford shirt if you are a guy. (Or, if you are a woman, this is a choice for you also).
  3. Plain dark shoes in good condition (These are hard to find, and some folks don’t buy shoes in thrift stores.)
  4. Dark blazer (again, the usual color choices, or even a bright).
  5. Ties, if you are a guy.  I just don’t recommend these for women (although I purchase and restyle them into collars for myself, but that is another blog).
  6. Accessories, like a folio, briefcase, or simple tote.

Think about your preferences before you go in.  If you don’t like things that wrinkle, stay far away from cotton, linen, and rayon, as you would in any other store.  Read the label.  If you know brand names, look for them if you want to.  While you may not find the most current season, you will find items with the tags still on them.  If you carry a smartphone, you can look up unfamiliar brand names and figure out where things might have originated.  But it doesn’t really matter, if the price is right and you like what you see.

Merchandising in thrifts is hit or miss—items are not sized, tops and bottoms may be in separate sections (or not), and you should try to look through all the possibilities.  You have to look for stains, rips, or other permanent damage, and you should not assume that detergent or cleaning fluid is all that is needed—that may be why the item is where it is; someone already tried.

I recommend that you try your choices on, and you should dress to try things on easily (wear a camisole, tee shirt, leotard).  Bring a friend to watch the cart while you are in the dressing room; things disappear from carts in thrifts, just like they do in TJ MAXX and other popular stores.  I don’t know why that happens, but it hasn’t happened to me since I started making thrifting more of a group activity.

You will need a cleaning plan for whatever you liberate.  Wash the washables in Woolite or your preferred equivalent, and you can dry clean the dry cleanables either in your dryer using a home dry cleaning product like Dryel, or send them to your local cleaner.  I’ve done both; and I’ve even taken a vintage garment to a professional for special hand-cleaning treatment.  Even if your purchase was in Macys yesterday and still has tags on it, it will have been treated (hopefully!) with a fogger (anti-everything-you-can-imagine) before finding its way onto the selling floor; you must clean it.

Alterations are worth the price when you pay $4 to $20 for something.  When you start to get into the range of $30, you need to think about what alterations cost.  Hems might be $10, nips and tucks, more than that.  If you plan ahead, you can check with a tailor, or your local dry cleaner may do mending and alterations.  Ask before you head for the thrift store, so that you know what to add to the price if a garment requires alteration.

Resist the urge to fill the cart unless you can afford the splurge.  If you are on a budget, you are on a budget.   Stay away from colors you don’t like or that don’t like you.  For interviewing, brown and green are not universally appealing and may not serve you as well as black, navy, or grey.   Plaids are risky, and you want to always make sure they match at the seams, if you decide to take the risk on a conservative plaid.

If you buy a light color anything, hold it up in the light near the door or window and make sure the color is not dingy, and that it is not stained.  Whatever you buy, it should be in decent condition.

You do not need a different outfit or suit for every interview or event; you do need a range of clean, professional, well-fitting garments and a few good accessories to rely on to help you get the opportunities you want.  If you can afford a few new items, you can still intersperse those choices with alternatives or back-ups. 

Things to bring on a thrifting adventure: 

  1. A friend to watch the cart while you try on garments in the dressing room.
  2. Anti-bacterial wipes for your hands, and tissues for your nose; thrifts are dusty.
  3. A list.
  4. Magnifying glass to look at tiny stains or rips.
  5. Smart phone to look up labels.
  6. Your best manners, at all times. 
  7. Your gentle appreciation for what the staff and other customers do every day to improve your world.

When to Ask for the Promotion or the Job

If you have been in the vicinity of a job you want–maybe you have been a consultant, contractor, temp, subordinate, or employee of another department–and the job opens up, should you ask (the decision-maker) for the job?  

Yes.  But only after you can truthfully state the following:

1.  I really want this job, really.  I’m not asking for this job because I want more money, more power, more influence, more access.  I love this work and I want more of it.  I want to be an expert at this work and I will be open to whatever you think I need to do to achieve that–on behalf of the organization, of course, not only for my own benefit.

2.  I believe I can do this better than anyone else, and I want to try to do it even better than that.  I have ideas about how I can do the work (more efficiently, less expensively, faster, to better outcomes).  I understand that not all of my ideas are good ones, and I am highly receptive to feedback, positive or negative.

3.  I am willing to show you what I can do, at my current pay, as a volunteer, or however you want, if you just give me a chance for a few weeks.  I know you will see how valuable I am to this organization.  I hope–but know I have no right to expect–that you will then offer me at least the going rate for the job or what you think is fair.

4.  I’ve been working on a few projects and ideas, and I’ve written them up in a proposal for you to review.  Whether or not you are willing to give me a tryout, these are yours to keep and consider.  I’m happy to discuss them with you.  They are wholly respectful to my coworkers and the previous incumbents in the job I want.

5.  I am a very hard worker and I am willing to work evenings and weekends in addition to the regular schedule just to learn the parts of the job I haven’t mastered.

6.  I’ve been a diligent corporate citizen–I don’t play politics, I don’t compete with or try to hurt other employees or try to get over on anyone, I don’t complain or talk trash, I don’t try to take over projects, I don’t make commitments and fail to follow through.  I get along with everyone and I am reliable and trustworthy.  I pay attention to details, timelines, deadlines, the organization’s priorities, and customer relationships.

7.  I have the required education and I know why that matters.  I’m willing to get more education at my own expense if it turns out to be necessary.

8.  I dress appropriately for all occasions, here in the workplace or out in the community.

9.  I don’t waste resources–not time, money, information, relationships, space, or anything else.  

10.  I get it.  I know how hard your job is, and I’m here to help.  I’m not all about my own needs and wants; I stand willing to be evaluated by you as someone who is helpful, and willing to help.

No one is all that, of course.  No one.  We all moderate our best intentions with what we are not willing to relinquish. . . 

 sadly.   Because–in my opinion, for whatever it’s worth–it is to those who don’t daily hold out for more–money, attention, privileges, personal power, whatever–that the best job and career outcomes almost always accrue, ultimately.  Acting consistently in the best interest of the organization and its leadership is a gift that keeps on giving to you, as it allows you to see more, do more, learn more, care more, and gain more expertise and experience.  As it almost always turns out, if that is not enough, you can and should  go someplace where you will be happier.