Have you spent the last three years repairing your tights with nail varnish, wearing your jeans for, like, a whole term without washing them — and muttering about a laundry crisis when anyone asks “Weren’t you wearing that yesterday?”

Me too — and as a recent graduate I’ve discovered that the world of work demands higher sartorial standards than I’ve been used to at university. Whether you’re interviewing for jobs or have just started work, you’ve probably realised that not much of your student wardrobe will work in an office setting. And to top it off, you’re probably skint, which isn’t a helpful starting point when your style needs a serious overhaul. It’s a problem — but there are solutions. Here is what I’ve learned:

Can’t afford a shopping spree right now? You don’t need to. Even one or two key items will sharpen your look instantly in the interim — so buy a couple of basics and mix and match with items you already have. If you’ve just started a new job, this is a genius way to fool your colleagues into thinking you own more work clothes than you actually do.
For girls: Buy a blazer. Wear it over dresses, skirts, trousers or even smart jeans (depending on your company’s dress code). Pick a colour that goes with everything and don’t worry that your bottom half doesn’t match — the power suit look is dated on women anyway.
Where? If your budget won’t stretch to Zara and Warehouse, try New Look which has a range of basic blazers in a kaleidoscope of colours from just £12.
For guys: A suit jacket is a failsafe option for you too. Men’s jackets can be pricey — and bargain ones can look really cheap — so if you’re low on funds you’ll get more for your money by raiding the rails at charity shops. Just make sure you take the bus to a nice part of town, where people chuck better stuff.
Where? For basic trousers, Topman is often far more affordable than girls’ equivalent Topshop, especially in sale season. Also try River Island — or ASOS, whose own-brand £18 pairs come in five colours.

Okay, I know this sounds obvious — but bosses are still complaining about this, so at least some of us must still be getting it wrong. As a rule of thumb: what works on a Saturday night doesn’t work on a Wednesday morning. Yes, you want to look good at work but your outfit should never distract from what you’re saying. It’s fine to have your own style, just take it down a notch or two.
For girls: Tone down the fox factor. After three years at uni, your idea of ‘short’ may be distorted — so study colleagues’ hemlines for a guide about skirt length. And above all make sure your neckline is suitably high. Your colleagues know you’re a woman — you don’t have to prove it by flashing your baps. Modesty, ladies — please.
Where? Forever 21 has a great range of workwear, with blouses for under £10 and pencil skirts starting from just £6.50 (yes, you read correctly).
For guys: Anything that is frayed or holey needs to go — and it’s hard to have gravitas in slogan T-shirt. Unless you’ve been told otherwise, avoid wearing trainers to the office. Contrary to popular belief, there is something between Converse and smart shoes — try this season’s brogues.
Where? Try H&M for affordable  brogues that are both work- and weekend-friendly.

No matter how great your outfit looks, don’t forget you’ll need to actually work in it, so buy comfortable clothes in the right size — unless you’re prepared to have a very awkward conversation with your boss. Move around in clothes before you buy them — try sitting, standing and walking.
For girls: Blouse buttons shouldn’t strain at the seams and skirts shouldn’t ride up too high. And if you’re going to do heels, make sure you can walk in them. If you can’t manage a stiletto there are plenty of block heels around this season.
Where? If Office is beyond your reach, try Miss Selfridge or New Look. Or, if you’re really feeling the pinch, check out Matalan whose purse-friendly heels start at just £10.
For guys: Over-long cuffs and dragging trouser hems look like you’ve borrowed your outfit from your dad. Nor should shirts and trousers be too tight either — even if you work out and want us all to know it. To spare our blushes, just buy a size up. Thank you.
Where? If you’re unsure of your size, trial shirts by buying them in Primark before committing to anything more expensive.

We’ve all rolled into a nine o’clock lecture in the first clothes that we picked off the floor (or even, ahem, out of the laundry bin) — but tramp-chic hasn’t caught on in the workplace. Crumpled shirts and creased dresses suggest laziness and dirtiness — yes, even if they’re clean. Your hair, nails and make-up will also send out subtle messages about you, so keep your look neat and clean.
For girls: Make-up should be light and natural — smoky eyes might be awesome on a Friday night but the look doesn’t translate under strip lighting during an interview or your quarterly appraisal. If you wear perfume, one squirt is plenty. Your hair should be clean and — boring I know — brushed. We know you’re doing ‘Kate Moss for Mango’ — but your boss will just think you haven’t made the effort.
Where? Head to Boots where makeup such as Rimmel and No7 is often on a 3 for 2 offer.
For guys: Learn to iron. Seriously — it’s time. Set aside an hour on a Sunday night, position the board in front of the TV and Just Do It. If you lack confidence, start on a low heat setting and do your favourite shirt last. On the subject of grooming, you’re now officially too old for Lynx. And do we really need to have another conversation about hair gel?
Where? Boots isn’t just for girls — you’ll find great deals on every bath and shower item you can think of. (Yes, sometimes even Lynx. Which you won’t be buying… Right?!)

TIP FIVE: Stamp on your personality
Okay, I told you to tone it down, but once you’ve cracked the basics of workplace dressing you can let little flashes of your personality shine through your outfit. After all, nobody wants to work with a robot — and little touches can make you more memorable. Just remember: less is more.
For girls: To avoid the corporate clone look, just add colour. A dash of red lipstick, a statement necklace, bright belt, coloured tights or great bag will all pep up your outfit. And look for quirky details on collars, cuffs and pockets.
Where? Accessorize is a treasure trove of quirky, could-have-come-from-a-market jewellery and bags. For more on-trend items like pretty earrings or a statement necklace, ASOS is has a great range at amazing prices.
For guys: Again, tread carefully — this is not a green light to wear a novelty tie or jazzy socks. That said, a subtle pattern on accessories can work well — and when you’re first pay cheque comes through, invest in a decent watch and a good bag (again, charity shops are your friend here). You’d be amazed how bosses notice the little touches.
Where? If you’ve got a make in mind, scour eBay. It’s a buyer’s market right now and you’ll often find what you’re after for less than half the high-street price.

Are clothes important – or should the quality of your work be all that matters? Have you ever been told off for wearing an outfit that wasn’t work-appropriate? Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction during an interview – or on your first day in a new job? What do you think of the way people look at work? Would dressing more creatively or casually get better results from employees – or is it important that there is a certain work ‘uniform’?

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