How much should you spend on your corporate wardrobe?

A 2013 study in the United Kingdom found that women in business spend almost 20 percent of their salary on clothing and that excluded the amount spent on beauty items such as botox, make-up, hair and other grooming. So just what is appropriate? By Jackie O’Fee.


When I create a shopping list with a client we usually also set a budget together for what we’ll be buying. Sometimes this is very specific, as in when a client asks “Do you think $3k will cover it?” and sometimes it’s implied. 

Often, it’s about what the client wants as an outcome, with men in particular happy to admit that they need to “lift their game” sartorially, and that they are seeing a shopping trip with a stylist as an investment in their career.  Women will also do this, but are less likely to state it so openly.  

The budget can also be set by the items that are hanging in a clients’ existing wardrobe. Obviously, if the wardrobe is full of label designers, you know your client is comfortable with the dollars associated with that level of spend, but if the wardrobe has a large number of cheaper chain-store garments, you can work that out too. 

When I am asked by a client: “How much do I need to spend?” I will take all of these factors into account and give a ball-park figure. I do know from experience that having more to spend means a better outcome, not necessarily because of where we can shop, but because we can add ‘polish’ to what we buy. 

What is an appropriate budget to spend on your clothes? A 2013 study in the United Kingdom revealed that women in business spend almost 20 percent of their salary on clothing, and that they felt pressure to dress to a certain level to compete in their workplace. 

Interestingly, this figure reflected clothing purchases only, and excluded the amount spent on beauty (Botox, make-up, hair and other grooming), so the real number spent on appearance is significantly higher.  

Meanwhile, several budget advisory websites I visited while researching this article suggested a much lower amount of around four to six percent of your salary. I also found an article written by an American man who had spent US$162,301.42 on clothing and believed it earned him an additional US$692,500. 

While I’m not a budget advisor, I would imagine the figure sits somewhere between the 20 percent and the four percent, depending on what you do for work.

For an executive role that requires meetings at a certain level, travel and appearances I imagine 20 percent is perfectly reasonable. Working at your local dairy would require a lesser spend. I’m unsure as to whether investing almost $300,000 will net you a cool $1.2 million, but it is interesting to note that research suggests that even minor details in your clothing can influence how you are perceived, so perhaps the big spender had a point.  

A recent online study asked 274 participants to rate four images on five points: trustworthiness, confidence, success, salary and flexibility. 

The images were of a man wearing a bespoke (made to measure) suit and a regular, off the peg suit which differed in only minor details (both suits were the same colour and cut, and any other distinguishing factors were removed). Participants viewed the faceless images for only five seconds, however the man was rated more positively across all attributes apart from trustworthiness when pictured in the bespoke suit. 

This study (and many others like it), certainly underscores the belief that even the smallest of details in how you dress can have a large affect on the perceptions of those you encounter. 

It would also suggest that it is worthwhile to consider spending more on your working wardrobe if you wish to get ahead. 

Those details extend beyond the clothing, too. Aside from your grooming, your shoes, bag or briefcase need to be thoughtfully considered also. 

It makes sense then, that when setting aside a budget for your clothing, you should allocate as much as you can comfortably afford. Don’t be tight-fisted, and think instead about the bigger picture – the impact of your personal presentation on your career.

Like upskilling or networking, your clothing and personal presentation is something worth investing in.   M


Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.

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