It’s time for the big interview. Killer resume? Check. Glowing references? Check. Impeccable oral hygiene? Fresh, minty check. All you need now are some nice clothes – you know, the kind you’d wear if you already *had* this job. Let’s get you all fixed up without leaving you tapped out.

The strategy

Start basic

You really don’t need too many items, which is great – it simplifies the search and helps in sticking to the budget. Going simple means two jackets and two pairs of pants if you’re a man; two jackets, a pair of pants and a skirt if you’re not. As for shirts, white is always good and goes with any tie or scarf you’ve got. Solid color shirts are your next choice. Probably blue.

Commit carefully

If you’re like most people, you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. The rest just clutters up your closet and life. Moral: Don’t buy it if you don’t love it.

Quality over quantity

The perfect item may be priced a little higher. That’s ok – you’ll wear it more. Besides, the extra cost could keep you from raiding the plaid-slacks clearance rack. Better to have just a few high-quality signature pieces. Think cost-per-wear, and remember: One classic ensemble trumps a dozen ill-fitting getups.

The search

Thrift with pride

Recycled clothing is eco-friendly and budget-friendly. Plus, if you go about it right, shopping thrift and consignment stores can even be fun. Digging up a designer label for next to nothing is always a treat – visit more upscale neighborhoods to improve your chances. And if it’s otherwise perfect, don’t be afraid of an item that’s in need of a little alteration. Provided there’s enough time before your interview, a good tailor can get you all fixed up.

Party clothed

Organize a clothing swap with your snazziest friends. Everyone brings a full bag; everyone goes home with new contents.

Keep posted

Your favorite store probably has an email list. Sign up for frequent (and tempting) notifications of upcoming sales and store coupons.

Hunt off-season

Best time to buy summer clothes? August, right as the store’s getting all its fall merchandise. Sweaters and coats? January and February. Final sale items = Mega markdowns.

Seek an outlet

Outlet malls and warehouse sales are great ways to find bargains. You can often find clothes very similar to what you saw at the mall, all except for the price tag. First stop at the outlet mall should be the welcome center to see if there are any coupon books available. You can also check your local newspaper for consolidation sales in the area.

Don’t discount Discount

Retailers such as TJ Maxx, Ross, and Target are known for carrying high-quality stuff at way below the original price. Just remember to carefully inspect the quality of each piece before you head for the registers.

The trial run

Prevent panic

The day before your interview, get dressed in your chosen outfit and pay a visit to a full-length mirror. This lets you check things like how the hemline of your pants (or skirt) falls in relation to your footwear. We can’t have you dragging cuffs through the puddles, of course, nor awaiting the Great Flood. Take a seat; does anything shift into Uncomfortable Land? Any straps/buttons situating themselves in some nook or cranny that will make it impossible for you to pay attention to the interviewer’s questions? This is also your opportunity to have a close friend critique you mercilessly, from hair to heels. Make-up, jewelry… get their take on all of it.

Get professional help

Speaking of those hemlines, altering them yourself is a no-no. If something’s not quite right, take it to a tailor for the perfect fit. Trust us, it’s better this way.

Detail yourself

You wouldn’t try selling a car without vacuuming the seats first. Be just as scrutinizing here: Shoes looking polished? Legwear free of holes or runs? Jacket hanging below shirt? Notice now – not on your way into the office reception area.

Risk later

If you think a certain item might not be appropriate for the interview, it probably isn’t. Go with what you know here. You can rock the paisley legwarmers after hours.

Great, you’re all set. As for the rest of your work wardrobe, go slow. Don’t worry about restocking your whole closet just yet. For now, focus on appropriate interview clothing, and plan on taking time to get to know the office environment once they’ve hired you. After all, this new gig may be more of a “business casual” kind of place.

Ultimately, just remember to keep an eye on the prize. The old saying tells you to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Which shouldn’t be too much trouble: You’re a smart, hardworking professional, right? All you have to do is look the part.