Dressing for work on a budget

Q. I’m starting a new job and want to make a good impression - but I don’t have a big budget to spend on fashion. How can look professional and up-to-date without spending a fortune?

A. Don't worry - I know you might feel stressed out - feeling like you could really use a gift certificate from Brown Thomas right now, but the great news is that style – real style – has very little to do with money. A proper understanding of fashion is all about taste, balance and knowing what works for you. So, without further ado, we're going to get you suited up on a budget - a real budget.

1. SHOP SAVVY: Sale bargains that seem too good to miss but end up never being worn are the biggest waste of money while designer labels often turn out to be more desirable than the clothes themselves. At the end of the day expensive designer clothes won't make us look like Cara Delevingne - and many end up being left in the wardrobe. But how can we avoid such clangers?

When you're sales shopping it can be near impossible to resist grabbing everything in your size that's in sight - even if you had never before been tempted to buy a pair of brown paisley or a purple, bobble-topped beret. To avoid any fashion disasters it's important to start with a budget.

The best advice I can give you is to never pay full price for something when you can get it for less. TK Maxx, sample sales, and designer swap shops are an amazing resource. In the age of Ebay why pay full price if you don't have to? But beware, just because it's a Vivienne Westwood doesn't mean you should buy it. No one cares if your elaborate tartan skirt is designer- especially if it doesn’t suit you.

2. ONE STATEMENT PIECE: A great necklace will instantly update your look. The right length, size and shape can elongate the neck, face and torso. While many pieces may be pricey, there's a dramatic necklace for every budget. Why not make your own at Dublin’s Crown Jewels where you can do some extraordinary things with fabric, ribbons and metallic and plastic beads that look like they're worth hundreds, or if that sounds too much like hard work – there’s always fabulous baubles to be found on the high street.

3. HIGH QUALITY FOOTWEAR: Every fashionista and sensible woman knows that high heels make your legs look thinner and longer and I know that if I want to feel elegant in a knee-length skirt, a heel is essential. But, while heels are sexy, there is nothing less appealing than watching a woman hobble along in six inch heels, so if you are going to buy – buy quality and a height you can actually walk in.

4. SALON KNOW-HOW: Ask your local salon about model nights, when you can get a cut or colour by a junior under the supervision of a top stylist. Hairdressing group Peter Mark offers fantastic discounts for women who are happy to have their hair groomed by a trainee. If you can’t quite afford a glamorous salon makeover – this is a great alternative. Check out www.petermark.ie for more details.

5. MAKE-UP: LESS IS MORE: If you really want to make an impression, it’s tempting to plaster yourself with war-paint but a lighter look is far more professional. If you want to make something standout, leave something else "unpainted." Dark eye shadow, light lipstick. Dark lipstick, light eye shadow. You get my point.

6. INVEST IN YOUR FASHION FUTURE: A simple, well-designed jacket will never date. Somewhere inbetween grown-up smart and trend-savvy, the blazer has assumed many forms, colours and styles, whilst staying true to what it does best: dressing up an outfit with instant cool. The beauty of the blazer, perhaps, is that it works with almost anything. Pair a blazer with a pencil skirt, slacks or city shorts for an instantly chic look. Just make sure it's classy.

7. A CLASSIC HANDBAG: Is your closet bursting with cheap purses that were trendy in, oh, say, 1997? It's time to ditch (or at least pack away) those shabby oldies and save your money for one beautiful, classic bag you can wear on most any occasion. Spending over a hundred euro on a handbag may seem excessive, but treat it right and not only will it last for years and years, but it will add sophistication and polish to any ensemble