If your primary occupation over the last few months (or years) required more bedtimes than deadlines, you're not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 5 million women classified themselves as stay-at-home moms in 2010. Yet, that figure is down from just two years earlier as more mothers return to the workforce.
For any mom taking on new 9 to 5 with duties that go beyond diapers and dinner, your wardrobe will likely need a makeover. However, sprucing up your business style doesn't have to drain your kids' college funds nor limit your options.
Here are 8 tips to help you update your wardrobe with fashionable work-wear on a budget.
1. Shop for Shoes Online
Ultimately, footwear is one of the most important parts of a professional wardrobe. Despite the sheer joy of finding that perfect pair of black-patent pumps, shopping with a toddler is often a trying experience. Avoid the department-store drama and shop online at e-retailers like Endless or Piperlime, who offer free shipping both ways. Alternatively, find free shipping codes for Macy's and other popular retailers from sites like FreeShipping.org to avoid delivery charges.
2. Gauge the Office Culture
You'll feel really uncomfortable in a formal suit if the business owner is sporting jeans and a graphic tee. Many younger entrepreneurs encourage a more relaxed look, so it pays to gauge the office culture before heading into an interview. If the company website doesn't yield any insight, talk to the hiring manager about the office dress code when you schedule the interview.
3. Swap Your Maternity Clothes
If you have friends or family members who recently announced they're expecting, it's time to dust off your maternity clothes and consider a swap. Ask the new mom to be if she has any business attire that she would be willing to exchange for your pregnancy wear.
4. Think Simplicity
You obviously can't afford a series of tailor-made suits, but you can afford a few simple pieces you can dress up or down, as the situation requires. Button-up blouses are a must and can be found on the cheap at Target, Old Navy and other discount retailers. And don't forget cardigans - find a few in your most flattering colors to wear all year long.
5. Scope Out Consignment Stores
Back when you were expecting, consignment shops were goldmines for inexpensive maternity wear. Lucky for you, they're also a great resource for professional attire. Sell some of your gently-used maternity wear and stock up on business basics including blazers, slacks and pencil skirts. For tips on navigating consignment racks, check out this article from Woman's Day.
6. Keep it Clean
Cleanliness is next to godliness, or at least next to a good first impression. No matter the quality or cost of your clothes, it's vital they remain clean and pressed at all times. You can reduce dry cleaning costs by avoiding such items altogether or using the home-laundry packets readily available at your grocery store.
7. When in Doubt, LBD
The last thing you want to deal with during a job interview is insecurity over your appearance. If you're struggling over what to wear, keep it simple with a little black dress. This versatile piece can be paired with a blazer and smart pumps for corporate cultures, or with a bright cardigan and layered necklace for more casual environments.
8. Avoid Trendy
Keeping up the trends is expensive and you'll often end up with a closet full of unwearable items from last scene. Go for the classics and use accessories to showcase your inner trendsetter -- think freshwater pearls, stud earrings and a tangerine handbag. For more inspiration, consult the 12 Jewelry Trends for 2012 from JCK Magazine.
Guest poster Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. Her goal is to teach consumers how to live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. Andrea has appeared on The Today Show, ABC News NOW, NBC Nightly News, FOX, MSNBC, CW and been quoted in SmartMoney.com, Kiplinger Personal Finance and many others.