Put the sweatpants and t-shirt away! Part of building success as a freelancer is looking the part—the well-dressed professional, that is. Freelancers, here’s how to cultivate a professional wardrobe.

You can set your start and end times, work from anywhere, and wear whatever you want. Every day can be casual Friday when you’re freelancing!

I’ve taken advantage of this sartorial freedom since day one of my freelancing career. I’m not a fashionista; I think more of my clothes come from clothing swaps (read: hand-me-downs) than actual stores. The opportunity to live in my yoga pants and old t-shirts was a true gift.

Yet I’m here to tell you today that, as freelancers, we should gravitate away from workout wear. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but freelancers should adopt a work uniform.

The case for a work uniform is pretty strong: First, freelancers take meetings. This week alone I’ve had three video calls and one in-person meeting. Do I want my clients and professional contacts to see me in old t-shirts and my college sweats? Absolutely not!

When I take a client call or meeting, I dress up. I want to convey a professional, pulled together message. Your clothing symbolically tells the world how you view yourself. Our brains are hard-wired to notice visuals first. So the way we present ourselves to the world says a lot about us—before we even open our mouths.

Clothing can affect how people perceive us. How we dress signals to others how competent and capable we are. If I showed up to my meetings in yoga pants, the message I’m sending is that I’m unprofessional. When I put on my button-down or a nice dress, I send the opposite message: I can get the job done well.

Getting dressed in nice clothes also affects our own brains. We’re not just sending messages outwards; we’re directing them inwards as well. Wearing more formal clothing, like a suit, affects the way we think. In his 2015 study, researcher Abraham Rutchick of California State University, Northridge, found that “wearing clothing that’s more formal than usual makes people think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly and about fine-grained details.

The refrain when you look good, you feel good is actual science. When we think we look good, we behave in a different manner. We want to rise to meet the clothing occasion.

Who more than freelancers have to put their money where their mouth is? Freelancing is famously a feast-or-famine type of industry, and every piece of work you commission is gained by freelancers proving themselves. It’s crucial that freelancers look every bit the part of a capable and fruitful hire.

Now that I’ve convinced you that you need a work uniform (even if your couch doubles as your desk), let’s talk about how to afford one. There’s no need to bust your budget to look professional.

Here are four steps to take to make sure your work uniform stays affordable.

  • Pick a color scheme. Neutrals are always a good bet. Black, navy, white, beige, and gray are all basic colors that can be mixed and matched together. No matter your skin tone, at least two of these colors will look great on you. Compile a work wardrobe of pieces that all go together. Think black and navy bottoms and white, gray, and neutral tops as a jumping off point.
  • Pick pieces that span the seasons. I love pieces of clothing I can wear all year long. Pairing tights and a cardigan with a dress can take it from summer to fall easily enough. Think in light layers—can long underwear turn summer slacks into something warm enough to wear in January? Pieces like sweaters, tights, and long-sleeved shirts will help you take warm-weather clothes into the cold-weather season.
  • Shop sales and seasons. Shopping sales is a must-do for any Grownup. Always start at the clearance rack! But also consider the season. The best time to buy clothes is for the season that just ended, as stores are trying to move inventory. So stock up on summer clothes in late August or early September. In February, be on the lookout for jackets, sweaters, and boots.
  • Adopt an actual uniform. You could try investing in multiples of the same two items of clothing. Find one top and one bottom that work for you (think: nice black slacks and a well-fitted white top) and stock up on them. Wear the same thing to work every day. Actual uniforms eliminate having to worry about piecing together an outfit, save you time, and can save you money. You don’t worry about keeping up with trends, and you can wait for your exact top to go on sale. No more hitting up multiple stores looking for the best deal!

I’m not saying you can’t ever wear sweatpants again. Adopt a work uniform for a few days and see if it changes your mood or your work style. You may even find pulling yourself together pulls your work together.

Kara Perez is a freelance personal finance writer living in Austin, Texas. She is passionate about helping people become financially literate and telling people’s money stories.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

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