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Ask Belle: Tops on an Intern’s Budget

Dear Belle,

Thank you so much for your blog.  I moved to DC four months ago and it helped me so much.  I work nights at a bar in Dupont Circle and intern at a think tank during the day.  

The office dress code is somewhere between business casual and professional.  I wear a pencil skirt or a pleated skirt every day, but I need to up my top game.  I tried the button-down thing, and they don’t look good on me.  Can you suggest some tops with short sleeves that cost under-$40 or so?

Thanks again! Ally

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Short sleeve blouses are a nice choice for your situation because you can layer them under blazers when the weather turns cold.  I recommend starting with neutral solids to start.  Then, you can incorporate more colors and prints.

I think the best way to help with your situation is to show you the three stores where you can regularly find tops under-$50 without having to wait for a sale.  But the good news is that all of the retailers have sales regularly, sometimes with deep discounts.

LOFT. This tie-neck blouse comes in a pretty powder pink.  I also like this bracelet-sleeve top with raglan and crochet details (though it is a long sleeve top).  And do not miss this black lace tee with a blue underlay–it would look lovely with a black pencil skirt.

The quality isn’t always the greatest at LOFT, but if you choose wisely and wash carefully, the tops can last until you’re tired of them.  Things to look for when shopping at LOFT?  Fabrics that feel nice to the touch and have reasonably good weight to them.  Also keep an eye out for seams that are snugly sewn.  If my inexpensive tops fall apart, it’s usually because the hem falls out due to poor seam construction.

The Limited. This ponte peplum top is $45 with another 50%-off, code BIG50.  It’s the kind of top that would look awesome with a little bit of tailoring, and spending under-$50 make a nipped seam an affordable alteration.  I also like this sheer overlay top in a pretty shade of blue.  This sleeveless blouse with a v-neck and a short, ruffle collar is perfect to wear under cardigans both colorful and neutral.

H&M. This is the best place to buy inexpensive work blouse.  Period.  End.

This flutter-sleeve top is a wonderful option for wearing under suit jackets and cardigans.  I also like this jacquard-weave top with an interesting waist line.  I also like this v-neck blouse with a cap sleeve, in your choice of black, white and blush.  And if you’re also looking for long-sleeve blouses, this white blouse with black trim is an awesome basic.

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    6 comments

  1. wendy says:

    Also check out the Boden Ravello top, which is made in a great rayon/silk blend and has a nice pleated neckline. I’m interning at a public policy group, and I live in the Ravello either on its own or under suit jackets. If you can catch them on sale, they’re a little less $$, and they wear wonderfully. Just be cautious with the summer’s ivory one; the facings really show through.

    July 31, 2014/Reply
  2. Alex says:

    Go to Nordstrom Rack! It takes some time, but I often find great stuff.

    August 1, 2014/Reply
  3. GoGoGo says:

    In DC, Current Boutique on 14th Street is great for very inexpensive work stuff. It’s a consignment shop but everything is very young and, well, current.

    August 1, 2014/Reply
  4. Nora says:

    Bluefly is always a great source for interesting tops for work. I’ve gotten a lot of BCBG pieces in the $40-50 range.

    August 1, 2014/Reply
  5. Ashley says:

    DC Goodwill stores have amazing and current tops for under $10 and many under $5. Maybe you could showcase that for interns or partner with the DC Goodwill fashion blogger. I am not an intern and make a good salary and I still shop goodwill because I still don’t like paying over $25 for a top (on sale) where I have to check the seams to make sure it isn’t gonna fall apart before I buy it and it keeps my spending down as well.

    August 1, 2014/Reply
  6. SD says:

    H&M and Zara are the best low-ish budget stores in UK for good tops. The only problem (for me) is that most of them are quite low cut so for my body shape 🙁

    August 2, 2014/Reply