Dr Steph Smith shares her top 3 tips for the stylish academic on a budget in this article, after convincing us that indeed style and success can co-exist in the world of academia


Working in academia is a unique world.

There are days where we might not teach or even go to the office at all and other days where the meetings and obligations seem endless.

This requires academics to have a pretty versatile wardrobe.

For example, in my closet, I have a possibly unhealthy amount of athleisure for the days and weekends I spend working at home, mixed with skirts, dresses, pants, blouses, and a solid collection of school spirit in various forms.

This presents a problem in that it can get expensive having a stylish academic-friendly wardrobe, but it’s also an opportunity to be creative and thrifty, with an occasional splurge.

Here are my top three tips for the stylish academic on a budget

…because as we all know, you don’t become an academic for the money!


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#1 Stick with Silhouettes

The first tip is to figure out which types of silhouettes best suit your body type and that you feel your best wearing.

For me, these are items that highlight my waist since I have an hourglass figure, and flow out around my hips and thighs, like an A-line style.

This makes it a lot easier for me to find skirts and dresses that fit.

I know that unless a pencil skirt has some stretch, it won’t flatter me, and buying one will not be a wise use of my money. Instead, I stick to skirts with higher waists, some give, and a little flair.

When it comes to pants, I try to find a straight leg, not skinny, so that I have more options and can wear it with dress shoes or in boots and to avoid appearing as though I’m wearing leggings.

Knowing which silhouette is best for your body also helps you integrate trends into your wardrobe in a way that can last longer and without costing too much money.

Dr_Steph_Smith_Stylish_Academic_on_a_budget

$20 skirt from Amazon © Dr Steph Smith

#2 Consider the Source

As it is with academic writing, a large emphasis should be put on sources.

Pay special attention to fabrics that are durable, easy to care for, and can transition among seasons.

For example, cotton is a no-fail option because it’s easy to wash and comes in so many affordable varieties.

Some fabrics I avoid are pure silk because it’s harder to take care of and I tend to sweat when I teach and during important meetings, which really doesn’t agree with silk.

While I do invest in a few cashmere sweaters, I reserve wearing these for special occasions to make them last longer.

You may also like to read:

Building a wardrobe on a budget: maintenance, money, and time

#3 Conduct an Audit

Try to do a seasonal inventory of your wardrobe and your budget.

I know that during certain times of the year, I have the opportunity to make more money by doing extra work like teaching summer courses.

However, this teaching is typically online and I don’t need a lot of work clothes for the summer. So, I’m able to put some money aside for more professional fall and winter clothes.

Figuring out what you need and how much you can afford to spend helps eliminate frivolous and unnecessary purchases and forces you to get creative and use what you have more effectively.

One last tip is that you can and should shop around.

I often find great deals on Amazon and with proper care, I can easily make a $20 skirt (as pictured) last for several outfits without an issue.

If you remember your silhouette and buy it in the right fabric, you can get a lot more for your money.


Stephanie is an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Virginia Tech.

You can keep up with her daily style inspiration on Instagram and read more of her thoughts on her blog thephdivalife.com.

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