The Importance of a Casual Wardrobe

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A couple of months ago, as I was formulating my summer outfit list, I realized that I had approximately 57 gajillion casual ensembles in mind and slightly fewer workweek ideas. And I panicked a little. I’m at the office all week long! How are all those cute-but-office-inappropriate outfits gonna help me?

But after a few deep breaths, I realized that it was just fine to brim with casual creativity. And here’s why:

Three out of seven: I realize that some gainfully employed women are expected to look sharp all week, but many of us are lucky enough to indulge in Casual Fridays. That means that fun, casual dressing occupies three out of seven days each week.

Casual continuity: I firmly believe that there needs to be overlap between my work clothing and my weekend clothing. In the past, when I had wildly different pools of office clothing and casual clothing, leveraging multiple styles made me feel like I had multiple personas. Working on fabulous-looking casual ensembles contributes to an overall feeling of polished style.

Easy tweaks: Some outfits will never be office-appropriate, but others can become beautifully business casual with a few easy tweaks. Swap out a denim skirt for a khaki pencil skirt, or go for pumps instead of studded gladiators, and a whole new outfit is born.

So much focus is put upon looking polished and chic in formal situations that creating honed, personalized, stylish casual looks can fall by the wayside. And since most human beings want to be COMFY whenever they’re outside a work environment, it can seem like a burden to scrape up the effort necessary to craft sassy weekend outfits.

But unless you work in uniform or under a strict dress code that drives you batso, I think it’s important to own and wear casual and transitional clothes that suit your overall style. Your tasks and environment may change, but your personality and tastes don’t. I’m of the opinion that your personal style should reflect your inner self at all times. Why dress like a completely different person come 5 p.m. Friday when you can create looks that feel comfortable and look pulled-together simultaneously?

Wondering how to make that overlap happen? For more tips on a honed casual style see:

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  • RoseAG

    If it has to be ironed or drycleaned then I usually don't wear it on weekends.

    If I go out with friends or to church then I'll break out things I might wear to work because I want to look my best.

    Even if I've worn something casual to work I usually change when I return home because I'm likely to be cooking or doing things that might get my work duds messed up.

  • Cat

    Totally agree on the weird-feeling-ness of having totally separate work & casual looks.

    I'm lucky in that my work environment has no dress code (There's a chap opposite me in a hoodie, floral bermuda shorts & trainers and someone's got ripped jeans on. That's totally fine for here.) so it's easier for me to link my work wardrobe with my weekend wardrobe and feel totally me the whole time.

    I do, though, like to create a slightly smarter feel for work even though I don't have to. I keep the comfy jeans (you know, those ones you've had forever and that still fit and are comfy as anything but the shine's kind of worn off so they're not so smart any more) for home and wear dark wash ones here. I'm more likely to wear heels and wedges, though I have plenty of pretty ballet flats I also wear all the time. I do wear standard work skirts/trousers/suit jackets/blouses – I just pair the bottoms with more relaxed tops or put the jackets and blouses/shirts with jeans. Harking back to the modesty conversation, I also keep the strappier/lower cut tops for the weekend.

    It's the same wardrobe throughout the week, just with a slight smartening up for Monday-Thursday.

  • Bridget Beaver

    I'm a high school teacher, and this is my usual problem. I have to look put-together for work, but I need to still be casual enough to be able to move around, and be fairly entertaining. I've found, however, that throwing a cardigan on over a cute sleeveless top or layering a low-cut shirt with a nice camisole are some easy ways to dress up some more casual items that I have.

  • Kimberly

    My workplace requires a corporate style and most definitely does not have casual Fridays! So for quite a while I amassed a decent work wardrobe, not noticing that I wasn't buying anything fun to wear outside of work. I finally noticed this on business trips, when my suitcases kept getting larger and larger because my work and play clothes did not overlap AT ALL.

    So now I look specifically for pieces – dresses, sweaters, jackets – that can be dressed up or dressed down. Not only has my casual style come a long way from t-shirts and jeans, but now I can make it through a three-day business trip with one dress, one pair of jeans, one pair of boots, two shirts, and three jackets/cardigans. Definitely an improvement!

  • Rosie Unknown

    I can wear pretty much anything I want during the week, since I'm still in school and our only dress code is no bathing suits, but my casual wardrobe and my school wardrobe are pretty much exactly the same. On the weekends I might wear a hoodie instead of an itchy wool sweater, but other than that, there isn't much difference.

  • SarahN

    My employee handbook says "business casual", but I prefer to err on the side of formality. I routinely wear sharp dresses, blazers, skirts and blouses to work, so a casual wardrobe always seems to fall off my radar. I guess I subscribe to the school of making my work clothes do double duty on the weekends. Now in the summer, for instance, I'll pair a blouse or cardigan with a more casual jersey skirt and sandals for a dinner date, or a long-sleeve button down, denim shorts and high wedges for a more casual outing. It's easier in the fall/winter: a suit blazer, jeans, and boots or heels are perfect for any number of casual situations.

    And then, of course, there are my "softies"; two drawers full of sweatpants, old t-shirts, and past-their-prime rumpled work cast-offs that are strictly for lounging around the house. These don't see the light of day, except to sit out on the deck in the summertime! Any one else have a softie collection?

  • Cynthia

    So this is an interesting topic. My wardrobe probably divides quite differently into "work" and "casual" than most. As an academic, the only times I have to whip out an actual suit is when I am interviewing for a job, or when we are interviewing candidates for a high-level administrator position, or the couple of times we've had to meet with our Congresspeople or their staff members.

    On days other than that, I can wear anything I want to work, with the possible exception of a ballgown or work-in-the-yard grubbies. When I know I'm having a meeting or giving a lecture, I'll dial it up a bit, and when I'm not doing anything all day but sitting in my office writing, I'll dial it down. The boundary between what I'd wear to the office and what I'd wear on a casual evening or day outing is almost zero. I don't wear shorts or uncovered tank tops to work, is about it.

    So, in my very tiny top tier, I have two suits and a couple of very formal plain blouses to go with. I also consider "ballgowns" in this tier — special-purpose formalwear.

    Below that I have a slightly larger tier of semi-businesswear dresses and jacket/skirt combinations that look a little more crisp than my average daily wear, but are not suits.

    Below that, I have a vast tier of knit tops, dresses, cardigans, blouses, skirts, and colored pants that mix and match for any purpose. They get worn to work or mixed slightly differently and worn for casual.

    And then I have grubbies/ exercisewear which I generally wouldn't wear if I were going to the mall, but would wear to Zumba or to mow the yard or go hiking.

    So to get to the actual question you asked, yes, I mix work daywear and casual all the time, I have only a tiny bit of top-tier formalwear that doesn't get mixed in.

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    Since I'm an academic, I don't have this problem — at least not at such great extremes. My weekends don't really tend to be different than days during the week that I'm not teaching. I still research and write on those days and might go into campus or a coffee shop to do so. While I'm more likely to wear jeans or shorts or a lower cut top on those days than on classroom days, my style is pretty continuous throughout the week.

  • Sidewalk Chalk

    I try to really let my creativity loose when I wear my casual outfits. I feel pretty oppressed with my all-black retail uniform at work, so investing in a casual wardrobe reminds me that I am not defined by just my work, and that I have a fun, exciting life outside of it.

  • lyrebirdgully

    Hi Sal,
    Ah, Saturday! my favourite day of the week, not just because it's the weekend, but because it's then i have the pleasure of dressing the way I REALLY want. That's when I always create at least one new casual outfit that I have never worn before. The new outfit will take me up to 2 hours to put together, because I love detail and complexity; but adding on layers plus accessories is really fun and interesting, and I always feel much more stylish and smart as a result than I do during the week, when I need to stick to simple, business-like work gear. Usually I'm so keen to test run my new outfit, I am more than happy to go straight out and do the boring weekend shopping!

  • Future Lint

    Since I work in an arts school, our staff dress code is pretty casual. I do dress slightly more modestly during the week than on weekends (I don't wear shorts to work. I won't wear tank tops or thin strapped dresses without something over them.) But I pretty much dress the same all week! Especially now that I am working summer school, I'm breaking my own rules and wearing shorts and tanks to work and I don't care!

  • kirstyb

    love this look x

  • Melissa

    I like the idea of being able to get double duty out of my clothes. I typically make little tweaks like you suggested in order to make an outfit more casual or more office appropriate.

    Granted, there are certain things that are strictly weekend only, such as anything denim because that's not allowed in my office, or anything with open-toes because we're only allowed closed-toe shoes.

    However, most items that I'd wear to work, I will find a way to wear casually as well.

    I'm challenging myself to find ways of styling my more casual items so that they are office appropriate as well.

  • Sheila

    I've been trying really hard lately to incorporate work clothes into my casual wear, and to dress more sleekly and stylishly on weekends. Just putting a bit more effort into my weekend clothes, you know? My Casual Friday looks tend to straddle the line of regular work clothes (aka over-the-top dressy) and rocker chick comfy, but my weekend looks (aside from workout clothes) were getting too shabby-looking. It feels better putting my best foot forward more often.

  • Diane

    I have a creative job, so I have the luxury of wearing whatever I want. I don't think I could ever wear a suit or anything dry clean only. I'd die! But I would never wear sweats either. I mostly wear bohemian-ish dresses or tunics with leggings or jeans. In the summer its cute sandals, in the winter I add a big sweater and boots. The biggest difference for me in weekend wear is flip flops, no make-up, no bra.

  • tinyjunco

    This topic is so close to my heart i don't know where to begin! i'll just say i have found the putting the effort into expressing your own style appropriately in all areas of your life is very much worth it for two main reasons.

    the first is self-discovery and expression itself. you are more than one person, you play more than one role, so let your appearance reflect that fact!

    the second is practice for the changes that life will throw at us. All of us will experience changes in circumstances that require changes in clothes style – moving to a different climate, getting married, getting promoted, having children, moving from urban to rural or vice versa, aging…..if you have experience in adapting your personal style from winter to summer, business to casual, etc. then you will have a body of experience to draw from when confronting these more unexpected changes. you will approach these new situations with much more grace and less fear and hassle.

  • Lorena

    Yes, I wear stuff that I wear to work on weekends.
    Well, at least some of them.
    I find myself doing it a lot lately. Mostly because since the clothes are not "dirty" enough to be washed, I'm not sure if that is clear 😉
    I go to work in a car, sit in an air conditioned office all day and then drive back home – and it's not like I am in the construction sector.
    SO I feel the need to wear it again before tossing it in the hamper.
    I will wear a dress to work with a cardi and heels and then flat sandals on the weekend…

  • Kaija

    I'm a lab rat/academic and spend most of my time at work in a lab, so I wear super casual clothes most days of the week. If there is a visitor, a meeting, or a special event, I'll kick it up a notch to business casual. The times I have to dress corporate or formal in a given year I can count on one hand. Which is a blessing to me b/c I'm lazy and not very fashion-minded. Jeans and athletic clothes as infinitum are totally fine by me!

    But I do enjoy dressing up from time to time and playing with new looks on my own time. if I HAD to do it regularly though, it'd lose it's charm quickly!.

  • Rebecca

    My office has a fairly casual dress code, so my weekend and workweek wear overlaps a lot. I don't wear super casual things to the office, like tank tops and shorts. I also avoid wearing tops that show my cleavage, but to be honest I rarely wear that style of top on the weekend either.

    The main difference between my work and wekend wear these days is that I don't feel the need to dress for my blog on the weekend. I love blogging, but sometimes it is nice to take a break so I can wear repeats or things that I like but don't photograph well on me (like white tops). Last weekend I wore the same thing on both Saturday and Sunday, but in different colors.

  • rb

    I work in a fairly formal environment and I really like dressing this way, so most of my shopping efforts and dollars go into work clothing. I absolutely do not wear my work clothing on weekends because they're obviously too dressy. I might choose some work pieces for a date with my husband, but that would be the only exception.

    So for weekends, I have kind of a hard time. My fall-back warm weather casual outfit is a denim pencil skirt with some sort of tee-cardigan combo and wedge sandals. It's not a bad outfit, but it has unintentionally become kind of a weekend uniform.

  • GlamaRuth

    We have a pretty lax dress code, unless you have an important or outside meeting. I am a firm believer in one tailored piece. A sleek skirt or trousers can anchor a drapey or floaty top, and a blazer smartens up anything (seriously, a decent t-shirt and silk track pants look smashing with my all-time favorite black twill, closeley tailored Costume National blazer snagged ages ago at the old Filene's Basement designer room in Boston). I always keep my eye out at Buffalo Exchange for well cut, interesting jackets, and I keep one at my desk to look pulled together in a moment if I need to.

  • Mrs.M in MI

    I like wearing different clothes to work and to play. For one, I have a tendency to irreparably stain or otherwise destroy my clothes and so the less I wear my nice (and expensive) work clothes, the better.

    Secondly, my office is strictly climate-controlled while my home is not. So I often find that what I wore to work is unbearably hot or cold at home.

    And this is a lesser reason, but I also find myself attracted to lots of different styles; in particular, a more "feminine" style versus a more "masculine" style. So for work I get to focus on dresses and high heels while on the weekends I get to indulge my inner tomboy in shorts and rugby shirts.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    Like fellow academic Cynthia, I love that I can wear my mostly casual wardrobe at work or play. Except during the first month of teaching, when I'm trying to establish my authority, I wear my usually casual wardrobe with a few details to sharpen up the look. Some of my colleagues go for a smarter, more formal look all semester, but that's not my style. I am just not comfortable in my suit (although I can wear the blazer part if I casual it down enough). I think it communicates that I am an approachable and relatively laid back as a professor, and hopefully will create a space in which students feel they can speak comfortably. The key thing is the dress just a little nicer than the students.
    Weekends, I just go super casual, but still try to look not sloppy.

  • AsianCajuns (Lar)

    I'm lucky enough to work at a very casual office (graphic design), but it's been interesting because Cath has to dress much more professionally during the work week. Our styles are different because of that. They've always been a little different, but Cath's closet is much more professional than mine (blazers and skirts for her, crop tops and skinny jeans for me, etc.).

  • Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    That's so timely – I wore a mix of smart and relaxed today and posted about the fact that I don't hold with separating out my wardrobe. All clothes are available for wear at all times (apart from anything that specifically breaches the dress code).

    The main issues I have with work items are length and fabric (no denim except Fridays). Apart from that, it's a free for all – business casual with the emphasis on either business or casual depending on the day.

  • Candice Virginia

    I'm a college student working through a science program. It's interesting: the first time I went through undergrad, as an English major, I found that expressive personal style was encouraged and demonstrated by professors.

    Now, not so much. It's awkward enough being a woman in a class full of (predominately) men.

    Professors seems to frown upon any clothing choice that differs from the jeans, closed-toe shoes, long sleeve shirts and lab coat uniform of lab days.

    On non-lab days, I tend to ignore the looks and wear dresses (I'm not sure why this is such a problem for them, I don't dress provocatively!).

    But I've found, lately, that I have an aversion to anything but the most comfortable clothing in my closet Friday night through Sunday evening.

    I can't help myself: I love yoga pants, tank tops, ratty sweatshirts and flip flops. And I spend my weekends studying, so no one but my boyfriend sees me.

  • Cecilia

    When I was working, I used to have my work wardrobe of slacks and sweaters and my casual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and t-shirts. Nothing in between, no mixing and matching, ever! I've been a stay at home mom for four years now. Two kids and two sizes later, I found that with no need of a working wardrobe, I was getting tired of my jeans and t-shirt uniform, as I build my new-size wardrobe, I am now picking pieces that can mix and match for a more pulled together casual look and a ready for anything wardrobe, including a future job interview. Wearing something other that jeans and t-shirts makes me feel better about myself. I don't feel frumpy dumpy or like the stereotypical homemaker. Which occasionally does rub some of my peers the wrong way…

  • style underdog

    Hi Sal,
    Thanks for touching on this subject. I always found it odd to have 2 wardrobes, work and play. Just recently, and I mean recently, I've decided to try and mix both. I'm finding it difficult…"that needs to be drycleaned" or "that's too distressed", etc. I admire those that can mix so effortlessly.

  • angeline

    Thanks for this post…this is a topic I think about a lot, actually. Up until just recently, my weekend and non-work wear was basically completely separate from my work wear. I even had separate jeans for Casual Fridays and regular casual wear. That said, I think my casual clothes are just as fun and can look as put together as my work clothes. My friends often comment on how put together I look even on random Saturday trips to the mall (I don't wear anything special…usually just jeans, a simple top, sandals, and some jewelry). I think the trick is nicely fitted pieces and fun accessories. I certainly stay away from looking stuffy and "done" on weekends, though.