Thinking about a casual wardrobe Part 1

posted in: Style advice | 21

One thing that struck me during #MeMadeMay was that while I dress up during my working week my first choice at the weekend is super casual. I had to try hard to incorporate “me made” at the weekend. This is because I usually wear:

  • jeans
  • long sleeved T shirt, often with a second one on top, sometimes with shorter sleeves
  • slippers indoors; trainers outside
  • cashmere jumper if it is cold
  • down jacket if it is colder or I am going out
  • waterproof anorak if it is wet and windy
  • rucksack
  • small silver earrings
  • little or no make up
  • Er, that’s it.

In a nutshell – comfortable trousers, leggings, jeggings, joggers, stretchy jeans – with a jersey top is what, literally, everyone (man, woman or child) wears.

I remember being impressed, in about 1986, with the concept of the “babygro” – a stretchy outfit that covers top and bottom and feet in soft, cottony jersey. It occurred to me as I pulled on yesterday’s worn, grubby and ill fitting clothes that what I really needed was a “mummygro”, an all-in-one, comfy, stretchy garment that in a jiffy, I could zip myself into.

David Beckham designs
David Beckham for kids (H&M)


The picture above of David Beckham’s designs for kids shows outfits virtually everyone wears – comfortable cotton jersey T shirts and leggings/jogging bottoms. My two year old grandson and I have almost matching Converse shoes.

Kids in Converse with Spiderman plaster
Kit’s Converse (with Spiderman plaster)

What I like about this uniform

  • comfortable
  • practical
  • warm (it’s rarely warm enough for proper summer clothes and if it is I have plenty of choice)
  • casual trousers (as opposed to skirt and tights) means I can walk, climb, run, bend down etc. without a cold zone or loss of dignity
  • casual trousers (as opposed to tailored trousers) can absorb dirt, rain, etc and can go straight into the washing machine and back on with no dry cleaning or ironing
  • very economical as I can wear virtually the same outfit everyday so long as I change the T shirt (the value of a uniform)
  • it’s easy and doesn’t require much thought
  • suits me – I look OK in jeans with a fitted T shirt

On the other hand this look scares me because it has no individuality in it. Not much anyway. And boring colours – navy or denim often with a blue or grey jumper. And my casual wardrobe is almost entirely bought off the peg, which reflects its low effort/low maintenance vibe. For me this outfit is worn only 2/7th of my week – but if I didn’t have a fairly senior job I might also dress like this for work; then it might be a 6/7th of my week. When I retire (not for at least five years) is this my wardrobe life?

I was talking to my daughter about her wardrobe. She works nights and weekends in a small annex with three or four others, hidden in general from the public. She sometimes has to go to hospitals, police stations etc but is not expected to be particularly smartly dressed. The rest of the time she is gadding about with two little kids so has minimal need for formal wear.

My mother, (who is elderly and rather disabled) also likes to keep her wardrobe very simple, as she struggles to dress unaided. She has adopted a set of clothes that are either stretch trousers with a jumper, or a jersey dress and cardigan, over simple underwear (vest and pants) with support socks and velcro or elastic sided shoes she can remove without help. Even so she still manages to look pretty good – in terms of the colours, patterns and textures she chooses. Her outfits are restricted by the actual difficulties of dressing.

And I think all of us – Mum, me and my daughter all love dressing up and looking nice – but, like everyone else, our default look is easy, simple and comfortable.

Here are a couple of old pictures of us wearing “smart casual” My loose fitting floral maternity trousers are worn with a stripey red top and periwinkle blue cardigan. My Mum has a nice white blouse with pleated skirt, and Esme appears to be wearing something white and frilly. In the second picture Esme is wearing a floral dress I made for her from the softest Indian lawn. I wear a navy spotty dress and a Marks and Spencer purple linen jacket that I subsequently ruined by leaning on a bleached worktop. Mum is wearing floral jeans in muted pinks and greens with a light pink T shirt.

So what am I saying?

Should I try to dress up more at weekends? Or should I reinvent the weekend wardrobe to make it more exciting and individualistic, but still casual and comfortable? Do you make too many dressy clothes that you never wear, or do you just keep churning out comfy tops on your overlocker?



21 Responses

  1. Mary

    Dresses are the most comfortable for me. In winter a dress, tights, and boots are easy and comfy and can be made to look smart with a scarf or jacket. Most of my winter dresses are made from wool or thick jersey. In summer I like loose dresses made in linen. I do wear jeans but feel most ‘me’ in a dress. I think all garment styles can be worn in a casual or formal way. Fabric and texture play a big part in delineating between the two. I like what you wrote about your mother dressing around her ability. I like to look put together too when I go out.

  2. Mags

    I wear pretty much the same as you . Smart for 5 days then trackies etc for the weekend. I definitely wouldn’t smarten up. I do wear comfy dresses for the weekend when I’m out e,g. A ponte coco, but at home strictly comfy. I’ll be retiring in 6 years but wonder what on earth I will sew then!

  3. SewRuthie

    I am a comfortable tops churned out on the over locker sort of person. I choose interesting prints so they are not boring. Often at the weekend I am entirely dressed in Craghoppers which is super casual but very practical.

  4. eimear

    I find that I do end up in a ‘uniform’ of sorts, and I found making a pair of trews last year from a stretch denim very handy indeed,(as I wear trousers a lot for working around house and garden) and I got to draft a proper pants pattern that fitted me, and got the perfect fabric,and I have used this block on a few alterations since. In the winter I will mix it up, as I like tunic dresses and boots…. ultimately since I started back sewing for myself at least I am now getting the cut and look I like.

  5. Hila

    Its interesting that I reached a similar realisation at analysing MMM – a lack of casual loungewear. I am thinking on how to adress this as well so will be looking on for ideas. I love whipping jersey tops (+ dresses) in 30mins on the overlocker and I could easily exclusively wear jersey if it wasnt for the fact that I love challenging techniques (read high achiever). Have you seen the Hudson pants – they look very comfy and could be dressy weekend wear in a really nice silk jersey.

  6. Su

    A mummygro… you’re not talking “onesies” here are you? :O haha

    Isn’t the anonymity, or lack of individuality, at weekends part of not being ‘on duty’ for those who dress smartly for work?

  7. Karen K

    Your post is so timely as I am grappling with the self same issue. I do have some lovely casual shirts I made and I’ve got well fitting jeans and casual trousers under my belt now too, and like you I do love a good plain t shirt but they’re so boring to make. I do love the sports luxe look, and need to work out how I can incorporate it into my wardrobe whilst being age appropriate. Burdastyle have some good ideas, if you can be bothered to trace off the patterns.

  8. Ruth

    I feel that weekends are for doing what we want! I would look at what you do and balance it up with your comfort requirements. I do different things at a weekend, so might be in trackies all day. But my weekend uniform would be mostly jeans and a me made top, either jersey or woven, and no makeup. Sometimes I wear me made dresses especially in summer.
    I guess when I eventually retire, I would probably make more effort in what I wear going out for a coffee or seeing friends than I do now.

  9. Stephanie

    Lovely and poignant photos of your family, Kate. It sounds as though your mum has adapted her style effectively to her current constraints.

    On the weekends I usually throw on jeans or casual trousers and a buttoned shirt and handmade sweater if it’s cold, so I suppose knitting comes in handy here. I have a weird thing in that if I dress neatly in good clothes as soon as I get up I feel I use the day more effectively than if I stay in sloppier lounge wear! I might be the only person who only wears tees to sleep or lounge in and grubby stuff for cleaning or painting. If I go out I throw on interesting shoes or short boots and a favourite coat. I also like the floral skinny trousers I made last year, that are a bit like your mum’s and are comfy and fun depending on the tops I pair with them.

  10. Joyce Latham

    I also love the old photographs. Your mom has great style, the Apple does t fall far from the tree.
    Casual…is my world. Morning noon and night…but I still crave a bit of a dress up/casual. I want…the smart in casual. I don’t mind buying anything off the rack, but I like to make things and I enjoy the process of sewing, including all the choices I get to make. One trip to Walmart depresses me…I don’t want to look like everyone else. I want to fit in, but be different enough to be interesting. Trust me, when you retire, clothing will be even more important as it will be one of your most valuable tools to communicate to the world…you will be leaving some labels behind, your work will be “The Kate company “… Your image will still be important, no?
    I have absolutely no fear that you will ever mix in with the masses of retirees. No no no….you will continue to express yourself in your creative ways….surely casual can be fun too, I can’t wait to see what designs colours and fabrics you choose. Bring on the casual…that’s my vote…it will be a exciting!
    Till the next time

  11. viliene

    Spot on! You will certainly as always come up with some interesting solutions.
    So far I am wearing cotton jersey velvet trousers in winter ( I have no idea how this type of fabric is called in English) or corduroi trousers plus old T-shirts with long sleeves. In summer I wear the regulation T-shirt. and I have made various mesh skirts that stretch when I stalk about in the flower beds while I pottering in the garden.
    A change would be nice, though, something casual in linen that does not need ironing. I have bought this Italian linen crêpe and will give it a try for a dress. But so far it feels rather stiff. It is probably very durable and will soften up after umteen washes, hopefully.
    Modesty is no problem I even do canoeing in a skirt. I just wear some cropped leggings underneath. A dress and thick tights could be a nice change in winter, too.

  12. Joyce Latham

    I’m back…here’s an idea.
    Why don’t you make your weekend wear to suit your new house on the water front property. Why not have this setting for your next collection. A wardrobe that suits the location and your colours , the clothing in the vibe of your new home! Something to think about?
    Till the next time

  13. Theresa

    I live in a very hot climate so it’s always casual for me. Since my day starts out with walking the dog the usual uniform is a camp shirt, jeans and walking shoes with an occasional jeans skirt thrown in. Check out Louise Cutting’s website and the Flicker feed for some ideas on chic casual. And I think Joyce has the right idea for dressing for your new house and its environs.
    Theresa in Tucson

  14. Michele

    Although here in Canada most business are of a ‘business casual’ nature, I tend to dress more professionally at the office. But it’s strictly and ‘jeans and a tee’ at the weekend. I have a great gap in my wardrobe of ‘smart’ casual clothing – things to wear out to brunch on a Sunday, or to friends for dinner – and I would really like to fill that gap!

  15. Annieloveslinen

    It’s a dilemma isn’t it? I’ve wrestled with this question too but from a different angle as I like to keep work wear and weekend wear separate as much as I can, a hangup from a ‘Sunday Best’ upbringing.

    When I’m home the first thing I do is change into joggers and tee shirt. I aspire to Eileen Fisher separates and a cashmere cardi but have settled for Sainsbuys Tu.

    At weekends I start off in sweats and end up in sweats but when I go outside I want to look presentable. As I don’t own jeans or trainers I’ll wear a casual comfortable outfit that looks nice then, if I should happen to meet anyone I know, at least I look a bit different. Fleece though is the devil’s handiwork and I mustardmit I’ve been out more times than I should’ve in my manky old jacket.

  16. Sam

    I’m guessing if you spend 2/7th of your time in casual clothing, you should spend 2/7th of your time sewing it. Have you looked at Style Arc patterns? They have a lot of what are (to my mind anyway) stylish casual separates.

  17. gill

    I had a similar problem previously – far too many me-made fancy frocks when I started and nothing to wear for everyday. However with the inspiration of MMM, 3 years later I’ve made clothes that I wear in real life.
    If you like long sleeve Ts, can I suggest the Tilly and the Buttons Agnes top – a really good long sleeve T pattern that I’ve made half a dozen times with plans for more. I’ve found its a good replacement for the M&S Heatgen tops since I’m not buying ready made anymore. I haven’t done the puffy sleeves or elastic gather front, I like the plain version for layering.

  18. karen

    Make colourful tops from jersey, cotton, fleece or linen. Keep your neutral jeans and leggings. Also, make colourful casual tunics. Lots of patterns out there. Just make sure the fabric is stretchy and washable. They should sew up quickly, minimize fitting issues and the colours will put a smile on your face.

  19. Su

    My late fall to spring weekend wardrobe more or less consisted of jeans or cotton pants and a handknit sweater or lighter weight purchased knit top. I was fed up with the bulk and seams of jeans so have eliminated them from my wardrobe. I made a few looser fitting dresses to wear on the weekend. Summer weekend wear is mainly cottage wear so it’s old clothes to deal with the mystery stains that appear and never come out- paint, tree sap, dirt? ….
    It’s fairly easy too make casual stylish weekend wear and up your look and still be comfortable.

  20. Jane

    My wardrobe sounds very similar to yours. Smart clothes during the week for work and jeans and a jumper at the weekend for practicality. The only difference is that we have a dress down day on Fridays which I’ve learnt to love. This is the day I wear the clothes that I think best express my individual style – casual and comfortable dresses, trousers or smart jeans with a silk shirt or pretty top, slightly funky jewellery.

    I aim for smart, stylish and grown up but with a relaxed feel – if I haven’t made the clothes myself I go for Cos,The White Company or Whistles. I’d love to wear these clothes more often but they aren’t really practical for any other day.

  21. louise

    Interesting post. I work part time, and dont have the need to dress up for either of my jobs. I struggle to dress down, I still think Im working in an office. I love creating nice garments making a jersey t shirt does not excite me at all, whats more I enjoy wearing them. Yet I feel overdressed in this modern day. Everyone tells me I always look nice, but I struggle with casual wear.

Leave a Reply