How to Combine a Casual and Work Capsule Wardrobe

How to Combine a Casual and Work Capsule Wardrobe
You can dress for work and the weekend with one capsule wardrobe by combining pieces from both. Transition from one to the other with a few simple switches.

How do I transition my casual capsule to a work capsule wardrobe?

Whenever I start raving about the benefits of capsule wardrobes, someone always asks a version of this question:

“What about me? I need a casual AND a work capsule wardrobe. I don’t want to wear my professional clothes on the weekends… and I definitely can’t wear my casual clothes to the office.”

Sound like you?

I get it! When I was working full-time as a PR and marketing director years ago, I had two completely separate wardrobes: a sleek, polished wardrobe of heels, pencil skirts, and blouses, and a haphazard, comfort-first casual wardrobe. Two entirely different people were living in my closet. That resulted in a fabulous work wardrobe and hardly anything to wear on weekends and evenings. 

But here’s the thing: you don’t need two completely separate wardrobes because you’re not two completely separate people. Whether you’re launching a huge campaign at work, going out on a hot date, or simply running errands, nothing about YOU changes. Your wardrobe should always reflect your own personal style — no matter the occasion. 

You know how I feel about capsule wardrobes

I love waking up in the morning and looking into a closet that’s full of clothes that really let my individual style come through. Getting creative with how I mix and match pieces is fun (and if it’s not for you, I’ve got a formula to help you out down below). And most importantly, I love how much easier having a capsule wardrobe makes things. No one wants to weed through a bunch of clothes they don’t like, deal with closet clutter, or waste time in the morning agonizing over what to wear. We are busy! My mornings are so much easier because I can quickly choose from my carefully curated wardrobe and go!

If you’re a professional working woman, you can still benefit from the capsule wardrobe life. As long as you’ve got the right foundational pieces, dressing your outfits up for work or down for the weekend can be a breeze. I’ll share a few of my top tips for seamlessly transitioning a capsule wardrobe from work to weekend.

1. Swap out the bottoms

This is a trick I use all the time! I’m always amazed at how quickly an outfit can go from casual to professional simply by swapping out jeans for a pencil skirt, ankle pants, or trousers. You can pair tees, sweaters, and button ups with dressier bottoms and you’re instantly ready for work. And it goes both ways — a simple blouse and blazer paired with matching slacks are wardrobe staples in a professional wardrobe, but wear them with a pair of jeans and you’ve got an effortlessly cool look.

Work Capsule Wardrobe switch pants and shoes

To take this knit top from work to weekend I changed my bottoms and shoes. I chose ankle pants for this look, but a skirt or full length trousers would work equally as well. My jewelry, top and purse stayed the same. I could have upgraded to an even more professional looking bag for a really conservative environment, but this one is pretty versatile and works both ways. 

2. Accessorize thoughtfully

The right accessories can really aid you in dressing your look up or down. A statement necklace and pretty earrings can help a simple, casual top look more put-together for a work day or date night. 

When considering jewelry, the sleeker and more classic it is, the more professional. Materials matter. In general if you stick to metals and gemstones (faux is fine) you will always be appropriate. You can definitely wear statement pieces and colorful items, but avoid materials like rattan, fringe, and wood if you work in a more professional setting. Consider how conservative your workplace is and choose accordingly. The more casual, the more fun you can have with accessories.

Balance is also more important. I typically stick to one statement piece of jewelry. If you work in a really conservative environment, you may want to keep your accessories on the more delicate side and save the statements for your time off.

Another accessory that can dress your outfit up or down is your bag. A sleek, structured handbag or work tote makes a completely different statement than a more casual bag. 

Most people don’t count accessories toward the number of pieces in their capsule wardrobe anyway. So you can have a little more freedom when it comes to jewelry, bags, and hats!). 

3. One word: Layers

You may think that your favorite basic striped tee has no place in your work capsule wardrobe… but throw a structured blazer over it, and it’s instantly office-ready. Or give a pretty blouse new life by wearing it under a cool leather jacket. Capsule wardrobes are all about pairing clothes you love together in fresh, thoughtful ways — as long as you stick to a consistent color palette and your Style Twist, your wardrobe will be extremely cohesive, and your mix and match options will increase dramatically.

Take the Style Twist Quiz below to find out which details make your outfits perfectly you!

4. Shoes make the outfit

Sometimes, bringing an outfit from desk to weekend is as easy as kicking off your heels and throwing on a pair of flats. Other times, you might need to switch out your bottoms or throw on another layer in order to fully transition an outfit. But still, don’t underestimate the power of shoes to pull an outfit together! Instead of sandals, put on heels or flats. In the workplace, the right shoes can send the right message.

Here’s a list of details to look for when choosing your footwear.

How to choose shoes for a casual and work capsule wardrobe
A tale of two wedges

The combination of details can also make a big difference. Are wedges dressy or casual? Yes they are. Open toes, chunky heels, materials like cork, jute and canvas make them very casual. But a leather, closed toe wedge with a wooden or leather heel is very chic and perfect for the office. Wedges are more comfortable than a skinny heel because it distributes the weight across your foot. The same goes for block heels. They can be very chic or very casual depending on the details, and easier on your feet.

The first pair of wedges is casual because of the open toe, and the jute trim on the sides. The studs don’t affect the dressiness of the shoe. As Valentino has taught us, studs can be dressy. The second pair is all leather, including a leather wedge heel (but wooden heels are also dressy), and closed toe. The materials and the toe box (or lack of) make all the difference. 

Work Capsule Wardrobe comparing wedges

5. Go for function… not a rigid number

If you still find yourself struggling to put together one capsule wardrobe that works for both your personal and professional life, remember this: capsule wardrobes aren’t one-size-fits-all. The perfect number of pieces for some stranger on the internet might not be the perfect number for you. And that’s okay! Your ideal capsule wardrobe will be small enough to add simplicity to your life and capture your own unique style, yet large enough to still allow you creative freedom to express yourself each day – and dress appropriately for work and the weekend. Click here for more ideas on how to find YOUR perfect number of pieces!

Note: if you are combining your casual and work capsule wardrobes, you will need a larger number, but not double the amount (usually). 

6. Styling hacks

A few styling hacks can take any outfit up a notch. The easiest one is tucking in your top. Tucking a more casual top into a dressy skirt instantly elevates it. Yes, you can even wear a nice tee with a work-appropriate skirt or pants. Everything looks tidier and more intentional when your top is tucked in. An exception can be if you are wearing a very form-fitting, tailored top with a straight hem, you can leave it untucked because it already looks contained. This is not the time for the casual cool, “I woke up this way,” half-tuck.

Choose your fabrics carefully. Not all tees can transition from weekend to work. Slub tees and boyfriend fit scream casual. If you work in a more casual environment, you could get away with it, but that is something to consider. Ponte knit and very smooth, fine knits are easier to dress up. Likewise, when considering items to dress down, I personally avoid the delicate items, like silk. I have six kids, and they have sticky hands. If I’m going out with adults, then dressing down a silk top works beautifully. 

Pairing your knit items with more traditionally dressy items elevates them. A tee with gabardine wool trousers or a tweed jacket: yes. A knit tee with a knit skirt: no. The more structured an item is, the dressier it will look. The easiest items to dress up and down are typically tops.

7. A simple Formula to switch it up

In the Stunning Style Wardrobe Guides, the outfits are all pretty casual. Depending on the season, a lot of them work for casual work environments, but for those who need to step it up, this is a basic formula to take that casual outfit to work. You can do this in your own wardrobe, too. Take your favorite casual outfit and do the following:

  • Bottoms: choose a skirt, ankle pants or trousers in the same color. Blue denim swaps out for navy and black denim swaps out for black.
  • Shoes: choose a closed toe flat, heel, or loafer in the same color, and follow the checklist above to make sure the details are right.
  • Bag: most classic style bags can dress up or down, but make sure your bag matches the style of your outfit. 
And that’s usually it. One of the many beauties of a classic style wardrobe is it inherently looks more dressed up anyway because of the style, fit, and quality, and that helps with being able to make a lot of your casual pieces cross over to your work capsule wardrobe. 

Let's see a casual and Work CApsule Wardrobe in Action

Casual and Work Capsule Wardrobe

Leopard skirt: In picture one I wore this leopard skirt with a white slub tee, open-toe sandals, and a denim jacket. For me this is a casual day outfit. I wore it on a weekday with my six kids and another time on a date with my husband. To dress this skirt up I wore it with a black tee, but this one is a substantial ponte knit with a more structured and tailored fit. I tucked it in all the way around, and let’s pretend I put on some black pumps instead of these casual wedges. This would be a work-appropriate outfit.

Black tee: This black tee is a very fine, smooth knit, and it gets an upgrade with the metallic silver chain detail on the neck. I wore it casually, untucked with a pair of shorts and sandals. Tucking it in with a pencil skirt and the chic wedge heels dressed it up. I could also have worn this with some red (or any other color) ankle pants.

Red shirtdress: A shirtdress is incredibly versatile. The only change that dressed it down was the shoes. I dressed this one up with leopard heels, and dressed it down for a casual day with flat sandals. But I could have dressed it down even more with a more casual bag, like a straw tote or crossbody and jute wedges.

Navy sweater: I love this navy sweater, and I featured it in both the Fall and Spring Wardrobe Guides, and it is definitely a closet staple. I dressed it down with a pair of pink ankle pants and wedge sandals. Though honestly, if I’d thrown on some sleek flats or heels, this would be great for a work outfit. A navy pencil skirt and pink heels dressed it up to take it to work. I’ve worn it with destroyed jeans too.

You can have a curated, cohesive, stylish capsule wardrobe and still dress appropriately for any occasion. Putting together a collection of clothes you genuinely love and that truly reflect your own personal Style Twist will help you feel more confident, beautiful, and true to yourself. (I know it has for me!)

Looking for help to build your capsule wardrobe from the ground up? My seasonal Wardrobe Guides feature a curated capsule collection of 30+ pieces (with shopping links!) catered to your Style Twist and a cohesive color palette, 100 outfit ideas, and a calendar to tell you which outfit to wear every single day of the season. Starting a capsule wardrobe has never been so easy! 

Looking for more inspiration? Discuss capsule wardrobes and classic style with a fun community of like-minded women in the Capsule Wardrobes for Classic Style Facebook group

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