Capsule Wardrobe: Active Casual for a Busy Mom

I'm in my 30s. I work full time from home. I have a 2 year old son that keeps me very active. I live in yoga pants/work out attire because a) I'm in public less than a couple of hours per day so getting “dressed” feels like a chore and b) I'm a hands on mom who loves playing/getting dirty with her little one so work out attire is more daily activity appropriate for us (hiking, running around the park, playing ball at the house) and is more comfortable, layer able, etc. I'd like to create a capsule wardrobe but I don't know where to start. Any suggestions on a comfortable, no frills/fuss wardrobe on a budget that will allow me to make my yoga pants a thing of the past?

I totally get it. My daughter is 6 and as soon as I get home I switch into machine washable comfortable clothing. My evenings and weekends are spent at the playground, sitting in the grass at the lake or farmers market, taking a hike, and doing other activities where life as well as sticky peanut butter handprints can take a toll on my wardrobe. But that doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing, dry clean only or yoga pants. Casual clothing has come a long way baby, and there’s some amazing fabrics and silhouettes out there to help you look polished but still be able to be active and toss your clothes in the washer at the end of the day.

Capsule Wardrobe for active casual lifestyle or SAHM
Shop Similar: ponte pants | boyfriend jeans| leggings | drape top | stripe top | plaid shirt | black tee | striped cardigan | gray cardigan | silver slip-on sneakers | hiking boots | black dress | gray tunic | crystal pendant necklace | leopard scarf

For this capsule wardrobe, I considered a woman who wants her clothes as active as she yet to still look put together enough for brunch with a friend, bumping into an ex at the market, or attending a sports game or outdoor festival with the family. I chose a pretty neutral color palette of black, gray, off-white and pink, but this could easily be switched out for autumnal shades, cool tones, or most any other combination you like. However, sticking to a certain color story makes pieces more versatile and it helps you get into the capsule mindset when shopping. When you know your color story, you’re less likely to purchase items that don’t work not only when it comes to color, but also silhouette and purpose.

This capsule has three different types of bottoms – heavyweight ponte pants in a slim fit, boyfriend jeans, and heavyweight leggings. I used these three to show how you can incorporate different cuts of pants and jeans with the featured tops, but also know you can also wear all types of cuts of jeans, cords and stretch twill pants (a pair of olive utility pants would be a great alternative and the color goes great with neutrals, pastels, and jewel tones).

When it comes to machine washable tops, look for pieces with an interesting detail. The  top has drape, elevating it above basic tees. A heavier-weight striped top with bracelet sleeves and a boat or bateau neck is classic elegance. Plaid shirts are back in style; to keep from looking like a lumberjack choose a soft fabric, more muted of print, and a feminine silhouette. The v-neck tee is more flattering and dressy than a standard crew.

Shop Cardigans and Casual Toppers:

Layers will not only keep you warm, but also add interest to your outfit. Choosing toppers with a length longer than your base layer adds depth to your look. A patterned open cardigan is as cozy as a zip-up fleece but incorporates current trends and an interesting print. A waterfall, cocoon, or batwing cardigan incorporates an interesting silhouette to your look while still being easy to wear. With toppers, they don't get laundered as often and I find I can get away with dry clean or gentle cycle/throw over a towel bar to dry since it's not so often.  Don’t think the flannel has to just be a shirt; you can wear it open or half-buttoned over tees and tanks or just wear tied around the waist to break up a basic knit and jeans outfit.

Dresses and tunics don’t have to be dressy. Retailers like Athleta often carries athletic dresses; pair with leggings and slip-on sneakers and you’re as comfortable as you were in your yoga pants but look more polished. A tunic in a drapey or silky machine-washable fabric is a great addition to a casual capsule wardrobe because it adds polish, shine, but no additional effort. This tunic comes in several different colors and a couple fun prints and would look great with leggings for the weekend, a boyfriend blazer and skinny jeans for a night out, or wear tucked into trousers or a pencil skirt for an office-friendly outfit.

Accessories complete a capsule wardrobe and take pieces from being separates to an ensemble. A long chain with a crystal pendant is simple, budget-friendly, and adds not just shine but a bit of weight to a look, helping tops drape better. A lightweight scarf in a fun print jazzes up most any look you can create from this capsule; I’m a fan of leopard prints which play nicely with other patterns like stripes. Hiking boots not only work for your lifestyle, but are also on trend this season. Choose a pair in leather and/or in a solid color and they can easily incorporate into non-trail looks. A pair of slip-on sneakers in a fun print or interesting texture are comfortable, easy, yet show you’re aware of current trends. I like this metallic finished one which is just as comfy as a canvas version but adds shine and personality to a casual or weekend wardrobe.

When shopping for a casual, weekend, or SAHM wardrobe step out of the workout wear department and look for easy care pieces with drape, interesting details, and feminine silhouettes. Stick to a simple color palette and use accessories to add personality and polish to your outfits. It is possible to have an active lifestyle and still achieve style!

34 Comments

  1. Jessica
    February 19, 2019 / 9:26 pm

    Happy to find this. Cheers!

  2. L. A. McDonough
    March 25, 2017 / 5:08 pm

    I live in yoga pants and denim or khaiki capri pants all the time in the warmer climate I live in. Have jogger pants for cooler days. Don’t own dresses or skirts and have some dressy pants for seldom events. A blazer completes the look. Neutral bottoms in navy, gray and khiaki with blues and greens on top. Neutral purses and outerwear.

  3. Helena
    October 19, 2015 / 12:32 pm

    This is a great capsule! I hope you might do something similar for spring and summer! 🙂

  4. AlisonCSB
    October 15, 2015 / 12:09 pm

    This is really great. Two questions — the pink drape top is amazing and I need to own it, but it only goes up to a size 12. Any ideas where to fid something in a 14-16? Second — the platonic ideal of a teeshirt for short curvy girls. I have tried so many, and they all seem to either make me look like a rectangle or emphasize the post-baby muffin top. Any ideas?

    • October 15, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      Both great questions. I had that top in white back when it was sized differently (likely a slightly different top but also from Topshop) and I had to return the L for a M because it was HUGE. And my favorite for tees is ones that are a linen blend; they have drape without being clingy and often have a curved hemline. I’ve gotten cute ones from J. Crew and LOFT but don’t put them in the dryer. In fact, I wash my linen tees in a lingerie bag on the gentle cycle and then hang dry.

  5. D C
    October 13, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    I love this capsule because not only does it fit my life but is almost exactly my style! In fact, I have a version of every single piece you mentioned (well my boots are wedge booties and riding boots but still boots!). My problem is mixing and matching…I am NOT a creative thinker. I am an accountant whose mind works in columns and rows, by numbers and logic. I do utilize Pinterest but still feel stuck using the same combinations. I would love to see a post on different ways to style these pieces!

    • October 13, 2015 / 2:36 pm

      Great point! Here’s some suggestions:
      – Silky tunic with leggings and tall boots, with or without the leopard scarf
      – Silky tunic with gray cardigan, skinny black pants, and silver sneakers. Add pendant
      – Silky tunic half-tucked (just the front) into boyfriend jeans with pendant necklace and silver sneakers
      – Black dress with leggings, boots, and striped cardigan
      – Black dress with leggings, sneakers, and leopard scarf… or instead tie the flannel around your waist
      – Striped tee, boyfriend jeans, silver sneakers… with or without scarf or flannel tied at waist
      – Striped tee, skinny pants, boots, scarf… or instead wear the flannel unbuttoned OR the gray cardigan OR the striped cardigan (yes it’s okay to mix the two!)
      – Plaid flannel half-tucked into boyfriend jeans with silver sneakers
      – Plaid flannel untucked over skinny black pants and boots
      – Plaid flannel open over black tee with black leggings and boots… and even add the scarf!
      – Pink top with any of the bottoms, and don’t be afraid to layer under either of the sweaters (and also a great time to incorporate a blazer in your closet – roll the sleeves to look less corporate)
      – The dress can work with a pair of super opaque tights (black or a color), the boots or with a pair of flats or different boots (Chelsea, knee-high, calf-high, etc.)

      Some pieces you can easily add to this look are witty message or band tees, some fitted v-necks in heathered or neutral colors, ribbed tanks, opaque tights, skinny jeans or jeggings, and even a ponte flippy or skater skirt. The hiking boots can easily be switched out for a pair of ankle booties, engineer boots, or knee-high boots. If the silver shoes are too much, they can easily be switched for another type of sneaker or if your style fits it, a pair of oxfords or brogues.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

      • D C
        October 13, 2015 / 2:38 pm

        Oh my goodness, that helps so much! Thank you!!

  6. Emily
    October 13, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    Ahh great post! I would wear all of these! My only suggestion would be to be careful with linen-blend tees as they tend to stretch out with washing much more than other fabrics 🙁

  7. Anne
    October 12, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    Great post Allie. I passed it along to my sister in law who has two little guys. Thank you also for putting out a reader survey and taking the responses to heart. I have dropped several blogs over the past year or so because it feels like they are appealing more to sponsors than to me. Keep up the great work.

  8. Lee4
    October 12, 2015 / 6:00 pm

    Really cute ideas! Could easily see myself wearing some of these options on weekends

  9. Bridget Wall
    October 12, 2015 / 3:21 pm

    eShakti also has comfy jersey dresses!

  10. Jenni
    October 12, 2015 / 2:32 pm

    This is excellent and so helpful to me. It feels really accessible. I actually have a lot of these pieces and could easily add just a few more pieces to get to what you have. I do have a question about the boots. Every time I have tried on boots like this I feel like I’m trying to look like a teenager. This could be because I loved docs when I was a teenager and it is taking me back. But, I’d love to see a “how do you style this” type of post for the boots, because I really just want to look like a put together adult, not someone trying to be younger.

  11. Charlotte
    October 12, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    I stay home with my 4-year old and 2 1/2 year old and also run a writing and editing business from home. I used to be a teacher, so it has felt like my entire closet has been a mix of workout clothes, “teacher clothes” (that no longer fit properly post-babies), and maternity clothes (that I finally passed along to new mamas-to-be this summer). This post contained the visual cues I needed to replenish my wardrobe–thank you!

  12. Julie
    October 12, 2015 / 1:04 pm

    I’m not a mom, but I also work at home full time, and I second your suggestion about casual dresses. Athleta is good, as is Title Nine (especially their sweater dresses). PrAna makes super-comfortable Tencel jersey dresses. The one I have is called (I believe) Rosalinda and it is very flattering. When the weather cold off I just add leggings and a cardigan.

    • Julie
      October 12, 2015 / 1:06 pm

      *cools off

    • Julie
      October 13, 2015 / 1:08 pm

      I was wrong. It’s Toad & Co., not prAna.

  13. Jen W
    October 12, 2015 / 10:52 am

    This is fantastic! And I have most of these pieces, just wouldn’t have thought to put them together. Thank you!

  14. Cathy
    October 12, 2015 / 10:51 am

    I’m a retired empty nester and this is my style too!

  15. loubeelou
    October 12, 2015 / 10:30 am

    I’m not a mom, but this is totally my style. Love it!

  16. Jennifer
    October 12, 2015 / 10:12 am

    Love this!

  17. Trudy Sherman
    October 12, 2015 / 9:17 am

    Great job! This is one of the best capsule posts I’ve seen! Love every item 🙂

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