Twitter logo

Casual-chic, not casual-scruffy


I think casual outfits can be one of the hardest things to style, whether it's a lunch with friends, a trip to the shops or just day to day errands; you want to look good, perhaps make a bit of a style impact, but sky high heels and a structured blazer are just going to look plain wrong. Particularly if, as in my case, you live in the depths of Devon and the local style is more Barbours and boots than blazers and ballet pumps.

Hitting the right note with your casual look is all about keeping your clothes stylish, but appropriate for the relaxed occasion (whatever that might be). The first place that most of us fall down is in not actually buying casual clothes, particularly if we happen to have a smart-casual job - work clothes get downgraded to casual once they are too tatty for work, rather than being bought specifically for casual wear. Buying casual wear isn't as exciting as buying a smart dress and heels for meetings, and pales in comparison to party dress shopping, but for many of us it actually forms the majority of our day to day clothes, so it needs some attention paying to it.

You will be unsurprised to hear that my solution to the problem is to put together a mini-capsule wardrobe. this isn't something that needs to be kept separately from your main wardrobe, but I always think that attempting to pull together a cohesive 15-20 items of clothing, shoes and accessories (or whatever number is right for your lifestyle, depending on how much time you spend in casual wear) that all mix and match and all fit the 'casual style' brief is a really good exercise for highlighting any wardrobe gaps.

The casual capsule wardrobe shown above is actually my own day to day style, but just in case your style differs wildly from my own (I’ll cope with the shock, don’t worry), I’ve listed my top tips for nailing casual style below:

  1. As I said above, make sure you actually buy some specific casual clothes. Not all your relaxed clothes need to be brand new, but if every single item is an ex-work top, or a cast off from a friend who was clearing out their wardrobe, your clothes are going to be looking sad and worn out before you’ve even started.
  2. When you’re buying those casual clothes and/or pulling a casual capsule from your wardrobe, consider your own colour palette and personal style. the more tightly your 15-20 item ‘pull’ sticks to both of these, the easier the whole thing is going to be, as everything will mix and match that bit more easily. Personally, I base a lot of my winter wardrobe on olive green, dark mole grey and teal/marine navy, but obviously you need to pick the colours and styles that work best for you.
  3. Give yourself more than one option for the bottom half! So much wardrobe boredom is caused by pulling out the same variation on denim jeans ever single day. I am a big fan of skirts or shorts with opaques in winter, but be careful to choose a skirt that will remain decent in windy weather if your casual style requires you to actually leave the house occasionally. I generally go for close fitting shirt tail hem skirts or fitted jersey ones.
  4. Try to include a couple of different shape options for your top half, rather than relying just on variations on the ‘fitted plain/stripe t-shirt’ which forms the majority of so many casual wardrobes. In my case this includes a couple of Kettlewell’s amazing slouchy Tasha tops, and two check shirts, which I usually wear with a camisole underneath for warmth. I’m also going to be experimenting with a polo neck this year for the first time in years, in an effort to feel like I’m am actually following a fashion (hello, 70s trend).
  5. Base your wardrobe around a smallish handful of colours, but don’t be afraid to add in the odd bit of print or texture to liven things up (I am not the world’s most adventurous with print, so please feel free to do as I say, not as I do, here). Whilst every good capsule wardrobe needs plenty of ‘neutral’ pieces, adding some slightly more distinctive pieces will stop your capsule from feeling too flat and boring.
  6. Accessories really finish a look, but so many of us are too lazy to both taking that extra getting ready time in the morning to find and don them. In summer I always suggest putting together an accessory ‘uniform’ that you can just don every day without thinking, but in winter it’s even easier – throw on a hat, scarf and perhaps a pair of gloves, and you’re going to look accessorised 80% of the time (maybe pop a watch or a necklace on too, in case you actually go inside at some point and need to shed some layers).
  7. Give yourself a couple of distinctively different footwear options. By which I mean, don’t plan your outfits around a beige pair of trainers and a brown pair of trainers. For me, that selection has to include at least one properly warm, waterproof, flat pair of boots (to be honest, it actually includes three pairs of those) as my day to day errands include school runs and a lot of walking regardless of the weather, and some sneakers for mild days.
  8. Likewise, consider a coat! Chances are that during the winter, if you’re running errands, the thing that will mostly be on show is your coat. You need a decent coat. Or three. See my coat post from the other week for more information and ideas.

Enjoy the start of autumn! And fingers crossed for at least a few of those frosty, crisp, sunshiney but cold sort of days, and not too many of those ‘OMG has the sun actually come up today and will it every stop raining?’ days.

mary on Feb 05, 2016 3:16 PM

I like your advice on breaking the boredom of the winter wardrobe. My tip is to add some texture to and area of your body that can take texture. Texture makes clothes look more expensive and adds variety.

mary on Feb 05, 2016 2:48 PM

More trousers, 3 coats, 3 prs of flat boots to break the boredom. Fab advise. The breakdown is actually quite mathematical. I add textured tops. Texture makes cheap tops look expensive +adds variety.

Kettlewell Colours on Oct 05, 2015 10:44 AM

Hi Jayne, coloured trousers are getting easier to find in our Autumn palette this year, as rusts, browns and burgundy are all having a fashion moment. It can be a little trickier with smart work trousers (although Hobbs and some of the more expensive high street offerings seem to have the odd thing this year), but in terms of casual trousers there are trousers in our palette on offer at Zara, Jigsaw and even M&S. Also look out for vintage wash denim, which is often lightly warm toned, particularly if it has orange stitching too.

Kettlewell Colours on Oct 05, 2015 10:42 AM

Hi Ris, Thank you so much for your comment. As someone in the same situation, I know exactly what you mean. I've been plotting a 'working from home' wardrobe, so keep an eye out in the coming weeks - and I'll make sure I do a version in your palette!

Jayne smith on Sep 29, 2015 3:46 PM

Enjoyed this post. The only problem I find is putting on something different on bottom half. Lots of shops and companies only do trousers in black and navy which gets boring and as an autumn I like dark green, brown or burgundy

Ris on Sep 25, 2015 11:49 AM

I love reading your blog for inspiration. I'm a winter and I'd love you to show a smart / casual capsule wardrobe for my colouring. I work from home and sometimes need to look smart for clients; but not overly dressed. I can even get away with good jeans if you could show me how to dress them up a little so the overlook is polished and co-ordinated. Would you consider sharing some ideas for the winter palette? I love the overall look of what you have here, but I'd struggle to know what to put with what, without actually seeing the items together. I know you've put it in words, but I'm more of a visual person... Thanks for your consideration!

Joanna Biddolph on Sep 24, 2015 10:59 PM

Interesting but a little too basic and opaque. Needs photos showing how to pull smart casual together with Kettlewell - which top, what on top of that, adding smartness by adding colours from the same spectrum, etc. I'd have included photos galore.