mom fashion: how to look put together with limited time

How to look put together even when you feel like a hot mess

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Hi Mamma! How are you doing today? I hope you got some sleep last night and everything went mostly your way today. As a busy mom, I know how rarely those two things seem to happen together. On top of the day to day craziness, finding the time and energy to work on your wardrobe and look put together is hard work. Between the dinner, and cleaning up, and packing lunches, and finishing up work, and kissing boo-boos, and making sure the homework is done, and teeth are brushed and baths are taken – there are about a million things on the priority list that come before what to wear. Many days I’m happy to make it out of the house wearing shoes instead of slippers. I’ve had many days when finding an outfit was just another stressor on my list. However, I finally found out that it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a little planning, it’s absolutely possible to look put together with limited time and energy.

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The Mamma’s List on how to look good with less time

The steps below are a great way to look put together and create a wardrobe that works with limited time and energy:

  1. Create a “uniform” that flatters your body and makes you feel good. You can swap out pieces but if you have a style you can stick to, it saves time in the morning
  2. Adjust your wardrobe and uniform to fit your phase of life and work environment. You may have two styles or uniforms if necessary, one for home and one for work
  3. Spend to save: stock up on quality basics when they are on sale, or if you find something you love
  4. Fill in your wardrobe with trendier items on the cheap
  5. Don’t forget to finish with accessories & shoes – they make the outfit!

I always feel like I'm a hot mess in the morning, but I need to look put together for work. I found a few strategies that help me look put together no matter how late I'm running or how little time I have to get out of the house. A simple formula and a few quick tips are all you need to look great, no matter what!


With planning and an easy formula, it is possible to still have style as a mom of young children, and it will even take some of the stress off your shoulders if you plan in advance. I’ve already posted about some of the things you can do to make your week easierand with a wardrobe plan creating your weekly outfits becomes even easier.


The easiest way to always look put together and make an efficient wardrobe is to create a “uniform.” You know what styles look the best on your body, and what you’re most comfortable in. Find an outfit that works well for your body and makes you feel fantastic. When you create your basic uniform don’t choose the outfit in your closet that forces you to suck in every time you stand up, or the one where you’re always pulling a sleeve or a hem this way or that. Really find the pieces that work for you and make you feel great. For instance, you may choose a silky or flowy top with skinny jeans or tailored leggings and a great sweater. You could also choose a form fitting thinner sweater and slacks or ankle length trousers if you work in an office. Choosing your key basics reduces the amount of time you’ll spend pulling outfits together, and helps keep costs down as you’ll only need to supplement with a few trendy pieces.




There are times in your life when your wardrobe will need to adjust to a new phase. One of these times was right after I had a baby. There was a definite shift in the way my wardrobe needed to function when I had a little to nurse. It was infinitely more important that I had comfortable clothes that were easy to throw in the wash. I wasn’t about to put on my sequin tank top (yes, I have one) and then pick up my three-month-old baby. Hello, scratchy! Also – spit up and silk doesn’t mix, and I don’t have the budget to dry clean all my clothing daily. Now that I had WAY less time to devote to myself, it was even more important to create a uniform that worked. Check out how I found nursing clothes that didn’t suck, or break the bank! Altering your wardrobe to fit your phase of life is important and will change as you evolve professionally and personally.

Look good at work

For work, you’ll need to be a little dressier, even in a casual work environment. I’m partial to silky or flowier tops paired with a cardigan or blazer. I do work in an office with a flexible dress code, so I can pair these tops with either jeans or black pants depending on my day. I have a few fun dresses that I usually wear with tall boots to change things up and can switch from my boots to ballet flats or loafers when the weather is warmer. The great news about this kind of dress code is that my wardrobe transitions from work to weekend and back. I never have to worry about not having something if I want to go out to dinner, and I don’t need to spend money on business casual or business professional outfits that I only wear to work.

Work versus home

If you do need to have a separate wardrobe for both work and home, choose pieces that can transition through both areas if possible. For instance, a nice thinner sweater can be used for work and weekend. It can be paired with jeans on the weekend or black trousers or skinny pants during the week. A great blazer works well with a suit or jeans, and silk (or silk-like) tops can transition to the weekend. I will caution that the silkier shirts should be avoided in the newborn phase. Unless you just really like dry cleaning, and don’t mind a heftier bill or possibly ruined shirts. As my toddler is approaching two, I don’t usually have to plan my outfits around spit up anymore.

While pregnant it’s all about comfort and what you can fit in. While pregnant, buy basics including solid t-shirts and jeans, or black pants and a few dresses. Then dress them all up or down with accessories. Your jackets and shoes will fit you almost the whole way through. You can use scarves and jewelry to make the basic outfits more interesting. I also recommend buying maternity clothes that are nursing friendly so they can double duty through pregnancy and nursing.

As a nursing mom, your uniform will almost certainly include either a v-neck or button-down top for easy access. You may even want a scarf to use as a nursing cover or for more privacy. You want to avoid  turtlenecks, dresses that aren’t v-neck or spaghetti strap, and any non-nursing top that are tight. Check out my tips on nursing fashion for more information.


To save money in the long run, it’s best to get high-quality basics. Mix in trendier items you can buy cheaper at discount or outlet stores. I love Nordstrom for my quality items. If you wait until their Anniversary or Semi-annual sale you can get nice things reasonable prices. I’m frugal at heart so I have trouble paying full price for anything, I’ve been very happy with my sale items. It seems counter intuitive to say that spending more will save you money in the long run. However, I’ve gone through so many cheap tops from the factory outlets. Many of my nicer things have held up for years. If you only buy things you love, and invest in quality, spending money up front will almost always help you save.

Where to shop

Another great option is to get good basics at Nordstrom Rack or other discount chains of high-end stores. Even the discounts at Off Saks and Nieman Marcus feel too expensive for me – so I stick with Nordstrom. Most of the clothes there are either from last season or have been returned, and aren’t able to be sold in the regular store. I was able to get $600 boots IN SEASON for only $189 at Nordstrom Rack. I asked the cashier and she told me they are constantly getting things returned to Nordstrom. The great news is that you can now shop most of these discount stores online. I check out frequently just to see what’s new.

Additionally, it’s ok to go cheaper on trendier items or things you don’t wear on a daily or weekly basis. I typically look at the “cost per wear” when determining how much to spend on a purchase. If I’m buying a dress for a wedding and I don’t think it can do double duty at the office, or I’ll only wear it once, it better be cheap. However, if I’m buying jeans that I’ll wear to the office daily as well as on the weekend, I’m willing to splurge a bit.


While it is worth it to invest in basics that will last the test of time. I’m not advising buying the latest trends at your local luxury department store. Fill in your closet with trendy cheaper options and always use coupons or wait for sales for both basics and your cheaper items. There are literally ALWAYS coupon codes or sales at almost every clothing retailer. I almost never buy in a rush. Google “retailer (ie old navy) coupon” and see what pops up. Retail me not and Krazy coupon lady are also good resources for savings.

If there isn’t a sale or good code that week you can almost guarantee one will pop up in the next week or two. It’s also ok to stock up a bit if you see a good sale and keep things for later events. Don’t go out and fill your closet with items and keep the tags on everything, but a nice dress that can double duty for work, a wedding, or date night —  or new blazer for a presentation will almost certainly get used.



Ok – I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit here about how important jewelry and shoes are to an outfit. Although I think heels add a little bit to almost any outfit and are downright necessary with some styles of pants, I’m a flat girl at heart and really just have no patience for rolling my ankle or toddling around most days. If you can make heels work they’ll amp up your outfit immediately. For the rest of us, make sure you are adding stylish flats with a little interest to your outfits so that you don’t end up in the “comfort shoes” category.

Don’t forget to accessorize

Finally, the right necklace can totally pull together an outfit, adding interest, depth, and a little sparkle. Make sure you have a variety of short and long necklaces and both gold and silver to match your outfits and shoes. You can go cheaper here although it’s nice to have a few investment pieces. I’ve had great luck with all my jewelry from factory outlets, and particularly love J Crew’s sparkly chunky necklaces.

Investing time and money into your wardrobe can be the last thing you feel like doing as a new or busy mom.  However, if you create a uniform and put in a little time up front planning your wardrobe you’ll always look put together and feel your best with minimal effort. I hope some of my tips help you as you spring clean your closets!

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One Comment

  1. Carly, I love you to death and really got a great lol reading this. I feel like this is my glimpse into the life of a normal human being. My uniform of late is long underwear, knee high wool socks, jeans, tee shirt, hoodie, carhartt bib overalls, coat, ballcap, toboggan hat, cotton roper gloves, cowboy boots with spurs and yaktraks! Probably the only one of all your readership! But, to your point, I know what I’m going to wear, I’m comfortable in it, and I can get out the door in no time flat (only if I’m going by myself, say what?! Otherwise, I need to start at least T minus 1.5 hrs).

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