Many of you have contacted me asking what to pack for a vacation, and many of you are looking to pack light, but with style and versatility. It is possible to pack light, but be stylish and ready for any occasion during a vacation. With luggage fees and restrictions, it’s best to try to pack everything into your carry-on bag. This can feel extremely limiting, but with the examples I provide below, you can see how pieces can mix and match to create a whole week of ensembles.
Maybe you’re heading to DC for a week of monument-hopping, possibly you are traveling to Paris. Wherever you’re going, you need to be prepared for lots of walking, long spans of time away from your hotel, and appropriate attire for restaurants, museums, and places of worship. For such a trip, it’s important to dress for respect – leave your short shorts and tube tops at home and keep it simple, elegant, and with a least a hint of modesty. For warmer weather, tucking a pashmina or shawl in your day bag will let you wear a sleeveless top when trekking around town but have the coverage you need for cathedrals as well as air-conditioned restaurants. Below is a sample wardrobe for such a vacation.
- Black matte jersey dress. A dress of matte jersey can dress up or down with ease, won’t wrinkle in your suitcase, and because it dries quickly, you can hand wash or spot clean in your hotel sink and have it dry and ready by the next day. While black can be seen as gloomy, it’s quite versatile and can make a budget-friendly dress look more expensive and elegant. A solid dress is less memorable than a print, meaning you can wear it multiple times without being obvious.
- Black leather pumps. A very simple style with a slim heel so it can dress up and look elegant. However, be sure this pump can be worn long enough to walk several blocks, dance for hours, or stand all evening at a gallery opening. A closed-toe shoe is a safe bet if you will be attending a house of worship or a conservative family; if you know your destinations and who you will visit you can switch out pumps for a pair of peeptoes or heeled sandals.
- Black comfortable day shoes. This is your sightseeing shoe. The style will be dependent on your personal style and the time of the year. While a ballet flat may seem like a sensible choice, you will want a shoe with structure and arch support to have all-day (and all-week!) comfort. In the summer, it could be a flat or low heel or wedge sandal; come winter it could be a structured flat, low wedge, or athletic Mary Jane.
- Crossbody purse. This will be your day bag. A crossbody keeps your hands free and also gives you protection against pickpockets. While it may be appealing to buy that microfiber bag with 50 pockets sold in a travel store or catalog, a simple microfiber or leather bag can achieve the same thing without screaming “tourist!” You’ll want one big enough to hold a small bottle of water, your camera, a tourbook, and possibly a cardigan or shawl along with your purse essentials. While it may be tempting to carry a large tote, such a bag will be quite uncomfortable after several hours hanging from your shoulder – only carry the essentials in a bag that fits just that. If you know you will be shopping, consider a packable tote that you can open up once you have wares to carry home.
- Pashmina. A pashmina is a shawl for drafty museums, modesty for houses of worship, an accessory for a simple ensemble, and even a cozy blanket on the plane. Choose a signature color to jazz up your wardrobe basics.
- Clutch purse. A clutch purse can take a day dress and make it evening-appropriate. Not only that, it takes little space in your luggage. Choose a signature color or unusual fabric to add interest to your simple wardrobe pieces.
- Dark jeans with stretch. A deep dark denim wash looks elegant and sophisticated; a hint of stretch keeps the jeans fitting appropriately through a week of bus rides, plane trips, and walking several miles. A pair of dark denim in a straight cut that is free of embellishment is always stylish and is easy to find at most any pricepoint.
- Striped tee or sweater. A striped boatneck tee is a classic yet adds interest to a very basic travel wardrobe. Navy or black stripes on a white or ivory ground is surprisingly versatile, working with solids as well as prints and looking chic every month of the year. Choose a style that has a feminine cut and 3/4 or elbow-length sleeves for a chic silhouette as well as versatility.
- Knee-length skirt in a solid color. This could be a pencil skirt, a-line, or a full style – choose what is most comfortable and flattering on you. While a neutral such as black or gray would work, don’t be afraid to add color to your capsule wardrobe with this piece; just make sure it is a color that works with the other colors in your suitcase.
- Solid-colored tee with flattering neckline. This could be a hot pink tee with a scoop neck and puffed sleeves, a cobalt v-neck with elbow-length sleeves, an orange cap-sleeved crewneck, a mint green surplice necked jersey with flutter sleeves. Have it be a color and silhouette that flatters, but also will fit comfortably under a cardigan or jacket. Be sure the top has at least cap sleeves for modesty and versatility.
- Black soft blazer or cardigan. A deep, rich black jacket or cardigan can dress up or down with ease. Having the piece soft and stretchy means it can be shoved in a bag when it’s hot, won’t be crushed in your suitcase, and can create a makeshift suit with the next piece on the list.
- Black pants with stretch. A straight or slightly wide leg style will be the most versatile. I love Ponte de Roma (AKA ponte knit) for pants as it is a heavyweight knit, refined, and can dress up easily. Keep the style simple, free of embellishments.
- Sparkly top. A simple tank or shell with beading or sequins can be surprisingly versatile. Such a piece takes little space in your suitcase but may be a godsend for the unexpected night at a discothèque with new friends, or an elegant cocktail party.
A list of possible ensembles from these 13 pieces:
- Striped top, jeans, pashmina, day shoes
- Striped top, black pants, blazer, day shoes
- Striped top , skirt, pumps
- Scoop tee, jeans, blazer, day shoes
- Scoop tee, skirt, pashmina, day shoes
- Scoop tee, black pants, blazer, pumps
- Black dress, pumps
- Black dress, pashmina, day shoes
- Sparkly top, jeans, day shoes
- Sparkly top, black pants, pumps
- Sparkly top, skirt, pumps
Add variety to your capsule travel wardrobe with accessories. A silk scarf can be tied at the throat, made into a headband, used as a belt or can be tied to your bag as an accent. A statement necklace can transform your simple black dress into a chic and trendy look. Depending on the cut of your pieces, a colorful obi-style belt can completely change the silhouette and formality of your collection.
Maybe you’re spending a week at the shore, possibly you’re heading to the Caribbean for a relaxing getaway at an all-inclusive resort. This is the sort of vacation where you will be spending quite a lot of time at the pool or beach, with occasional short jaunts to town or excursions to hike, bike, or some other athletic activity. The items below will ensure you’re looking chic while keeping your cool.
- Two swimsuits. One that makes you look utterly fabulous, one that will stay in place while surfing, kayaking, or swimming.
- Beach coverup that can be worn indoors. A coverup of cotton voile or gauze will dry quickly but offer enough opacity to double as a sundress for a beachside restaurant or boutique.
- Cotton Shorts. A simple twill Bermuda short is chic and long enough to provide protection when on a bike, moped, or zipline.
- Lightweight cotton shirt. A cotton voile campshirt can be paired with your shorts for an excursion, worn over your swimsuit as a coverup, or tied at the waist and used as a layer over sundresses and tanks.
- Maxi dress. Easy dressing for easy glamour. Somehow adding a few inches to the hem of a sundress makes it suddenly evening-appropriate. Such a dress can also be worn during the day over a swimsuit or with flip flops for variety. Many maxi skirts have a wide elasticized waistband making it double as a maxi dress.
- Sundress (or two, or three!). Nothing is easier for a day in a tropical locale. It easily slips over a damp swimsuit, is kind to sunburned skin, and can dress up or down with ease.
- Cotton skirt. A gauzy or cotton skirt that hits anywhere from the knees to the ankles is comfortable and provides easy glamour. It’s also an easy way to make a swimsuit look like part of an ensemble at beachside cafes.
- Cotton tank. A simple ribbed tank in a fabulous color will be indispensable on such a vacation. Slip over your bikini for a bit of sun protection, wear with the shorts for an excursion, or pair with a wrist of bangles and the maxi skirt for a festive ensemble.
- Athletic sandals. While such a piece may not seem chic, it will keep you comfortable for excursions, day hikes, and hours of shopping. These days there are styles that are far more elegant than classic Tevas, yet will still give you grip on slippery rocks, can handle getting dunked in the ocean, and will provide arch support.
- Flip flops. A simple pair of flip flops will protect your feet in the public shower, can tuck into a beach bag and be pulled out for lunch at a restaurant, and can handle being battered with sand and saltwater.
- Pashmina or wrap. Coverage on a breezy evening, a great travel blanket, and if made of silk or cotton it can be knotted and wrapped like a pareo for an additional beach coverup (or even an additional skirt!)
- Sun hat. Naturally. Have it big, and have it crushable so it can survive the plane trip.
- Two pairs of sunglasses. One could get lost. Have a lightweight pair for excursions and an oversized pair when on the beach or beside the pool.
- Clutch purse. Small yet dresses up any ensemble.
- Dressy sandals. These could be gold gladiators or tan snakeskin stilettos. Choose a style that will work with your shorter and longer dresses.
A list of possible ensembles from these 15 pieces:
- Ribbed tank , shorts, athletic sandals
- Ribbed tank, maxi skirt, metallic sandals
- Ribbed tank knotted, sundress, flip flops
- Cotton shirt, cotton shorts, athletic sandals
- Cotton shirt tied, maxi skirt, flip flops
- Cotton shirt, bathing suit, flip flops
- Maxi dress, metallic sandals
- Sundress, metallic sandals
- Sundress, flip flops
- Sundress, cotton shirt tied, athletic sandals
- Coverup, bathing suit, metallic sandals
- Pashmina, bathing suit, flip flops
- Bikini top, maxi skirt, metallic sandals
Of course, these lists do not contain everything necessary for a trip. One must have undergarments, sleepwear, toiletries, and other clothing necessary for your specific vacation. These capsule wardrobes are merely guides and examples of how you can create multiple ensembles for multiple types of occasions with minimal garments. For additional ideas on travel wardrobes, check out my previous posts on the subject:
What is your must-have piece for a travel wardrobe?