If you’re planning to travel this spring, it’s not to early to start planning your packing list. To help you get started, here are some 12-piece travel capsule wardrobe ideas….
If you’ve ever overpacked or felt like you had “nothing to wear” while traveling (or both!), you may want to try creating a capsule wardrobe for your next trip. I define a capsule wardrobe as a cohesive group of basic garments that can be worn in multiple combinations. For most trips between a week and a month or so in length, I find 12 pieces is usually enough to cover the bases.
Over the years, we’ve traveled in the US, Europe and Asia, for up to 4 weeks at a time. I’ve learned from my own experiences what and how to pack, and am sharing some of my “best practices” with you. The type of travel you do, and your wardrobe priorities will shape your own packing list. But I’ve found that these guidelines can help you to pack smarter and be comfortably and appropriately dressed, no matter your destination or style.
I’ve been getting questions lately about what to pack for various destinations. So I’ve put together some updated travel capsules to help you get started. Below, I’ve broken them out by seasonal color palette (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn).
How to build a 12-piece capsule wardrobe for travel
I’ve created these capsules using mostly neutrals with one or two color accents. The 12-piece capsules are designed for vacation travel that includes the usual types of touring and sightseeing during changeable spring weather. Remember, they’re intended as a starting point only and to provide ideas. So you can always add more items, or swap out styles.
Here’s how I create a 12-piece capsule travel wardrobe…
based on my own packing and travel experience, and feedback from readers. 🧳
- Start with the shoes! I’ve included 3 styles with each of these capsules. You can always bring more or fewer. Whatever shoes you bring should be comfortable for long periods of walking or standing. Here are more ideas for the best shoes for spring and summer travel.
- I usually pack 2-3 tops for every bottom. Think “tabletop dressing,” and focus on the top half your outfits for color and variety.
- For almost any venue these days, “smart casual” is as dressed up as you’ll need to be.
- I don’t maintain a separate wardrobe for travel, but keep an eye toward styles that will be “travel-friendly” when shopping.
- Neutrals will provide the most versatility, and be easiest to “dress up.”
- Look for pieces that can be layered to accommodate fluctuating temperatures.
- I’ve included a pair of jeans with each capsule as I always pack them and wear often. And I’ve included a skirt because many of you have requested them. But you can always swap out either for a bottom piece of your choice.
- And in case you’re wondering, the “12-pieces” don’t include shoes or other accessories. 😉
A few more notes…
I’ve kept most of the pieces shown here simple and basic for maximum versatility. And I’ve tried to choose styles and fabrics that should pack and travel well. (Most are washable, too.) Some of the items in the collages may be a bit spendy…I’ve used images that best illustrate the colors/concepts, but you can often find more budget-friendly versions.
You can find all of the items in this post, as well as more travel wardrobe picks in the SHOP.
If I were packing for a city destination this year, I’d probably include some version of a suit or coordinated separates. It’s a no-brainer option if you want or need to dress up a bit, and you can always wear the pieces separately. (For those of you who wear them, a dress can serve the same function.)
You may need more or different outerwear than what I’ve shown here. If you need more warmth, I highly recommend this packable down coat (Misses/Petite/Tall & Plus). I’ve had mine for years and have traveled often with it.
Depending on how and what else you pack, these 12-piece travel capsules should fit in a carry-on. (Provided you are wearing the most bulky pair of shoes and outerwear on the plane.) If your priorities lean toward packing as lightly as possible, you may choose fewer or different pieces. However, if more variety is important, or you have formal or other special occasions you can always add to these capsules.
Need more ideas?
Come check out my Travel Wardrobe Resource Hub. You can filter all of my travel articles by season and trip length to find the content that’s most relevant to your next trip.
I receive a lot of requests for travel wardrobes for very specific destinations and itineraries. I’m not able to respond to those here, so in addition to Personal Color Analysis, I’ve added a personalized Travel Wardrobe Planning service! You can find more information and a contact form on my Style Services page.
Where will you be traveling this year?
Susan, do you have a post on HOW you pack? Cubes, rolling vs folding, travel steamers, personal item bag, etc?
Susan, you’ve done an absolutely beautiful job with these travel capsule wardrobes. Wow! I’ve been reading your blog for years, and your posts are always excellent, but this one feels next level to me! Thank you so much!
This is perfect! Thank you so much!
Love that winter wardrobe, especially the royal trench! Thanks for your hard work!
How timely your post is for me! Headed back to France next week for 5 weeks. The capsule wardrobe concept works perfectly and I never wish I had brought more items.
Thanks, Susan, for all the hard work you put into your posts.
Very timely post! I’m traveling to Morocco for two weeks the end of May and beginning to think about what to take. Modest dress is recommended (knees and shoulders covered) so no shorts or sundresses and I want to fit everything in a carryon on. Obviously, I won’t need a heavy top layer and jeans will probably be too hot.
My suggestion for warm weather travel when you need some coverage is a breezy linen shirt or two: https://bit.ly/3XJSD0z
Thanks, Susan! I have many linen shirts but they are a rumpled mess after one wear. Also, bottoms are really stumping me. Shorts are not modest enough, jeans are too warm and linen is kind of a mess after one wear.
Have you tried the Eileen Fisher stretch crepe pants? I wore these around Phucket in 80+F temperatures (+ humidity) and they were comfortable. Lots of colors & sizes available here: https://bit.ly/3If4lKL
I love those, they are my go to pants! Thanks for the suggestion!
Susan, which colours in this EF pant would work best for a Blue Spring? There doesn’t appear to be a navy.
This capsule travel post is so very helpful. Thank you for the effort you’ve obviously put into it.. the best I’ve ever read on the subject!
Also, check out the no-iron linen tops here: https://bit.ly/3XJWavN I find they really stay looking much neater & crisper than traditional linen.
Thank you, Susan! More good suggestions!
I like to pack knit silk sweaters. They are lightweight and don’t wrinkle. Also, long sleeve cotton voile tops are super lightweight and don’t crease as much as linen. I love them in darker colors like deep navy and chocolate brown, they’re my go-to here in sunny, hot Alabama! We use long cotton gauze skirts and pants too.
I am pinning this one for future reference. Thank you!
Wow this is awesome Susan! I will modify somewhat based on clothes and shoes I have already. For my autumn palette (and dark chocolate brown aquatalia booties) I think I might go with brown trousers or olive. I love the new MZWallace crossbody that’s like the Lo and Sons Pearl but it’s pricey so will have to wait to purchase it. A lighter weight travel purse would be great. Thank you for your hard work!! This is MUCH appreciated by all of us! Oh, and I’m going to try the sneakers and the loafers that you featured in the autumn palette. Fingers crossed!
Susan, I LOVED this post! Thanks so much. I have found that I actually have a better time and am less stressed when I pack less. It lets me focus on the trip and also not worry about how I’m going to get all that stuff back into the suitcase when I am headed home!
A note: Is there anything you can do about the pop-up ads on this site? They are so bad they are literally covering your content and instead of reading I am playing whack-a-mole trying to close them so I can read your post.
Thanks, Mary Alice. Can you tell me whether you are reading on a desktop, mobile, or tablet?
I am too fickle, I need to have more choice in colour. Which of course means it is harder to mix and match. But I did copy Idea 2 as I have a top in that green colour and a blue blazer. Jeans won’t be a problem; I just need to find a lovely scarf or so.
Thanks for all the hard work. However, I question the first item — the blazer. Unless you are willing to wear it on the airplane, it seems too bulky to be packable. I admit that my perspective might be a little extreme, since I pack for 2-week European trips (and cruises) in an international size carry-on plus a sling-bag purse. I will not check a bag under any circumstances. The packability of an item has to be the highest priority.
Nevertheless, these are a great starting place for getting your readers to think about packing light, and a capsule wardrobe is the key. If you have seen an over-packer struggle to get a huge bag up a flight of stairs, you realize the importance of portability.
Hi Lyn, the blazers I’ve shown here are pretty lightweight and non-bulky. I usually fold flat like this: How to pack a jacket and lay flat on top. You can also find some lightweight ponte and other knit blazers that will travel like a breeze! Here’s one option: https://bit.ly/3IcWLQR
Thanks for the suggestion of knit options. Almost everything I wear is a knit!
Following your ‘journey’ finding your best colours and styles that are so you, Susan, I am finding what works best for me …soft Autumn ( Manina @Red Leopard) .
Your capsule travel wardrobes are spot on.
I wear so many of those colours now, and have many combinations that reflect my shape, style and personality.
You put together four seasons which is awesome!
I am fortunate to be travelling again this year. Certainly more colourful prints and light weight clothing for a week in the Caribbean ( rescheduled 3 times due to Covid and flight difficulties)… lots swimming and snorkeling on my agenda. Linen tops and pants to come out of storage.
Check out PONANT… their ‘explorer ships’ have only max 160 passengers …and on the solo cruise last spring (Lisbon to London) we were only 84. Deluxe accommodation and meals… without the crush of too many others. For women who prefer solo trips they offer many cruises…without any supplement. No , I am not one of the French owners!
Later on in late May, I am definitely putting your wardrobe suggestions to work… another affordable solo PONANT cruise …London to Glasgow ( my Scottish relatives to visit after I disembark ) …will be awesome.
Happily my favourite Brooks Brothers tan trench will be useful, as will layering of tops. I have scarves ( a bit of an addiction!) for interest and warmth if required.
This is such a timely and useful post, and I realize that you are sadly not travelling as much this year, but helping us out with our journeys is gold! Thank you, Susan.
Thanks for showing capsule wardrobe combinations using a winter palette. Sometimes blogger writers get stuck in their own palettes.
Just got back from a cruise on the Mekong..so the timing here is off for me…but wouldn’t have helped….all of us focused on being comfortable and cool!!! It was incredibly hot and humid!!! But, I love what you’ve chosen for each of the seasons….I’m a summer and I love the colors.
Will definitely bookmark this page for my next trip…hopefully cooler.
Thanks so much for this post! We are going to Paris next month for 10 days and I am surprised to find that my planning so far is not far off from your capsules (lifelong winter now a “cool summer” since I let my hair go to its natural mostly silver.) But as always, I got some wonderful new ideas to help me refine my capsule. I really count on you for travel wardrobe advice! Thanks again!
I love the capsules, timely too. I leave Sunday for two weeks in Germany. Then in Mid April my husband and I are taking
a Viking cruise starting in Bergen, Norway and ending in London.
Hi Susan, great post with so many good ideas!
I’m curious if you’ve seen the Spring capsule navy Devon blazer IRL or if you’re going by the online photos. It doesn’t seem to be a very bright navy, from what I can tell. I own the Kate pants, and they are definitely not a bright navy, but for pants it’s not as critical.
Hi Sarah, it’s not as bright a navy as some I’ve seen (not currently available), but it’s not as dark as a Winter navy. I think for most Springs it can be workable. With navy I think we can fudge just a little, as long as the rest of the outfit is within the palette.
Great post! My husband and I will be taking a Viking cruise in France, Germany and Switzerland in August. I hope you do a warm weather capsule in a few months! I especially love the breakdown by color! I’m a light summer so I try to stay away from black even though it can be a lot easier packing those ubiquitous black pants!
Hi Susan. Your travel wardrobes are really great, especially the colour selections. Am trying to pack for a four week trip to Israel and Paris/Rome next month. Very hard to do whilst sweltering through a heat wave (Down Under) when it will still be cold (except Israel) in the above cities. Envy anyone who can just take carry on, but airlines here very strict and bags cannot weigh more than 7kg. Out of curiosity, were you concerned about Covid when visiting Europe? Just had a 5th jab (much to my chagrin) and will packs masks and some paxlovid -just in case.
Thanks! At the point we traveled last year, we were still masking indoors and on public transport, and testing regularly. I’d still probably mask on planes, trains, and in crowded indoor spaces if I were traveling this season. We had the 5th jab too last fall.
So timely! I have a business trip coming late next month. My first one in a while, and first one post-pandemic! This will be very helpful. It’s mostly business casual and all of these pieces would work. As always, you are a lifesaver.
I know the best advice is to wear your bulkiest items on the plane, and with footwear that generally means boots. The problem I have run into is, many boots are made with a steel shank that runs the length of the foot, and that WILL set off the metal detector, so you have to end up removing your boots, which is a pain if you have TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry.
Thank you, Susan, for the best travel capsule advice I’ve ever read. Having it done by seasons is so helpful.
Re the EF crepe pants.. what colours do you think would best suit a Spring? There doesn’t appear to be a navy option.
Thanks so much, Paula! At the moment, I think Cobblestone is the best option for Springs in the stretch crepe. It’s a warm taupe (close to “Donkey” in my spring palette).
Thanks for that, Susan!
I’ve been following your posts for years and have enjoyed all of them and I’ve learned a lot. I have one suggestion and it’s not to be taken as a negative idea, but I would like to see your pictures taken not in an unattractive bedroom. I like the ones outside or another location.
Thanks Carole! I also prefer outdoor photos, but at the moment a) the weather hasn’t been conducive and b) I don’t have access to a photographer, so I’m using a tripod and remote. Once we get some better weather for photos I’ll be back outside. 😉
Hi Susan, What an incredibly helpful and colorful post! I had saved it a while back, and am referring to it now as I’m packing for a road trip. I am wondering, would you mind sharing how you keep your tops fresh enough to re-wear them on a longer trip? Do you wear a thin layer underneath them, or wash them in hotel sinks? Have you found success with a certain detergent or freshener spray? I have enjoyed your blog for years; thank you for all your wonderful advice!