12-Piece Travel Wardrobe: Japan

Japan autumn 12-piece travel wardrobe

Many thanks to all of you who have shared your Japan travel tips. They are very much appreciated!!

Though our trip to Japan is on the shorter side (just less than two weeks), we’ll be experiencing a variety of environments, from downtown Tokyo to a few days on my BIL/SIL’s sailboat, to some smaller cities and a few TBD activities. And we’re traveling on a seasonal cusp, which can mean weather that ranges from warm and humid to cool and rainy. (And as of this writing, it looks as though rain is the dominant theme, at least for the first few days…) So this 12-piece travel wardrobe has to accommodate changeable weather, a wide variety of activities, and a range of levels of formality.

As always…I don’t count shoes, accessories, outerwear, underwear or “underpinnings” as part of my 12 pieces. And I’ll allow myself an additional “wild card” that I’ll select at the last minute based on weather and my mood.

But first, the shoes…

The rainy forecast forced me to re-think some of my initial footwear choices. Balancing style and comfort is always the challenge. Normally I allow myself 3 pairs total for most trips, but needed to include an extra soft-soled pair for the boat, as hard-soled shoes are bad for the decks.

  • Walking shoes. I wanted something that could go from day to evening, and handle wet conditions. I prefer slip-ons to sneakers or lace-ups, especially when I know that I may be required to remove my shoes in some indoor environments. After reviewing this summer’s Travel Wardrobe Recap from Europe, I noted that I wished I’d wished I’d brought ankle boots, so I’m going to wear my Aquatalia weatherproof boots purchased earlier this year on clearance, lightweight and very comfortable. They’re no longer available but I found two very similar styles HERE (not weatherproof) and HERE (not weatherproof)
  • Walking sandals. I wanted something a little fun and funky, and decided to bring my sporty platform sandals which have done well on past trips that involved lots of walking. They are sturdy, supportive and the rubber soles have good traction.
  • Something dressier. I was going to bring my tassel suede sandals, but with rain in the forecast, I decided to go with a closed pair of wedges. These are Céline, purchased on deep discount during the January clearance sales. Similar style with a low heel HERE. They’re polished but also edgy enough to go with the dress I’m bringing (see below). And again, slip-ons, no fussing with buckles required, and the wedges are comfortable to walk in. Another plus for wedges for travel: you never have to worry about heels getting stuck in grates, sinking into grass, or being chewed up by gravel or cobblestones.
  • Something soft-soled and casual. (Similar style) These can also be a back-up pair for walking. Mine are Paul Green’s from an earlier season and no longer available.

The 12 Piece Travel Wardrobe

early autumn 12-piece travel wardrobe

Yes, there’s a lot of black. It just worked out that way. The majority of the pieces I’m bringing are lightweight, and will dry fairly quickly if they get wet. I’m keeping it simple with a black/ivory/denim neutral base, and adding red as my accent color. I wanted to create a more polished-looking wardrobe this time, while still maintaining cohesion.


I think I should be able to get by with 4 pants…

  • Eileen Fisher stretch crepe ankle pants. These are the best all-around travel pants, and comfortable in a range of temperatures (at least during warm to temperate conditions…during cooler months I switch over to the ponte knit pants). They dress up or down as needed. I can wash these in the sink, roll in a travel towel to remove excess moisture, and they’ll line dry overnight.
  • J.Crew pants. These are a great option for dressing up a bit, and the cut is very current. I like these best when they hit just above the ankle bone, and for me that means the Regular length (as opposed to the Petite). If you’re of average height and have longer legs, you may want to try the Tall length.
  • Cropped split-hem jeans. Again, a more current silhouette, and cooler. I know some of you would not pack jeans for this climate, but on our trip to Hong Kong two years ago I left jeans at home and missed having them.
  • Relaxed cargo pants. (Similar style) Mine are a couple of years old, and intended primarily for the days hanging out on the boat. The fabric on these is very lightweight.

Tops and a Dress (!)

  • Long-sleeve tee. (Similar) I’ve chosen one in a lightweight cotton that layers well. This will be worn on the plane and if the weather cools down.
  • Casual tee. (Similar) For lounging and boat days.
  • Embroidered 3/4 sleeve tee (similar). I wore this often during my recent New York trip. It’s a great piece to look put-together on days when it’s too warm for a third piece or a lot of accessories.
  • Cotton-silk lightweight shirt. Mine’s the Regular length, and fits more like a tunic, which I like.
  • Cotton gauze popover (similar).
  • Silk zip-front shirt. (Similar). This shirt (mine’s from Theory, a couple of years old now) has become one of my warm-season Wardrobe Heroes…it’s opaque enough to wear without a layer underneath, and is dressy enough on its own without a jacket.
  • Lightweight silk jacket. Dresses up, dresses down. It’s my bulwark against those High Intensity Air-Conditioning Situations. (Yes, it’s a bit pricey…but if you don’t mind synthetic fabric, here’s a similar style for less.)
  • I spied this Babette dress online and was intrigued by the shape and that little bit of folding on the sleeves. It’s a fabulous piece! Hits me just below the knee, and the best part is that it can also be worn open as a lightweight topper. I’ve traveled with Babette pieces in the past, and they worked very well. This can be washed in the sink and hung to dry. The XXS was a good fit on me, easy but not oversized. Similar Shirt Dress

Bags and Outerwear

Longchamp le pliage bag, mycra pac jacket

I decided to use bags to add color with this wardrobe.

  • Nylon Le Pliage bag. While I know this isn’t completely waterproof, if it does get wet it will dry more quickly than a leather bag, and it’s lighter. This is the newer style that has a cross-body strap, a necessity for me.
  • Slim crossbody bag for evening. (Similar style). Elegant, lightweight, very little hardware.
  • Packable raincoat. Based on weather reports and what readers from the area have told me, I decided to go with a lightweight option that I know from experience can handle downpours. It does run large…I downsized a couple of years ago to the 00, and can still wear it over another light jacket. It’s reversible, too, and that pleated collar can be pulled up as a hood.

Wild Card

Velvet by Graham & Spencer army jacket

  • Lightweight utility jacket. I regretted not bringing a casual, lightweight jacket along on my New York trip, and ended up purchasing this one while I was there. If we go up into the mountains or if the weather turns cooler at some point, I’ll be glad to have this.

Below you can see that everything (not including what I’ll wear on the plane) fits nicely into my carry-on. It’s full, but closes without straining.

packing for 2 weeks in a carry-on suitcase

See that plastic around the shoes preventing the soles from coming in contact with clothes? Those are hotel shower caps. I never leave those behind!

That said, because we are planning to bring back some gifts that will require space and being checked in a hard-sided bag, I’ll be taking my larger bag and checking it, rather than the carry-on. This wardrobe takes up only about 2/3 the space in the larger bag (1/2 if I compress) so there should be plenty of room. Le Monsieur is breathing a sigh of relief.

In my carry-on tote (trying something new and lighter), I’ll have my laptop, toiletries, scarf and sweater or poncho for the plane, my regular handbag items, a couple of protein bars, chargers and tech gear, my second handbag, compression socks, and (once I’ve cleared security) a bottle of water.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything…

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  1. Genius! That dress is pretty gorgeous…
    Thanks for taking the time and the care to show us, so specifically, and with such good information, how you’re traveling. I’m always fascinated to see how well-dressed women manage these things!

  2. I always get at least one inspiration from your travel posts, and this one has multiple ideas I will pursue. First of them is a cute pair of compression socks for flying. I’ve been wearing a gawdawful pair and hate them. These look so much better.

    Can’t wait to see pics of this trip. Cheers!

    1. I went to Japan last fall and took very similar items and it was perfect, (except that I ignored some of your other advice and took a pair of wide leg denims, which were a problem with the shoes I brought). I also wore ankle boots, as well as high top sneakers, but my trip was very casual and the boots were dressy enough for the places I went to. I spent a few days in the Japan Alps, where I did need a warm fleece but if that’s not where you are going, I think you will be fine. And if you get cold, you will be in the home of Uniqlo!

  3. I’d like to see you model the Babette dress as well. The shower caps on shoes is a marvelous idea. So sorry I have been leaving mine behind…smile.Looking forward to seeing more of your dressing for retired life in the future.

  4. Your travel posts are always an inspiration — really helpful for my own trips. I’ll be very interested to hear how you like the larger LePliage carryon compared to a more structured bag. (I’m still in search of the “perfect” carryon as I go back and forth between the classic large LePliage and the L&S OG bag). Also, the idea of packing one of those super absorbent towels is brilliant — what size do you find optimal? Hope you have a wonderful trip!

  5. You’re a travel goddess. I don’t think I could ever pack all my clothes for 12 days on the road into a carry-on. Surely, it’s because the fabric of my clothes are thicker. And because I’m not a size 00. 😉 BTW, adore your use of shower caps around shoes. Thanks for your blog; it’s become a daily treat.

  6. I love this travel wardrobe! My only comment/recommendation – pack an extra top, panties, socks and sleepwear in your carry-on in case your checked luggage doesn’t land with you.

  7. Here is my latest travel tip: if your suitcase is not full on the outbound trip, use bubble wrap to fill in the empty spaces. Clothes wrinkle less if the suitcase is full. On the way home, leave behind as much bubble wrap as necessary to get your purchases in!

  8. Hi Susan,

    I’ve noticed that you are using are using a Briggs and Riley suitcase, rather than the Lipault you used in the past. Do you like the Briggs and Riley more? I have the Lipault and I find that it topples over very easily. This Briggs and Riley looks roomier.


  9. ..and have the bubble wrap on hand for fragile purchases! It’s a running joke with my kids that Mom always finds the most fragile, breakable item to bring back home. It’s true (it’s usually a Christmas ornament or a mug)! Last time it was a lava lamp. 🙂 I am debating about that J. Crew top with the cherries. Too bright for an office (mostly business casual, jeans included)? I love a silk/cotton blend. Great tips!

  10. Most Japanese hotels provide yukatas/kimonos and slippers so you can cut down on some of the lounge items (they also supply a huge array of personal grooming items: combs, brushes, toothbrushes, razors, etc). Also- I find most WOCA do not wear sandals without hose/stockings so I have stuck to closed-toe shoes on my travels there (we have been 5-6 times). You will find the people extremely helpful and honest. Shopping is a true pleasure, and they appreciate any effort to speak Japanese (Ohayōgozaimasu for good morning, Arigatōgozaimashita for thank you). Will you have an opportunity to stay in a ryokan? Enjoy- wish I was going- Japan is one of my favorite places to visit.

  11. I am so impressed at your ability to travel lightly and so well! This post is very well timed for me as I will be flying out on Sunday to go to Washington, Philadelphia and NY for 2.5 weeks and think I will also be dealing with changeable weather on the cusp of autumn. I’ve changed from planning to take sandals to wondering whether I should take my fleece lined ankle boots. I look forward to reading your report and seeing your outfits. One thing is definite and that is that I will not be as well put together as you will be! Hope you have a fantastic trip. Japan is on my wish-list of places to visit.

  12. Have you ever tried the EF boot cut pants? I have found that the ankle + boot cut can get me through 2 weeks of travel, given, as you have noted, they dry overnight!
    I also have become a fan of light weight, Winter Silk long underwear/pants. They’re not the quality of years ago, but still light weight, wash & dry quickly, and offer adder warmth, when needed.
    Finally, EF silk jersey is a must for me-either as a layer or buy themselves. Again, they way in the sink & dry overnight. A scoop necked tee can be reversed to have a high neck for a change. Those items are necessities, and then I just add jewelry, scarves, & wraps to change up the look every day/night.

  13. Wow! I’m enthralled with your ability to pack incredibly light! I’m taking notice for our visit to Paris in November. I had a “duh” moment. Those shower caps–I have a ton of them from traveling. I don’t know why, but I seem to hoard them and I’m so glad I did. I’m stealing your tip on putting shoes in them. That is genius!
    BTW, I saw a really great documentary the other day on Geishas. It was sooooooo interesting. I hope that you get to see some and take pics!
    Save and happy travels!

  14. Great packing and great tips, Susan, especially the shower cap idea. I’ve packed 12 items for travelling tomorrow but with shoes in bags unfortunately :-(.
    I absolutely love those Celine wedges!
    Wishing you a happy holiday in Japan, that capsule will serve you well. You’re doing such diverse things and much thought must have gone into your choices.

  15. Ditto on the shower cap/ shoe cover! Great idea! I love my MycrPac coat. I did find it not to be rain resistant and if it’s cold a layering piece underneath is necessary! It does however, look great!! Love the boots!

  16. I love your lightweight packing tips. I’ve been traveling frequently with my husband, who refuses to check luggage for any trip under 14 days and thanks to you, I can manage to get everything I need (much less than I thought I’d need) into a carry-on.

  17. Love those Celine shoes!! And that they’re comfortable enough to be included in your travel wardrobe.