My 5 Travel Wardrobe Essentials

When planning my travel wardrobes, these are the core pieces of clothing I start with. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few strategies for packing lighter and smarter. One of those strategies is to build my travel wardrobe around a few core basics.

Above: tee | jacket (similar) | sweater | jeans | pants (similar ) | suitcase (similar)

The Essentials

When selecting my travel clothing, these are the pieces I’ve come to rely on for style, comfort, practicality, packability and versatility. They’re the foundation that I’ll build upon for variety and to accommodate different weather conditions. I may switch up the fabrics and cuts depending on the season and destination, but will always include at least one version of each.

These are also the types of clothes that I wear most often at home. I don’t maintain a separate wardrobe for travel, but rather have learned to shop with an eye toward styles and fabrics that will be travel-friendly. So when it’s time to pack, I have a good sense of what works with what.

Little Black Pants 

I’ll pack a slim ponte knit for cooler weather, and a stretch crepe for warmer days. (For Spring and Fall when temperatures can fluctuate between chilly and balmy, I’ll usually bring both.) I find a slim cut is easiest to style, and most practical.

J.Crew | Chico’s | Eileen Fisher ponte knit |
EF stretch crepe (Misses/Petite/Plus) | Everlane | NYDJ | Chico’s

And if you don’t like black, here’s a pair in navy.

If you prefer skirts to pants, I’d recommend a knit that allows ease of movement like this one.


I know that some people don’t like to travel with jeans, but I find them versatile, easy to style and appropriate for most venues. For travel, I stick to darker, mostly non-distressed washes in lighter fabrics with some stretch. Look for blends with some polyester, lyocell or rayon in them; they’ll be lighter and dry more quickly. As with the black pants, I stick with a slim, straight cut. I may include a pair of grey jeans in my Spring travel wardrobe, TBD.

NYDJ (Plus) | Chico’s | AG Jeans | Madewell | Jen7 | 7Seven (Plus) | Talbot’s

Layering Sweater

Depending upon the season, I’ll bring cashmere, merino wool, and/or linen. I prefer pullovers or cardigans that are lightweight and fitted enough to slide easily underneath a jacket or outerwear, but with enough ease to layer over a tee or blouse. I’ll usually stick with a neutral (black, navy or grey) though may add a second sweater in a color or print (usually stripes).


Equipment | Uniqlo | Eileen Fisher | Vince | Tory Burch | Halogen | Theory | White & Warren


J.Crew | J.Crew cardigan | Eileen Fisher | Talbots | Eileen Fisher (Plus) | Everlane

Layering Tee

As with sweaters, the most versatile tees can be worn underneath a sweater or jacket, or on their own. I’ll usually pack both long-sleeve and 3/4-sleeve tees. I find that I rarely wear short-sleeve tees so have stopped packing them. If you prefer to tuck your tees, go with more fitted options. I like silk jersey and linen jersey best for travel, but modal, viscose and other blends can work well too.

Eileen Fisher | Amour Vert | Majestic Filatures | Eileen Fisher | Covered Perfectly | Amour Vert

Lightweight blazer or jacket 

A soft jacket can dress up a simple outfit, or function as outerwear on milder days. I’ve learned to choose one that isn’t too bulky to layer underneath my outerwear if needed, and prefer styles that fasten in the front (zip, snap or button), if needed for warmth. I usually choose black, but you could also go with navy, camel or grey. Knits or a good quality tropical weight wool will travel well, resist wrinkles and adapt to a range of temperatures.

Chico’s | Talbot’s | Banana Republic | Lafayette 148 | Eileen Fisher | Eileen Fisher Plus

What are your Must-Pack pieces?

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  1. Elizabeth Milton
    February 22, 2018 / 4:56 am

    Do these silk Eileen Fisher tees dry over night if washed out in a hotel sink?

    • Susan B
      February 22, 2018 / 5:28 am

      Yes they do.

    • Meg
      February 22, 2018 / 5:33 am

      I find the silk dry very fast, much quicker than the EF rayon blend knit tops do.

  2. Meg
    February 22, 2018 / 5:35 am

    I always pack a very light but water proof coat with hood. Easy to stash in my tote if the weather is nice, but always available to keep my clothes dry if it rains. And it always rains on my vacations.

  3. Kellee
    February 22, 2018 / 5:38 am

    Scarves – I always have a couple of scarves.

    • Kathi
      February 25, 2018 / 12:16 pm

      They are vital for me, as well. I tend to pack large scaves. They can dress up an outfit, be used as an outer layer, a swimsuit cover, provide coverage over a nightgown and can even be knotted into a tote, of sorts.

  4. Debra
    February 22, 2018 / 5:39 am

    Always slim black pants! I just received a pair of Cameron pants and am test-driving them at work today.

    I also usually bring ponte leggings, and instead of jeans, one pair of “fun” pants, maybe in an army green or a khaki. I just bought two pairs of Everlane wide leg crops and hope the weather allows for one of them to come to France with me in June.

    Finally, yes, a sweater, and always a denim shirt, which goes over tees and under sweaters and matches everything.

  5. MJ
    February 22, 2018 / 6:36 am

    I always appreciate your travel wardrobes and tried both the Eileen Fisher silk tees and black ponte pants largely on your recommendation. Alas, both tend to be too short for my long body. I am happy to report for the benefit of other readers who may be both skinny and have long legs that Lands’ End has a nice selection of tall pants, even in small sizes (the Starfish refined pant is surprisingly nice, although perhaps too heavy for spring travel), and Boden carries some pants in a tall length as well.

    • Debra Patek
      February 22, 2018 / 11:55 am

      Ditto to Lands End and Boden. After returning a pair of Eileen Fisher ponte pants that were too short, I found a similar pair online at JJill in tall that fit me perfectly. If only I could find something similar to the Eileen Fisher crepe pants in a tall.

      • Susan D.
        March 14, 2018 / 3:23 pm

        I am just under 5’8″ tall and find that all of the Eileen Fisher pants are too short for me. I still wear them! Yes, I know–it is sad. But since ankle pants have been prevalent, I just pretend that I am wearing ankle pants. I do wish Eileen Fisher would make their pants longer–as they could always be hemmed by those who need shorter pants!! I do love the black crepe pants in warmer weather—wearing them right now!

        • Susan D.
          March 14, 2018 / 3:24 pm

          I have also tried the longer J Jill pants, but find they get very baggy after one wearing which makes them not suitable for travel.

  6. Eileen
    February 22, 2018 / 6:38 am

    A question from London about your beautiful ‘joie’ silk blouse shown in earlier travel wardrobe posts, I know it says ‘dry clean’ but can it be gently handwashed? Dry cleaning is very expensive here but so is the blouse and I wouldn’t want to ruin it. Many thanks. Eileen

    • Susan B
      February 22, 2018 / 7:02 am

      Hi Eileen, yes, I’ve hand washed it and it’s fine. Just line dry, no dryer.

  7. February 22, 2018 / 7:16 am

    Hi Susan – I’m a huge fan of both slim ponte pants and good quality leggings. They’re incredibly versatile when it comes to styling them and creating different looks. Perfect for travel! These are great tips.


  8. Lyn
    February 22, 2018 / 9:02 am

    Based on your recommendations, I have ordered two pairs of Eileen Fisher pants — one ponte and one washable crepe. I am eager to see what all the enthusiasm is about.

    I usually count on a cashmere cardigan to do the job of a blazer for restaurant duty.

    One of my essentials is a hooded Patagonia Houdini jacket. Windproof and water resistant. It is not stylish, but it the ultimate “just in case” piece. It folds up into a tiny pocket so you can throw it in a purse — it’s there if you need it and no big deal if you don’t. I wouldn’t travel without it.

  9. February 22, 2018 / 10:32 am

    Susan, all your pieces are on my must-pack list, too. Depending on the season and the destination, I also take a linen sundress, a mid-length trench, light-weight leather jacket, dressy tan slacks, fringed-by-me 501s, a no-iron white button-down shirt, black long-sleeved V-neck knit blouse, black-white marinière, several scarves and my favorite Hermes cashmere/silk shawl. No matter where I am, those clothes make me feel like me.

  10. Kathy
    February 22, 2018 / 11:36 am

    I never pack a blazer because I don’t own one or need one in Florida. Instead, I pack a lightweight, silver jacket purchased from Athleta years ago. It was designed for runners and the silver reflects in the light which is helpful wandering around foreign cities in the dark. Although, it sounds as though it would be too sporty to wear to a restaurant, the design is sleek enough to wear over black pants or a dress and pass as a bit of bling. One reason for this is that it is very slim fitting. I often wear it under my outerwear as an extra layer. Atthleta has a new slim blazer in black that is tempting, but I just don’t need one. Your other readers might want to check it out. Otherwise, my basics are similar to yours. My husband and I are taking a cross Atlantic cruise in April. I want to thank you for your shoe travel wardrobe posts. I’ll be buying some short, waterproof booties for our travel to Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain and France. I ruined Uggs last time I was in Ireland and should have known better since it was not my first trip there. I’d wanted to avoid buying another pair of boots. Unlike you, I do need to keep a separate travel wardrobe because the climate where I live is so different from my travel destinations. I keep my “old” New England clothes in a huge zippered LLBean tote in the back of my closet. Like another reader, above, I also pack Starfish pants from Lands’ End. LLBean has a similar style. Unlike your other reader, I need the petite sizes. I so appreciate that these companies offer different lengths.

    • February 22, 2018 / 11:43 am

      Kathy, I’m also going to Ireland in April/May on a trasatlantic cruise. Any chance you’re sailing on Silversea / Silver Muse, too?

  11. Linda
    February 22, 2018 / 1:07 pm

    I just bought Chico’s Broadway Jacket for our trip to Italy. It can be worn open as a cardigan or closed as a tunic. It looks great with jeans or dressy pants and it doesn’t wrinkle. I added a pair of earrings to bring the sale over $100 and got the jacket for 1/2 price.

  12. Kathleen Ludgate
    February 22, 2018 / 4:51 pm

    To your list, in summer I always add a floral skirt and/ or casual dress.

  13. Rose
    February 22, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    Hi Susan—do you purchase petite or regular Eileen Fisher ponte knit or crepe pants? Just wondering because you’re around my height—5’1” . I’m short-waisted with longer legs. What do you suggest?

    • Susan B
      February 22, 2018 / 6:30 pm

      Hi Rose, I’m the same (5’1″, short waist, long legs). I purchase Petites in both styles.

  14. Linda Boardman Kerr
    February 23, 2018 / 6:15 am

    My must pack, whether it’s Provence, London, or just about anywhere: a black, tunic length cashmere hoodie. I do not want my hair to get wet, or my head to get cold, and the hood (up) can look very chic, if I drape it just right. The cashmere is warm, and a good layering piece. The front has a discrete zipper, with a nice looking little pull tab. It looks great over any number of jeans, pants, skirts and dresses. I also use it as a robe at times.
    Don’t know what I’d do without this piece.

    • Joanne in Portland
      February 23, 2018 / 7:42 am

      Linda, Sounds perfect. Who makes it?

  15. Linda Boardman Kerr
    February 23, 2018 / 9:45 am

    My last one was a good Marshall Field’s house brand, so no longer available. You could try describing it to Google. I also knit myself one ….

  16. February 25, 2018 / 4:54 am

    Of all of your posts, this is my absolutely favorite. Thank you for all of your spot-on advice.

  17. Joanna
    February 25, 2018 / 7:54 am

    I was wondering what you wear for the long flight. I usually wear jeans but I have an upcoming 21 hours of travel and feel I might want something more comfortable to (hopefully) sleep in.

    • Susan B
      February 25, 2018 / 8:01 am

      Hi Joanna, I usually wear either a pair of comfortable jeans or my ponte knit pants. For a flight that long, I’d probably opt for knits. 🙂

  18. Cleo
    February 25, 2018 / 11:13 am

    Such a welcome (and attitude!) change from when I’d cram 3 suitcases ( one full of shoes) for a week’s trip only to end up wearing the same couple of favorites anyway. (slight exaggeration….but only slight) Of course there are airline baggage restrictions to deal with now as well, but the most important factor I think is maturity. I don’t mind wearing the same thing over and over if it looks good, makes me feel good and is comfortable and appropriate. I find my “everyday” home wardrobe is becoming that way too.
    No complaints from this femme d’un certain age.

  19. C
    February 27, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    prana halle pants. come in several lengths and can be rolled up and fastened. dressy for hiking pants, dry quick. merrell barefoot running shoes — squish down and mean I can work out on any trip that involves a hotel with a treadmill. (relevant even for fun trips because it helps me get over jet lag) for work travel, betabrand yoga blazer (washable!) or similar. also, I really like icebreaker merino wool tops, some of which can be dressed up and all of which dry quick. uniqlo heattech and/or airism tops to add layers and warmth without weight.

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