Planning A Winter Travel Wardrobe

12-piece winter travel wardrobe capsule. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Several of you have asked when I’ll be posting my travel wardrobe for Paris in mid-December. While it’s still too early for final selections, I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, and making a mental list of the possible pieces I’ll take. It’s likely that my Paris travel wardrobe will include many of the same types of items I’ve shown here.

Trying to build a universal winter travel wardrobe is next to impossible. Winter where? Montreal? New York? Oslo? Dallas? So for this exercise, I’ve assumed temperatures at or above freezing most days, light snow if any, and urban or suburban settings. Consider this a blueprint or starting point, and adjust as needed for the climate you’ll be visiting. (Note: I don’t count shoes, accessories, outerwear or underpinnings as part of the 12 pieces.)

Travel Wardrobe Guidelines

As with most of my travel wardrobes, I’ve adhered to some formulas:

  • Start with the shoes. Decide what kind of footwear the climate and activities will require, and build up from there. Choose clothing that will work with the shoes you’ll be bringing.
  • Tabletop dressing. If you’re trying to keep a limit on the number of pieces, keep the bottoms simple and add variety and interest above the waist. This also makes it easier to create a cohesive wardrobe that can be combined many ways.
  • A neutral foundation. It doesn’t have to be black, or even a single neutral (I’ve used four above) but again, neutrals will greatly improve your wardrobe cohesion. I also find that neutrals are easier to dress up than bright colors.
  • 2-to-1 ratio. I find that two tops to one bottom works well for most travel.
  • Choose pieces that can layer for warmth as needed. Three lightweight layers that can be removed if temperatures rise are preferable to one bulky layer. Be sure that everything can be worn under your outerwear.
  • Use scarves, hats, gloves, outerwear to add color and/or pattern.
  • When adding color, focus on two colors that can also be worn together.

Top Row: Turtleneck | Tee | Shirt | Sweater

I’ll usually start with a base layer like a silk tank, or (if frigid enough) a long-sleeved silk tee or long underwear. I like silk because I find I don’t overheat in it, and my other clothing slides over easily without sticking. Any of the tops above would be the next layer after that.

Second Row: Scarf | Jacket | Sweater | Scarf (similar)

That little jacket is really warm, and so compact it will fit underneath your outerwear.

Third Row: Cardigan | Cardigan

I’ve chosen two cardigans with distinctly different shapes. Each could be worn buttoned as a mid-layer, or unbuttoned as a top layer indoors.

Fourth Row: Pants | Jeans | Bag | Trousers | Skirt

I’ve stayed with dark neutrals for the bottoms. Those Eileen Fisher ponte knit pants are a stalwart in my travel wardrobes. Jeans are a must for me, and I have never regretted bringing them. I chose skinny jeans for this set, as they work with the knee boots. The wool trousers (lined) can dress up if needed. I don’t usually travel with skirts, but I know many of you do, so included one here. It’s a sweater skirt, and longer. It will work with most of the tops, and with all of the footwear choices. Add a pair of merino tights to stay warm and cozy.

Bottom Row: Ankle Boots | Knee Boots | Lace-up Boots

The boot choices cover a range of temperatures, and all are weatherproof. Again, choose your footwear first (and be sure it’s well broken-in!) and go from there.

Next week I’ll have some outerwear suggestions and outfit ideas using these pieces, so do check back.

Top 10 Gifts For Travelers

Advance Travel Prep: Paris In December

See all of my Travel Wardrobes HERE.

Will you be traveling this winter? Any particular travel wardrobe challenges?

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24 Comments

  1. Jane2
    November 30, 2018 / 5:11 am

    I’m off to the UK for Xmas so welcome this advice – it’s quite a change to go to “winter” there from Canadian snowy winter here.

    • December 1, 2018 / 3:19 pm

      True, but while London is far milder, there is a damp chill that can be very uncomfortable. I haven’t been to London in a great while, but I’ve made frequent (working) trips to Amsterdam, which is in the same weather system.

      Have a wonderful trip and a happy years’ end holiday.

  2. Téa
    November 30, 2018 / 5:56 am

    Once again, you’ve hit it out of the park, Susan! I love a “formula” and this is it! I love the term “table top dressing” and need to focus on that. Going to NYC in 3 weeks for a romantic get away with the husband…train travel means rolling my carry-on thru Grand Central and the like…Thanks to you, I’ll do it in style!

  3. Nancy
    November 30, 2018 / 6:52 am

    Is the MZ Wallace bag your daily purse or airplane carry-on? Great looking but seems large to schlep around during a day of sightseeing.

    Love your blog and envious of your trip!

    • Susan B
      Author
      November 30, 2018 / 6:56 am

      Hi Nancy, thanks! This is the small size, which could be used as a day bag for sightseeing if you need room to carry anything like a folding umbrella or extra sweater, or an extra lens for a camera. It’s very soft, so not bulky, and weighs next to nothing which is why I’ve shown it. The medium size would be a great carry-on “personal item.” For those days when you don’t need to carry much, I still love the Pearl from Lo and Sons. (Though it easily accommodates my wallet, phone, sunglasses, travel-sized lotion, lipstick, etc.)

      • Nancy
        November 30, 2018 / 7:35 am

        Thanks, Susan! I love my Pearl (learned about it from you, of course!) but haven’t gotten my hands on an MZ Wallace bag yet.

      • Nancy
        November 30, 2018 / 7:36 am

        Thanks, Susan! I love my Pearl (learned about it from you, of course!).

    • November 30, 2018 / 9:37 am

      I bought an MZ Wallace medium size cross body bag years ago and it’s my main travel bag. It has a million zippered compartments so it would take a pickpocket forever to find my stash. They’re carried by Nordstrom in the U.S.. and Andrews in Canada. Good investment.

  4. SueAnne Robinson
    November 30, 2018 / 7:02 am

    Thanks Susan. Terrific list and helpful clarification on travel wardrobe. I got the the Aquatalia Lacy boot you pictured but ended up returning it at the store for the Charlize. It’s super comfy with a nice heel height and Aquatalia still has 40% off! I’m heading to Italy and Switzerland and this guide will help me not overpack so there will be room for some goodies to bring home. I’ll be away for 10 days, do you recommend one underpinning layer per day or fewer?

    • Susan B
      Author
      November 30, 2018 / 7:20 am

      Thanks, SueAnne! I usually bring 2-3 sets of underpinnings total. I wash in the sink as needed and hang to dry overnight.

      • SueAnne Robinson
        November 30, 2018 / 7:39 am

        Silly question but are underpinnings underwear or are they something like the silk long sleeved t shirts/only hearts underlayers?

        • Susan B
          Author
          November 30, 2018 / 7:42 am

          Hi SueAnn, when I use the word “underpinnings,” I’m referring to any piece that I’d only wear as a base layer, not (usually) on its own. So the silk tanks, long underwear, etc. I’m also lumping underwear and sleepwear under that heading.

          • December 1, 2018 / 3:27 pm

            Susan, that is also useful as I often hear people from the States use “underwear” to mean panties alone; not bras, tanks or long underwear – the latter are essentials here in wintertime. The silk ones are a godsend.

  5. Ann in Missouri
    November 30, 2018 / 7:23 am

    Susan, I’m going to Chicago next week for a week of lovely birthday dinners, spa appointments, and shopping, hosted by a friend who lives there. While she’s working, I plan to snuggle up in the common rooms of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel to read and write in the mornings and then tromp up and down Michigan Avenue for afternoon Christmas shopping.

    I will follow your capsule approach above for daywear, although I’m sure my outdoor layers will be thicker than yours for Paris. But for evenings I’ll be packing fancy duds (one dinner is at Alinea, another at Aviary — terrible problem, eh? 😉

    Bottom line — I’m more flustered about this winter trip’s packing than I was last summer for two trips to Europe. I feel like Jon Snow has warned me a really bad winter is coming!

    • Ann in Missouri
      December 2, 2018 / 5:14 am

      A quick P.S. to suggest a new winter travel packing tip: Don’t pack it … borrow it! I just solved my December Chicago outerwear challenge by asking my friend if I could borrow one of her winter coats while I’m visiting her. “No problem!” she said. “You can wear my old full-length Canada Goose coat.”

      Color me WARM!

  6. Mary Alice
    November 30, 2018 / 9:56 am

    Living in Southern California, as you know, makes it impractical to own a big heavy coat, so that Uniqlo jacket is a godsend, since it is warm on it’s own and is thin enough to layer under a peacoat or midweight jacket and keep you warm. I used this combination in Denver in December and I was toasty warm! And the jacket packs down into nothing.

  7. December 1, 2018 / 5:25 am

    My biggest challenge on the 12-day trip I just returned from (also did a carry-on-only capsule) was that I was in Edinburgh, then Paris, then Rome, so the temperature varied considerably. I wore my knee-length classic wool coat on the plane, and with scarf and gloves, it kept me comfortable enough in Edinburgh’s mid-November hovering-near-frost temperature. With an umbrella, I was fine walking through rain and even sleet in Paris (and I managed this trip with only two pairs of shoes — a first for me! — both oxfords. Debated boots but decided to go without and it worked out, luckily. Would have bought the little l’Aigle ankle boots if I’d had to). My Uniqlo down was perfect on its own in Rome, which was 10 degrees (C) warmer than the other cities — and it was great as an extra layer in the cooler ones. . . Looking forward to following your trip!!

  8. Margaret
    December 1, 2018 / 6:43 pm

    I enjoy all your various posts. I do hope that the protests in Paris are over by the time you get there.

    • December 2, 2018 / 9:26 am

      The protests, or at least the violent aspects thereof, should have died down by then, and remember that they are restricted to a certain part of Paris. I dislike the Champs-Élysées, with the same shops as every other major city in the world, and have only been there when there happened to be an opening at a nearby art gallery. The rioters are also destroying public services such as bus shelters and the public bicycles. Paris authorities and business owners are old hands at cleaning up such vandalism.

  9. SueAnne Robinson
    December 2, 2018 / 5:21 am

    What do you recommend for a coat? I live in NYC and live in my Moncler long coat which was a well worth-it investment. I worry that it will be too bulky to travel with and too warm for my visit to Bologna, Florence and Zurich later this month.

    • Susan B
      Author
      December 2, 2018 / 6:52 am

      Hi SueAnne, I’ll be posting some outerwear and accessories suggestions tomorrow.

  10. Brigitte
    December 2, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    Yellow vest?

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