5 Style Lessons From Travel Wardrobes

Five Lessons From Travel Wardrobes

casual travel wardrobe spring

top: scarf (similar) | shirt | scarf (similar) | sweater (similar)
middle: tee (similar) | jeans (similar) | sweater (similar) | skirt (similar) | bag (similar)
bottom: jacket | shoes | boots (similar) | pants

Yes, we have some travel planned for later this year, more on that soon. 😉

5 Style Lessons From My Travel Wardrobes

Planning and analyzing my travel wardrobes has taught me to pack smarter and travel lighter, but it’s also had some spillover effect at home when shopping or planning my day-to-day wardrobe, and has made getting dressed easier on those rushed mornings. Here are five lessons I’ve applied to my “at home” wardrobe:

1. Lighten up: more lightweight layers* almost always trump fewer heavy layers. Except in the most frigid conditions, a few well-chosen layers will keep you as warm as a heavy, bulky piece, and you’ll be better able to deal with fluctuating temperatures (such as overheated buildings in winter). Extra points for pieces that can be worn multiple ways, such as a buttoned cardigan that can step in as a top under a jacket, or as outerwear over a tee or blouse.

2. Teamwork: cohesion makes or breaks a wardrobe. The best pieces are those that “play well with others,” and can be combined easily with other items in a wardrobe. When I pack for travel, I make sure that all of my tops go with all of my bottoms, and that most of the tops can layer with most others (see #1). This premise also applies at home (though less strictly than for travel) and more than anything else has simplified getting dressed on rushed mornings. I’m wary now of pieces that will only work in one particular outfit or require another specific piece in order to work.

3. Rinse, repeat: limit the number of items in your wardrobe that require special care. Being able to machine or hand wash items not only saves money, but means that favorite sweater is more likely to be ready to wear when you’re ready to wear it. And often a steaming is all that’s needed to restore a rumpled but otherwise clean “dry clean only” jacket or blouse. Spot cleaning can often eliminate the need for a trip to the cleaners too. (My favorites are Janie Stick for greasy spots, Tide-to-Go pen for coffee, red wine, and other non-greasy stains, and a garment brush for lint, dust and surface dirt.)

4. Solid foundations: invest in quality simple pieces. These are your wardrobe chameleons that go from day to night or casual to dressy. My “chameleons” are a pair of black lightweight wool trousers, silk jersey tanks and tees, and depending upon the season, linen or merino sweaters. Here’s the thing about those simple pieces: repeat wearings will go unnoticed, because you’ll…

5. Expand horizons: think of accessories as your “outfit makers.” The beauty of those simple pieces is that you can change up a look entirely by adding a scarf, swapping out shoes and/or bag, mixing up the jewelry.

I know this doesn’t sound like the blueprint for a glamorous, show-stopping wardrobe. My own wardrobe has to be 80% casual-office-appropriate, which has informed and influenced how I dress for a few decades now. Most of us have some constraints, either situational or financial or both, and this has been my way of finding my style and building a wardrobe within my current parameters. But I do think that if your style is more splashy and exuberant, these concepts can still apply when it comes to having a cohesive wardrobe that works for your life (and is travel-friendly too).

*More great layering pieces:

  • Adea – wide selection of tops, tanks and camisoles in a silky soft fabric that breathes, doesn’t pill, is washable and dries quickly. Most styles are available in several colors. The fit of these is “second skin” so if you prefer a bit less “body-con,” size up. I use as a base layer underneath other tops.
  • Covered Perfectly – flattering tops with sleeves as well as jackets and vests in a super-soft micro-modal fabric. These are very lightweight, washable and dry quickly and available in many styles and colors. Lightweight and don’t wrinkle, so perfect travel companions too.
  • Eileen Fisher – in addition to the silk jersey pieces, the stretch crepe pants accommodate a wide range of temperatures, are washable and available in dark and light neutrals. The ponte knit pants are great during the cooler months, and can easily dress up.
  • Stella Carakasi – tops, sweaters, dresses, pants, coats in soft, breathable fabrics and interesting shapes.

Has travel influenced how you shop for and maintain your day-to-day wardrobe?


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  1. Duchesse
    January 12, 2015 / 5:57 am

    Absolutely! For that reason I hardly ever buy anything that has to be drycleaned. (Can be done on road but it takes item out of commission for at least a day.) I avoid whites. Picks for me include striped and occasionally print tops (better for airplane drips), matte jersey pants and skirt. Lately crushing on DKNY- currently offering a lot of things like this at not bad price point.

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 6:42 am

      Duchesse, I love DKNY too. Unfortunately like the high-end line, so many of the pieces are cut very long, and they don’t offer a Petite range. I keep trying though…it’s a good line.

  2. January 12, 2015 / 6:28 am

    Great post, especially now that we’re planning our month in France in May. When I shop I’ll be using your mantra from an earlier post…”Would I wear it in Paris?”

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:18 pm

      Susan, having seen examples of your wardrobe, I think you’ll be just fine!

  3. January 12, 2015 / 6:43 am

    Wise and stylish words. Like Duchesse, I rarely buy anything with a label that says emphatically Dry Clean Only. (besides the eco-implications, it’s just too inconvenient)

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:19 pm

      Frances, thanks! Exactly, who wants to waste time going to and from the cleaners?

  4. January 12, 2015 / 6:54 am

    Oh yes, my wardrobe (including shoes and purses) is highly travel influenced! And there are several things – especially long sleek but comfortable slacks to fit my 6 ft frame – that I often wish I had purchased doubles (or triples!) of. Thanks for the hints – Covered Perfectly tops have been a great addition to my packable an daily closet!

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:21 pm

      ambiancedaix, so glad you like the Covered Perfectly tops! I’ve bought doubles of a few pair of my favorite pants and have not been sorry.

  5. January 12, 2015 / 7:07 am

    I avoid dry clean only items too…I quite like the DKNY line and wish they had a petite line too.

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:22 pm

      Hostess, I really wish more lines added petites (and women’s) ranges.

  6. January 12, 2015 / 9:09 am

    The only things I have that require dry cleaning are blazers – everything else can go into a hotel sink to be washed. I think of scarves almost as another layer – if you drape the long ends over your front and back under a coat they’ll help keep you warm, and having something over my neck helps in a cool room. And they’re pretty!

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:23 pm

      Val, that’s a good point about scarves. Have you seen how a lot of women are wearing scarves belted in front? That would work under a jacket too.

  7. Thea
    January 12, 2015 / 9:47 am

    The elusive piece I’d love to find is a pair of black, slim, not skinny, plus-size trousers with pockets. What’s with the decline of pockets in women’s pants?

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:24 pm

      Thea, or useable pockets. So often they’re too shallow and flimsy to really hold anything.

  8. January 12, 2015 / 10:17 am

    Dry clean only clothes are for people with too much money and a personal assistant… The older I get, the lazier I seem to be: if clothes don’t travel well, why bother with them at all? And a small wardrobe makes life simpler, at least a little bit. I’m also guilty of buying multiples of all the well-fitting basics I find, and I still think I should be able to fit all my possessions into one suitcase…

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:25 pm

      Tilna, yes, exactly. Why make things more complicated than they have to be?

  9. Pam
    January 12, 2015 / 11:38 am

    I’m one of those people who does not take their luggage into the plane cabin. So, I’m interested to know – if you were to take slightly larger luggage and checked it instead of carrying on, are there wardrobe items you would want to add or would advise adding to the collection?

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:26 pm

      Pam, if I were to add more items to a travel wardrobe, I’d probably pick a few tops with print and color, an additional pair of pants or jeans, and another pair or two of shoes.

  10. January 12, 2015 / 1:03 pm

    Ah, another lovely capsule. I only ever buy clothing that is easily washable. Life is too short! I enjoy Dress Barn for inexpensive but classic clothes that fit a curvy woman. The clothes I own take a lot of abuse and still look good.
    Though not specifically mentioned, your wardrobe has neutrals for the big items. People don’t remember neutrals which makes it easier to wear them the next day. They “play well with others” as required. They are usually more elegant. Save the brights and patterns for scarves, jewelry, and maybe one bright shell.

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:27 pm

      Lady Light Travel, thanks! And thanks for the tip about Dress Barn.

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:28 pm

      Jennifer, aren’t the Babette pieces lovely? They are so unique. When we went to Italy in 2011, it was exceptionally hot and I lived in a pair of Babette cropped palazzo pants.

  11. Roseanne Colleran
    January 12, 2015 / 2:46 pm

    I’m new to your site as of a couple weeks ago. I’m loving it! Your posts are organized and inspirational. I really appreciate the links to the actual or similar products. One question about shoes and socks. I see you wear a lot of pumps and closed toe shoes without socks or stockings. Very sexy, but don’t your feet get blisters? Do you wear those little footies, like Hue makes? Even a walk around the mall cuts into my feet when I’m wearing closed shoes without socks.

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:30 pm

      Roseanne, thanks so much! I actually have a post planned with some suggestions for no-show hosiery and shoe liners. I can’t wear most shoes without some kind of hosiery either.

  12. Cindy
    January 12, 2015 / 5:18 pm

    I always love your travel wardrobe posts. The 5 tips on this one are excellent. Would love to se a post of all the different “outfits” you made from those pieces. It helps me to visualize and make more out of less. Thanks for all of the ideas!

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:34 pm

      Cindy, thanks! The pieces I’ve shown here are meant for ideas, and I don’t own most of these exact ones. But once I narrow down my travel wardrobe I will show how I combined them during our travels.

  13. Judy
    January 12, 2015 / 9:14 pm

    Love your travel posts (and other posts!) as well. Now as for that Eileen Fisher jacket … any more info? Do you own it?

    • une femme
      January 12, 2015 / 9:35 pm

      Judy, thanks! I do not own this particular jacket and haven’t tried it on, but it’s very similar to one I did have a couple of years ago and liked. If I see it in the store I’ll report back.

  14. January 13, 2015 / 3:22 am

    You always make such good points. Thank you for this post!

  15. January 13, 2015 / 3:32 am

    Such a great post from your wonderful travel series! I couldn’t agree more on every point and you’re right, I think they all apply to most everyone fundamentally. Constraints and parameters often result in better style and creativity.
    I used to have quite distinct items for travel than for home which is silly mainly because I was the worst packer. In the last couple of years, since I’ve put in the effort to pack better and lighter, my whole wardrobe has improved a lot too! I only want to have wearable things and that means versatile enough for travel as well if I so wish.
    Happy 2015!

  16. christi
    February 15, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    enjoy your posts. Great ideas for travel. You showed black boots that were also waterproof. what brand. thanks

    • une femme
      February 15, 2015 / 5:31 pm

      Hi christi, thanks! One brand of waterproof boots I really like is Aquatalia by Marvin K. They are also very comfortable. Several styles here: http://bit.ly/1AsU73m

  17. March 30, 2015 / 3:24 am

    True, but only as far as it goes. I travel a lot, and one of my great indulgences is the opera in whatever city I am visiting, which means a serious party dress. Most recently this has been a 1940s crepe cocktail dress with embroidered beadwork butterflies across the shoulder and bust. This is my one life, and I am not going to miss the serious party dress at the opera just so my luggage is lighter. Just saying.

    • Melissa
      October 15, 2015 / 8:41 pm

      I kind of stumbled upon packing lighter and better, meaning actually wearing everything I packed. It all started last year when looking up French classic fashion the google results were amazing. Further digging the basics, further digging, capsule wardrobes. It really started influencing my purchases, how I organize my wardrobe, alot less wasted purchases.
      Much more organized,and the natural progression was travel wardrobes. I now really wear what I pack, enjoy looking more put together when traveling and alot less regrets in both my travel wardrobe and at home wardrobe, both are the same. During summer travel I do alot of knit skirts, tanks and cardigans. After feeling very uncomfortable with the way I look in shorts (most places in Europe don’t wear them, it brands you as a tourist, ie: target). I discovered freedom of skirts and dresses/maxi and shorter, they are so much cooler and comfortable. Shorts I found restrictive and just don’t look good on my short stature. Scarves and jewelry mix it up and easy to throw over a swimsuit or dress up for evening.
      Winter packing always dark jeans easy to dress up or down and black jeans same reason. One knit dress in black can dress up or down and no extra shoes cause black boots that I wear with jeans also look great with the dress and black tights add your statement necklace and your done. My budget allows for cashmere now and I love my black cashmere scarf, goes everywhere I go. Just bought one in fucshia can’t wait to wear it with my black cashmire turtleneck sweater. I have boots just like the ones shown and wear them constantly.

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