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 (similar) | jacket (similar) | sweater | jeans | pants (similar ) | suitcase (similar)
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
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 | Lands’ End
J.Crew | J.Crew cardigan | Eileen Fisher | Talbots | Eileen Fisher (Plus) | Everlane
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 Paris | 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 | Joan Vass | Eileen Fisher | Eileen Fisher Plus
What are your Must-Pack pieces?
This article could not have come at a better time! Doing a Viking thru Bordeaux & having trouble packing. It’s in beginning of September.
Are white capris appropriate for ports during day?
By September you’ll see more French women in dark colors rather than white, if you’re interested in what the locals wear.
Anne in Aix en Provence
I have been on the hunt for good navy ponte pants. I was so excited recently when Talbot’s came out with some (refer to link above). However, those pants stretch out TERRIBLY in knees after about an hour’s wear. An awful look.
I just returned from almost three weeks in Italy, and none of these would have worked. It was over 95 degrees most of the time, over 100 sometimes too. I brought 4 dresses, 2 pairs of cropped linen pants, a couple of linen shirts, one linen skirt, one cotton skirt, and several short sleeved tees. I’ll definitely use your advice for fall travel.
Your packing tips helped me a lot. I traveled to Ireland in June with a 21 inch suitcase! I packed black pants (2), one pair exercise capris, two shorts, and assorted sweaters and tops. I had to have both long sleeve and short sleeve tops because we were stopping in Boston to see relatives after the 2 week trip. Glad I took a lot of short sleeve because I needed them in Ireland! They had a heat wave! I took two pairs of shoes and one crossbody bag. I took one light jacket and one down jacket. At the end of the Ireland trip I was wearing my down jacket! Oh, I added 3 scarves for variety. This is what I wore for 3 weeks total.
I love dresses so always have a knit dress plus leggings. Wool for cooler weather. Like you, Ponte pants and jeans are a must apart from summer travel. And my must have is a fake leather jacket (vegan), blazers don’t suit me. But traveling next in December, so it will be puffer jackets this time
Vest! Lightweight, normally in black.
This is great advice!
just got back from vacation in England, France and Italy and one thing I was very surprised by was the lack of yoga pants and athleisure in general. I also noticed that nobody wore denim shorts-of any kind. It was nice to see,esp on the teen girls. Most around me wear daisy dukes as a uniform to all places, even church.
Have started packing for a Friday departure to London, boarding a Viking Ocean Cruise for a 15 day British Isles tour, off to Norway and then 4 days in Iceland. High 70s in London and environs and 50 in Norway and Iceland. I’m following your suggestions, neutral colors, layers and a couple jackets, one waterproof and one a lightweight Uniglo puffer. I like to have several scarves to change the look of the same tops and jackets.
Although I live in New Zealand I’m originally from southern England and remember that though long Indian summer’s are a possibility it’s far more likely that the temperature will cool off towards September. It’s my pick for the best month with usually settled, mild weather. Enjoy your trip. ):-
The puffer and the waterproof jacket are wise choices for Iceland in the fall. You can even wear both at the same time, if necessary.
You hit the nail on the head. I agree on all 5 categories.
Since I am always cold, I need a sixth category: “base layers.” It’s surprising how much warmer you feel with a layer next to your skin. And no one needs to know but you. It’s my first line of defense against a chilly world,
Traveling to Europe with many stops what toiletry bags do you recommend?
Hi Rebecca, this is my favorite toiletries bag: EMME. And use code UNEFEMME for 20% off. 🙂
I always include a dark wash denim jacket which works as a top layer like a blazer, or can be put over a light layer for warmth. Also, I include at least 1 long sleeved button down shirt as a layering piece. A hoody lightweight cashmere sweater is my favorite for casual warmth.
Hi Susan, I always enjoy your styling tips and what to look for when planning a trip abroad. I need your help. This November I’m going to Portugal and Spain and would like to wear a hat to keep the sun off my scalp and face. Could you suggest a style please. How does the formality in these countries compare to Paris? Thank you.
I am leaving for Spain in mid-September for 2 weeks.. What should I pack?
Hi Nancy, you can check out all of my travel wardrobe suggestions HERE. Use the filters to search based on season and trip length. Start with your shoes; you’ll want at least one comfortable pair of walking shoes.