Planning A Winter Travel Wardrobe 🧳

12-Piece Neutral Winter Travel Wardrobe capsule. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

We’re mostly staying put this winter, but for those who will be traveling, I’ve updated the Winter travel wardrobe capsule, incorporating some takeaways from my trip to Paris last December.

Trying to build a universal winter travel wardrobe is next to impossible. Winter where? Montreal? New York? Oslo? Seattle? Rome? So for this capsule, 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.)

While black is often a go-to for travel, and easy to use as a building block, many of you have requested capsules that aren’t black-based. So this time I’ve used navy, grey and ivory as the neutrals. (You can always swap out some of these for black if you prefer.) Next week, I’ll show you a few more options to add color to this capsule.

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 three above) but again, neutrals will greatly improve your wardrobe cohesion. I also find that neutrals are easier to dress up than bright colors.
  • Think about silhouette when choosing pieces, and try everything on in as many combinations as you can. Most of your tops should work with most of your bottoms.
  • 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: scarf | turtleneck | shirt | tee

I’ll usually start with a base layer like a silk tank, or (if frigid enough) 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.

I’ve included two patterned tops to add some interest (and in the case of the blouse, to be able to tie other colors together). You can always go with solids, and use scarves or outerwear to add pattern if you prefer.

👉Tip: if you’re going to include pattern in both clothing and scarves, make them different types of patterns. For example, I’ve included dot and floral print tops, so my scarves would be plaids, stripes or animal prints. This makes for easier pattern mixing.

Second Row: shirt | sweater | sweater | cardigan

I’ve included a few different sweater styles for variety, but if there’s one neckline or style you prefer, you could always include 2 or 3 of those. Sweaters can be a good place to add some color if you like, which I’ve done here with the burgundy pullover.

Third Row: cardigan | dress

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. The crewneck cardigan is a lighter weight merino. You could always opt for the same style in a warmer cashmere without adding bulk.

I’ve included a dress because so many of you have asked for them. This one’s ponte knit (and pricey). Boden has a selection of more budget-friendly ponte dresses HERE.

Fourth Row: skirt | pants | jeans

I’ve stayed with dark neutrals for the bottoms. Skirts are another item that many of you travel with and have requested. This one is a knit pleated style. Add a pair of merino tights to stay warm and cozy.

Because I love ponte knit pants for travel, I’ve included a navy pair in this set. But if you’re including black, the Eileen Fisher ponte knit pants (comes in plus size options, too) are a stalwart in my travel wardrobes. Jeans are a must for me, and I have never regretted bringing them. Last winter my grey skinny jeans were Travel Wardrobe MVP’s (grey jean options here), so I’ve included them here. If I were building this wardrobe for myself, I’d skip the skirt and add a pair of medium wash boyfriend jeans (Plus).

Bottom Row: ankle boots | lace-up boots | knee boots

The boot choices cover a range of temperature, conditions, and levels of formality. I’ve selected colors other than black to provide options, but black footwear would work just as well. Yes, you can wear black and navy together. 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 this winter travel wardrobe capsule (as well as adding more color), so do check back.

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

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  1. 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.

    1. 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. I live in Victoria, BC which has a similar climate to the UK. When our prairie family came for Christmas, they were always cold here, because they didn’t bring enough layering clothes. So bring light weight wool to layer and don’t forget some sort of rain coat. Enjoy your UK Christmas.

  2. 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. 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!

    1. 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.)

      1. 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.

    2. 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. 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?

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

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

        1. 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.

          1. 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. 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!

    1. 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!

      1. That is such good advice Ann. Americans have a real over consumption problem. Borrowing your friends coat is a great solution. I saw lots of Canada Goose coats last weekend in Chicago. You will fit right in.

    2. You may already know this, but I learned it the hard way: I visited Chicago last February (I live in Houston). I’m originally from Michigan, so packed lots of warm clothes and layers. Went out for a short walk one day, and was physically warm enough, but my iPhone wasn’t! I was using it for the navigation, but the 15 degree temps caused the battery to promptly die. That isn’t a thing that happens in Texas!

  6. 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. 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!!

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

      1. Please put in a link to the Uniglo down that everyone is referring to! Also, not necessarily for tomorrow’s post, but wondering if you could recommend a silk tee for less than $100? Thanks.

  9. Susan – how did you style the ivory Uniglo? Considering this for an early spring UK trip just not sure how versatile it will be.

  10. For those needing a lower price point than EF, j.jill usually carries a full line of pants, skirts, dresses, jacket and even a couple of tops in ponte knit.

  11. This is such a good winter wardrobe for city travel. Bearing in mind that city travel in winter includes a lot of time spent indoors, at museums, galleries, restaurants and events. Lightweight layering is essential, and this wardrobe does it. The outer layers — coat, boots, gloves, scarves, hats — are very important to where you go in winter. I had to work hard to find waterproof items for winter travel in Europe. Yes, it’s a dry cold where I live, but dry and -40C at times! Going in and out of heated buildings in winter is like going from the oven to the freezer. I finally decided on a lightweight puffer coat under a second, waterproof outer coat.

  12. Great travel wardrobe suggestions as always. Just so you know, the knit skirt you showed here is not charcoal, it is black with metallic silver threads. I think some would find it to much bling for daytime wear; it looks like a holiday party item to me.

  13. Jan , there is a UK based company called Patra siks . They do ship abroad and have a range of 100% silk jersey items . The tops are £32-£45 depending on sleeve length . I have found them to be very good value .

  14. Hi. I love your blog. I have just come back from a few days in Trouville sur Mer and I followed your principles from this post. And it worked perfectly! I never wore the dress but that’s because it was too cold to get my legs out. But it was so good to be dressed for the weather whatever! And everything mixed and matched. Great! Thanks so much.

  15. My travel challenge is … dirt + rain + wind. I live in a semi rural area where there is never an opportunity to wear pants below the ankle. Shoes have to be cleaned after every wear. Forget re-wearing any ensemble, it will be washed after every wear too. Forget light or bright colored bottoms or shoes, they get dirty. So will your face if you try to wear makeup … it will just melt off and look garish. Guess where I live? The Pacific Northwest. My solution = the opposite of anything I described. 🙂