Jet-Setting with Navy: A Guide to Crafting Your Perfect Travel Capsule Wardrobe

Anticipation can be half the fun of travel, and if you’re like me, that includes thinking about what to pack. But if putting together a packing list feels more than a little overwhelming, a neutral travel capsule wardrobe can be a great starting point. Navy can be both a sophisticated and versatile choice for your travel essentials. Here, I’ve created a “starter kit” of navy basics to anchor your next travel wardrobe.

A travel capsule wardrobe starter kit in navy

When you build a house, you start with the foundation, which supports everything that will be added. That’s what this coordinated, cohesive set of travel basics is meant to do. In future posts, I’ll show you how to selectively add pieces to this capsule for color and variety, while still maintaining cohesion. But today, I want to delve into how and why I think navy pieces like these (or similar) are a good starting point.

First though, here are some general considerations when creating a travel capsule wardrobe:

  • For most destinations and venues, “smart casual” is as dressed up as you’ll need to be. Unless you have a wedding or formal event on the agenda, leave the special occasion clothes at home.
  • Avoid bringing heavy, bulky pieces and think lightweight layers. When you’re out and about, it’s easier to add or remove layers to adjust to fluctuating temperatures.
  • Knit fabrics (usually) won’t wrinkle and tend to be easier to pack. They’ll also be more comfortable in transit and when out and about at your destination.
  • Simple styles, without a lot of loose or flapping bits will be easier to layer, and won’t get caught in turnstiles or shuttle doors.

The pieces I’ve included here are meant as examples. So if there’s something you don’t usually wear or travel with, feel free to substitute for your own travel capsule. But in my experience, basics like these will have you covered for a majority of usual travel activities and venues.


Lightweight pullover. A simple v-neck or crewneck pullover in a lightweight knit can be worn alone, or layered over a shirt, tee or tank, or underneath a jacket. I love merino wool for travel. It breathes, is comfortable in a range of temperatures, is washable, and won’t pick up odors. Prefer a v-neck? This cashmere v-neck is quite good and budget-friendly.

Layering tee. In transitional seasons, a long sleeve cotton tee like this one can be worn as a base layer underneath either of the sweaters, or on its own if the weather warms up. Go for cotton, linen, silk, or something breathable. Go for solids or stripes, but go with something fitted enough to layer easily.

Cardigan. I find cardigans so versatile for travel. They can be worn alone, as a mid-layer, or open as a top layer. Again, choose something lightweight and fitted enough to go under a jacket or coat if needed. Cashmere is lightweight and travels well, but there are lots of options now in cotton, silk, and other blends that will work well.


Jeans. I’ve included jeans here because I wear them often at home and almost always travel with them. While I’ve shown a slim, straight leg style here, you can include whatever style you usually wear. (Though I’d caution against very long or very wide styles…if jeans get wet they’re often heavy and can take a long time to dry. The more fabric, the more you’ll notice it.)

But if it will be very warm at your destination or you aren’t comfortable in jeans, feel free to substitute.

Pants. A simple style that can dress up or down will be a workhorse in your travel wardrobe. The slim ponte knit pants shown have a stitched front seam that gives them a nice polished look. And a tropical weight wool trouser can also be a great option. This style is also well-rated, and available in several neutral colors. A style with some stretch or ease in the fit will be most comfortable, but as with jeans, I’d avoid very long or very wide styles.

Skirts. Though I don’t travel with skirts, I know many of you do. You’ll want a style that you can walk in easily, and I think this jersey knit could be a good option. This pleated midi skirt also is well reviewed and I’ve read that it packs well.

Of course if you’re heading to the beach, resort, or somewhere casual, you can pack shorts. I’d caution though that in many cities and venues, above-the-knee shorts aren’t generally worn (except for exercise), even in summer. And if you’re planning to visit some churches or temples, they may have “modest” dress codes in place that require knees and shoulders to be covered. (I know, but I don’t make those rules…😉 )

👉 Style tip: I’m often asked about whether it’s necessary to “match” your navy pieces, and the short answer is, not really. Just as with black, the trick to combining pieces that aren’t quite the same shade of navy is to vary the texture between the two. That way it looks intentional, rather than inadvertent.

Adding to your navy travel capsule…

While some people might be happy traveling with this very minimalist navy capsule wardrobe, I imagine most of us will want more variety, and maybe a little bit of color. So in future posts, I’ll be showing different options to add to this “foundation” and show how you can tweak it to accommodate your color and style preferences.

Come visit my SHOP for more great travel wardrobe basics in navy and other neutrals.

Planning to travel to Europe this summer? Check out my post Travel Light, Travel Smart: 7 Styles I Always Pack for Summer in Europe.

If you’re looking for more travel wardrobe ideas and packing tips, come visit my Travel Wardrobe Resource Hub. You can filter articles by season and trip length to help plan your packing list for your next trip!

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  1. Good tip that I never thought of — if navys don’t match, vary the texture! Thanks, Susan. And, the BR ponte pants are just right for travel. Bought them for a trip to Japan next week. BR also has some heavy cotton knit tops in black, white, and navy. I bought the black and white for same trip.

    1. Hi Debra, either would work. It just depends on your preference (and your color palette). A khaki trench will lighten up the navy pieces. A navy trench will also be chic, and less “standard.”

  2. Susan, your post is very timely for me this morning as I’m starting to select my capsule wardrobe for an upcoming 6 week trip this spring to France, Spain and Portugal, and for the first time have been considering using navy instead of black as my core color (with white, blue, olive and tan as accent colors).I travel carry on only so I am very deliberate in my choices. Thanks for all your suggested items!

  3. Hi Susan, I have an autumn palette and am planning a trip to Ireland. Help! What would you do as neither true navy or black are well suited to me. I worry that choosing basics in lighter colors like khaki might show dirt more easily. I could go with navy and try to keep the color around my face but I like the idea of the navy sweaters.

    1. Hi Nancy, here’s my take on navy: I think unless it’s super dark, it can be pretty forgiving. So I think even if you can’t find your exact navy, something close will be fine. Add a scarf or top in one of your Autumn colors. (And here’s a zip cashmere sweater that looks pretty close to Autumn’s navy:

  4. I love this post, Susan! I’m in the process of purging my entire wardrobe of everything I no longer want or need now that I’m retired; so thank you for this excellent info and recommendations. The core capsule pieces you selected are perfect to provide an excellent foundation (with navy as the base) for me to utilize in building a fresh new wardrobe that will accommodate my casual lifestyle. I am looking forward to seeing the additions you’ll be showing to build on these!

  5. Such a valuable posting!! Thank you Susan! I remember when I started following you years and years ago that you’re packing tips for Paris were so smart and comfortable and fashionable! I felt like I hit a gold mine! 😉 I decided that pulling together a navy travel capsule would be the easiest and most efficient for me even though I’m an Autumn. The US just doesn’t have the breadth of fabric that London does. Or Europe for that matter. Anyway, the capsule is coming together and I have to thank you so much for your guidance and ‘finds’.

  6. Hip-HIP-Hooray! That Boden skirt is just what I’ve been looking for.
    I spent several years transitioning my wardrobe from black basics (way too harsh a color) to navy. Now some of those navy items are nearing replacement time. as I am a little less than 5′ tall, this is not any easy search.
    Thanks for the tip and for the “navy validation”.

  7. I’ve been a navy girl forever because I dislike black. However, for years it was difficult to find except during “resort” collections in December-February. Thankfully, this changed in recent years.

    I’m planning a trip to South Korea in the fall and my navy foundation pieces are similar to yours (jeans, Eileen Fisher crepe pants, long cashmere cardigan, stripe Tee). I was planning to include a couple of casual dresses for street wear, but perhaps a skirt would be a better choice. 2nd core color is rattan/beige and the final debate is smokey coral or yellow for accent. I’m looking forward to your follow-up posts.