Selecting A Travel Wardrobe Foundation

Sussing Out A Summer Travel Wardrobe…

neutral travel wardrobe pieces

Or, “round up the usual suspects…”

Above: a few contenders…jeans (similar) | pants | top | tee | shirt (similar)

Though I won’t finalize my travel wardrobe for another week, I like to give myself time to go through potential picks, try things on in as many combinations as I can, and be sure everything works well together. And reviewing pieces a couple of weeks out gives me time to take care of any washing, cleaning or repairs needed. A few years of traveling and trying to pack light have taught me which types and styles of clothing work best. These comprise my travel wardrobe foundation; they’re easy to style, versatile, and layer well. But weather this trip will likely be warmer than when we normally travel, so I’m trying to gauge how much I’ll need to adjust my usual formula. (I don’t know about you, but I find it far easier to look put-together in cooler weather than in warm!)

“Start With The Shoes…”

  • Unless the forecast shifts toward cool and wet, I’ll probably go with either my Taos sneakers in pewter metallic, or a pair of comfortable and supportive slip-ons (TBD).
  • While some don’t like to travel with sandals, I consider them a necessity in warmer weather. For walking sandals, I’ll be packing my Mephisto’s (styles here).
  • I’ll probably bring a 3rd pair of footwear that can dress up a little bit in the evenings, also TBD.

The lineup…


  • one or two collared longer shirts or tunics in linen, or lightweight cotton or rayon. I find that when it’s too hot for a Third Piece (jacket, sweater, scarf, vest), a top with a collar looks more polished than a tee. it’s also nice to be able to pop up that collar to keep sun (or an air-conditioning draft) off the back of the neck. And some styles can also be worn unbuttoned as a lightweight jacket.
  •  at least one 3/4 sleeve linen tee.
  • As I tend to get cold on flights, I’ll be bringing/wearing a cashmere cardigan. And if the weather turns unseasonably chilly once we’re there, I’ll be glad to have it along.
  • I’ll probably include a couple of lightweight knit tops, TBD.

The lineup…


  • Though some eschew jeans for travel, they’re the basis of my wardrobe at home and I usually bring at least 2 pair. Looser fits and/or lighter-weight fabrics will be more comfortable in warmer weather. (Rolling up cuffs just past the ankle also has a cooling effect.)
  • Of course I’ll bring a pair of stretch crepe black knit pants, (Plus here) probably ankle length. These are magic in a travel wardrobe. They dress up or down, and are comfortable even in the heat. I usually wear mine with a longer top for a polished look.
  • I’m debating about whether to include a pair of white jeans; they’re more summery but will show dirt more quickly.

Toes on the line, face forward…

I’m also planning to pack my lightweight long silk jacket, for cooler evenings and for dressing up my separates.


(I don’t count these as part of my 12 items, as they’re worn as base layers.)

  • silk tanks and camisoles. I’ll wear these as a base layer in all but the most muggy conditions. The weave of this silk jersey fabric seems to breathe well. Wash in the sink, hang to dry overnight.
  • one long-sleeved layering top, if needed for warmth (you never know!)

You know the drill…

Beyond these, I’m waiting to get a better sense of the weather, and will add the remaining few pieces accordingly. Look for my final travel wardrobe next week!

I’ve updated my SHOP page with some warm weather picks, either for travel or home.

What are your foundation pieces for a summer travel wardrobe?

Stay in touch.

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  1. Meg
    June 22, 2016 / 4:52 am

    Oh such timing, as I am grabbing the suitcases myself for a week’s vacation in a hot, muggy location. I am packing a stretch rayon jersey dress in a dark blue, two pair of ankle pants in cotton/ lycra blends, an pleated crinkle silk scarf in turquoise, a linen collared tunic blouse like you have, and a selection of t shirts and tunic length tops in cool knit linen and silk.

    I also have a ‘wild and crazy’ tropical print woven silk tunic blouse, very ‘resort’ looking that goes with at least a half dozen colored bottoms- skirts, bermudas, capris, or the above mentioned ankle pants. It packs so lightly and if I tissue paper the folds, comes out neat and ready to go. That is my secret weapon for warm weather vacations, because I always feel special and vibrant in that blouse.

    Bathing suits ( yes , plural, I like a variety) and footwear round it out. I have a pair of comfort sandals with a spot of bling that see me thru every dressy event in great style but keep my feet happy. I wear sneakers to travel because the floor of the plane feels like an Antarctic research station. And I bring fuzzy socks to help keep my exposed ankles warm too!

  2. June 22, 2016 / 5:38 am

    For June travel in Europe, my travel wardrobe would be fairly similar to yours, but for heat, I love a little dress or two (they really take very little suitcase space) and a long or midi skirt — silk or cotton and the lining, if any, MUST be natural fibre! You can change up the look by layering cardi or T or jacket over top, and they’re so much cooler on the legs.

    • Susan B
      June 22, 2016 / 5:46 am

      Frances, I’ve actually been pondering a dress or skirt, but have found nothing that works. Either it’s a great style but wrong fabric or visa versa. 🙁 There are some lovely linen and cotton dresses out there now but they look like tents on me.

      • Christina Spada
        June 22, 2016 / 6:18 am

        I love dresses and have found these new purchases indispensable for travel this summer. They also prevent the omar look because they all have a loosely defined waist.

        This Eileen Fisher jersey fit and flare dress – I wear it with the v-neck in front which was life changing for me. A variety of colors available – I have it in lavender.

        This dress from Garnet Hill – easy linen dress with a bit of modal so it doesn’t wrinkle. The waist band and sleeves are a unique touch for me. I have it in navy.

        Another go anywhere dress with sleeves and a waistband.

  3. Linda Boardman Kerr
    June 22, 2016 / 5:45 am

    For my travel, European or domestic, I always pack (usually wear on plane) a black, mid-weight hooded cashmere cardigan. It’s elegant, versatile, and I pop the hood up to protect my hair in case of a light rain. It never fails to be worn a lot.

  4. Pam
    June 22, 2016 / 6:27 am

    I bought a St James dress (polyamide-elastane blend) that is UV protective, very comfortable, and washes out/dries overnight. Mine is an apple green stripe and works for sight-seeing with sandals or sneakers and can even dress up with nude heels. It packs very small (like a shirt) so is great for travel.

  5. June 22, 2016 / 6:44 am

    Always start with the shoes! Great picks here. I always take at least one top that washes well in the hotel sink : >


  6. Debra
    June 22, 2016 / 9:15 am

    I’d ditch the white jeans and bring a black knit skirt or dress. It’s hot here in Paris today and a lot of women are wearing the same thing: a black skirt and tank top, or a black cotton dress, both with sandals. I have a blue knit dress and wish I had a skirt, too, but I’ve been here for three weeks and didn’t have room after I included clothes for the 50ish, rainy weather that we had for the last ten days.

    Bon voyage!

  7. Wendy
    June 22, 2016 / 9:48 am

    Agree with Debra. It’s coming up to 7.00pm and it’s 34 degrees celsius in central France at the moment. The only trousers that I would be able to tolerate on a day like this would have to be loose fitting cotton or linen. Dresses and skirts are so much cooler!

    • Susan B
      June 22, 2016 / 11:31 am

      Hi Wendy, I know that long-term weather forecasts can be wildly unpredictable, but it does look at though the heat’s about to break for a while. Still, it’s good to be prepared for all extremes.

  8. June 22, 2016 / 11:25 am

    I couldn’t possibly travel in summery weather without a skirt or two. I rarely wear my black jeans unless we have some of that 10°C damp chill (though they always come along to Amsterdam) and never wear shorts except for doing heavy housework and yard work. I wear casual skirts all summer, with lycra shorts underneath on the bicycle.

    Obviously, even in a hot climate, one has to think of a warmer “bottom” if working in an over-air-conditioned office.

    I really like my Proprét TravelActiv Mary Janes – they are fine with a casual skirt or dress (or jeans) but I’d need something more dressy if I were going to a dressier work or social event. That would probably be plain ballerina-type flats (with a bit of support).

  9. Maria
    June 23, 2016 / 5:38 am

    Love your outfit ideas and can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of your suitcase. I live in sunny (HOT) Miami Beach, and typically never wear skirts or dresses and many people here don’t either, although some do.

  10. June 23, 2016 / 10:57 am

    So exciting – vacation packing! In my case all glamour will be represented by nice maxi-dress and the rest will be chosen by criteria “the lighter-thinner – the better”: Italian countryside it’s sun, sun and more sun and very laid back. Wedges, flats, two flip-flops and converse keds with extra cushioned inlay sole. Nothing with long sleeves, but couple thin scarves/pareo’s. Almost only dresses – not so good from the combination point f view, but when it’s HOT.. few swimsuits, three hats, three sunglasses. PLENTY sunscreen. And, God help me, everything for kids and husband too.. Last year I seriously over-packed kids&myself, this time will try to optimize (more wine to take home if we have more space in the car trunk on the way back :)).

  11. Linda Garvey
    June 25, 2016 / 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the 12 item formula! It worked well for a recent trip to Prague. While I live in jeans at home, I’m not fond of them for travel. I hit Lucy (activewear store) for some lightweight, nearly wrinkle free pants and tops before we left. They were great and I got lots of compliments too (we were traveling with a professional group for my husband’s work). And instead of jeans, I packed a jeans pencil skirt which was great when the weather turned hot. Versatile tops, a couple of scarves, a rain coat, some light weight cardigans and my regular “work shoes” (flats -I teach and am on my feet a lot) filled out my wardrobe nicely. I love your recommendations for inspiration!

  12. Dara
    July 29, 2016 / 6:25 am

    You style is BEAUTIFUL! However, I have what is described as a “spring complexion”). Your clothing is the style I have been searching for! My skin undertone is yellowish! Do you have any suggestions you could share? Thanks so much!

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