Thursday, June 30, 2011

What my French friend wears to work: The roots of the Vivienne Files

Vivienne and I first got to be friends because of packing - she works in a hotel in Paris and was helping me pull together a training session I was running - and after the first or second day, she said something like "you got dressed in my closet this morning" and then we wound up having drinks, and THEN she came up to my room to eat room service (Gratis, since she works for the hotel) and hanging out with me while I did my ironing.

Bottom line, I know the girl's packing philosophy cold, since she and I have the same approach.

You can see why Vivienne and I felt connected from the first moment we met.

Start with a base of 5 garments, no matter how long or how short the trip:
  1. Jacket or cardigan
  2. Pants that match
  3. Skirt that matches
  4. Top that goes with the above
  5. Another top that matches

Vivienne would go with a black suit - I travel with a black twinset, and black pants and skirt, and a black and white striped tee shirt (Lands' End - polka dotted or striped - impossible to wear them out).

Then you add one item for each day of your trip, up to a maximum of 15 items of clothing NO MATTER HOW LONG YOUR TRIP IS!!!

I traveled for over five weeks last year (2002), from Greece and 80+ temperatures to Prague and snow, and I packed only 16 items of clothing. (Okay, I stretched the rule by 1 thing). The rundown was as follows:

  1. Black wool cardigan
  2. Black wool short-sleeved sweater (making a set with #1)
  3. Black stretch pants
  4. Black knit short skirt
  5. Jeans (I know, I know, but I had 8 flights in 5 weeks, I WANTED jeans sometimes)
  6. White tee shirt
  7. Black v-neck sweater
  8. Violet short sleeved wool top
  9. Black mid-calf wool knit skirt
  10. Black and white striped tee shirt
  11. Black short sleeved button front linen blend top
  12. Cream wool short sleeved top
  13. Light blue twinset (is this really 2 items?)
  14. Black wool crewneck sweater
  15. Brown cardigan - wool knit
  16. Brown short sleeved sweater
  17. Brown 3/4 sleeved turtleneck

Note that pretty much all of the knitwear is from Eileen Fisher. Came back from the various hotel laundries looking beautiful, wears like iron, infinitely versatile, and all of it worked together.

The only thing resembling a coat that I took with me was an alpaca shawl which I put in one of those airtight shrink bags and squished into my briefcase. I had 3 pair of shoes, tons of jewelry, and about 10 scarves, and I hated every stitch of clothing I had with me by the time I got home. But I traveled with just a briefcase and a carry-on bag for almost six weeks! Almost all of which were spent working, or with work colleagues i.e. pretty dressed up.

My wardrobe still looks like this!

I'm going to post an illustration of all of the accessories tomorrow, as I continue to ponder capsule wardrobes and their relationship to well-packed suitcases.


  1. I'm a very light traveler myself (wearing nearly all black helps). I dislike having too many clothes in general; it makes me feel wasteful because inevitably there are items I'll rarely wear, plus it just makes my morning choices too vast and confusing. Love all of the stripes pictured above.

  2. Wow, I'm impressed and inspired. Those EF knits are wonderful, aren't they?

  3. I packed a summer version of your capsule wardrobe for my three week trip to Minnesota, based on this post you had originally in the French Chic yahoo group. The parameters continue to inspire me. And it is oh-so-chic to travel lightly and have a wardrobe that is versatile!