Monday, November 14, 2011

A Travel Capsule Wardrobe - Packing the Last-Minute Suitcase

Someday, the call will come:

  • Your Aunt Trudi is in the hospital, and nobody else can get there to be with her! or
  • The data servers are all down in Edinburgh - get there NOW and fix them, or
  • The Excel trainer broke her leg - you've got to go to New York tonight to teach the seminar, or
  • Honey!  We're going to Paris TONIGHT for a long weekend!  (this is a dream we share, eh?)

So somewhere in the back of my mind, every three or four months, I consider what I would do if I got this call.  The best defense, of course, is to have a carefully curated and deliberately distilled wardrobe, so that you just just stick your hand in the closet and grab a handful of things and you'll probably be okay.  And if you keep your toiletries ALWAYS ready (more on this another day), pulling this kind of thing together isn't as terrifying as it might seem.  (oh yes, having laundry up to date is vital!)

This time of year, I would fly in nice corduroy pants, a cashmere crew neck sweater, and a tweed blazer.  I'd sort of pile on accessories - both pearls and a scarf, because scarves are so handy to have when you fly.  Shoes that I can wear with jeans or with a skirt and tights, OR with my other pants, a carry-on bag, and my briefcase.  Lined trench coat will endure anything - I'm so happy I found it!

Toiletries, a book, my MP3 player, cell phone, chargers, my cross-body bag, and my ID stuff all fits in my briefcase easily.  Once I'm on the ground, if I don't want to carry my briefcase every day, I can fit necessities into the cross-body bag, sling it on, and forget about it.

My carry-on is small - 18 inches long, and VERY lightweight nylon when empty.  On short trips, waiting for checked luggage just eats up precious time, and for a few days, only a small bag is necessary. Nine pieces of carefully chosen clothing, ONE pair of shoes, and an assortment of accessories gives me more than enough clothing for 3 or four days.  

So I have whatever I need to wear for:
  • crawling on the floor in a server room (jeans & tee shirt), 
  • a board meeting (tweed jacket, gray turtleneck, black skirt), 
  • sightseeing (black pants, white tee shirt and black & white cardigan)
  • hanging out in the hospital (black/white tee shirt & black pants)
  • doing Aunt Trudi's yard work (jeans & tee shirt)
  • or a nice romantic dinner (black turtleneck & skirt).
My friend's think I take planning a bit too far, but I find it comforting to have these sorts of issues settled in my mind, so that when the REAL emergency comes, these sorts of things are already handled and my brain power is available to take care of the people and situations that need me the most!


  1. Another fantastic post! I'm a planner too. My philosophy is that you can never plan too much or account for too many variables. And as you say, having these issues settling is comforting and allows you to be effective and enjoy the trip. I love these items and combos here -- I can tell that I've been following your advice for months, as I have most of these types of items at hand and have discovered how perfect and useful they are. Thank you, V!

  2. Please let me know who makes the black flats with green interior (first picture); I have been searching everywhere for something like this! Great post!

    1. Thierry Rabotin - highly recommended!

  3. I dream of being this organized, even in my daily wardrobe. I went on a two week trip to Europe recently, and found that I could do quite well with fewer clothes if I if only I could translate that to everyday life.

  4. You are amazing! I can't even plan what I'm going to wear tomorrow, let alone planning for future possible emergency trips in such detail.

    I'm editing my wardrobe and this is a good lesson that I need to consider the possible situation or event as well as the clothes/outfits in my closet.


  5. Love your ideas! Thanks for doing this. Although I don't comment every day, I do check and am always pleasantly surprised at all of your wonderful posts. Thanks for sharing with us.

  6. I also read every day! I love this one, you are right, it does work for any event

  7. I am like Northmoon. I can barely plan what to wear the next day, let alone for an out-of-town emergency. I am also a horrible packer, as my husband reminds me on a regular basis.

    I think I need to spend a little time and think about what I would want to bring on a last minute trip.

    I have a big overseas trip planned for next May and will be using your blog to guide me through my packing and planning. I want to make my husband, and myself, pleased with what's in my luggage. I should probably start planning now!

    Wonderful post...xoxo, Adrienne

  8. The shoes in the first outfit are from Thierry Rabotin - they're expensive, and kind of hard to find, but insanely comfortable! I haunt sales, and eBay, to try to find them on sale.

  9. Not made any comment for a while, this is such a useful post, thank you.

    PS, I went to Paris for the first time back in the summer - found Diwalli, now have two beautiful scarves thanks to your recommendation.

    Best Wishes, Mme UK

  10. Love the ideas, and especially the silk scarves! Where did you get them (if you don't mind saying)?

  11. I also find it reassuring to have a plan when I am packing for a trip. These are colors that I frequently use so I have bookmarked this post for me to use as a template:-) Great post!

  12. The square scarves are all from Hermes, and the polka dot cashmere one is from Marc Jacobs. I don't actually OWN the dotted one, but I have at least a couple of scarves from Diwali in Paris that are black and white patterned. When I'm packing in a rush, I always plan on a few plain, solid-colored garments, and then I throw in quite a lot of accessories! Five Hermes scarves will fit into a one-gallon zip-lock bag...
    thanks for asking!

  13. Vivienne, this is a little off topic, but I had to share.

    Ever since I've started reading your blog, I've taken everything to heart. I purged my wardrobe and have become more scrupulous in purchasing pieces for my wardrobe. I've also stopped wearing running shoes and sweats into the office on the weekends like I used to. I'm usually only one of a few people who come into work on the weekends and everybody always has an sweats/sweatshirts/shorts/baseball caps. I now try to make an effort and put some some cute flats and subtle accessories even if I'm just planning to wear jeans and a tee.

    Well, last weekend, I was trekking along at my desk when I got an email from my husband that he (spontaneously!) made reservations at an upscale restaurant. The reservation was in 45 minutes at a place a couple blocks away from my office. My office is about 30 minutes away from my house so I didn't have time to go home and change. Fortunately, even though I was wearing jeans, I had on cute flats, a great necklace, and a bold belt. I had a blazer in my office (and since all my clothes "go" with each other now, the blazer would have matched whatever I was wearing) so I threw the blazer on, which made my outfit look hip. Had I been wearing my usual sneakers/sweats combo, I would have had to tell my husband that I couldn't go because I was underdressed. And anyone who knows men knows that the worst thing a woman can do is fail to lavish a man with praise for coming up with a pleasant surprise.

  14. AG - that is SO cool! Your husband is definitely a "keeper", I'd say...
    big hug,

  15. I LOVE this type of posts. I am always clipping these articles out of magazines (Town and Country does some fine ones), and now I can add your pictures to my Travel file on my computer I keep for inspiration.

    I don't think you can overthink travel packing. Space is getting smaller and smaller...

  16. Until my mother died 2 years ago I had to be ready to cross the Atlantic at a moment's notice. Like you I had a packing plan. I once reached her in the north of England in less than 24 hours, having managed to have my hair cut, my shoes heeled and arranging for someone to teach all of my courses including the provision of lecture plans for the rest of the semester. Mind you - I was younger then and more flexible in mind.

  17. Because I tend to have tunnel-vision about the 'use' of a particular item, I really appreciate this part of the post:

    So I have whatever I need to wear for:
    crawling on the floor in a server room (jeans & tee shirt),
    a board meeting (tweed jacket, gray turtleneck, black skirt),
    sightseeing (black pants, white tee shirt and black & white cardigan)
    hanging out in the hospital (black/white tee shirt & black pants)
    doing Aunt Trudi's yard work (jeans & tee shirt)
    or a nice romantic dinner (black turtleneck & skirt).