Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Pack Light: A Mystery Business Trip, and the "Whatever's Clean 13" Capsule Wardrobe

This can't be good.... Your boss comes into your office: "I need to you to go to Des Moines (or Dusseldorf, or Dublin), because they've already spent 80% of their year's budget for widgets! Get out there and see what's going on!!!"

Nobody in your office has ever been to "The D City Office", and so you have no clue what to expect. Who buys and uses the widgets? The C-Suite guys in 3-piece suits? (I can personally verify that men in Dublin still wear vests with their suits...) Or is it Jen, Roy and Moss, down in the basement? Is some moron executive treating widgets as if they're disposable? Or did a genius in Procurement find widgets at 80% off, and buy a 5 year supply? Your plate is full...

The IT Crowd - one of the funniest television shows I've ever seen...

So, in addition to having to figure out (a) what IS a widget?, (b) how is it used?, and (c) how many of them should an office use in the course of a year, you've also got to pack!

No worries; I've got this!

Start formal - it's always easier to peel off a suit jacket and a silk scarf than it is to try to pretend that you're "executive-worthy" in jeans and a sweater.

Fairies Penny scarf – Joanna Allsop (similar here), blazer – Paul Smith (similar here), trousers – Paul Smith (similar here), sweater – Steffen Schraut (similar here), mother of pearl earrings – La Kaiser (similar here), watch - Skagen, tote - Lodis, loafers – Gucci (similar here), suitcase – Tumi (similar here)

If you arrive wearing this, and you end up in the basement with the tech people, you should be okay...

Normally, for a trip like this I would NEVER suggest packing 10 items - this sounds like it should be a 3 day trip. But when venturing into the face of the corporate unknown, you need options.

So let's envision our "Whatever's Clean 13" like this. On the left, a cluster of six items that are pretty dressy - your navy pantsuit, and things to wear with it. On the right, a cluster of six items in grey (which will go with navy perfectly), but which are a bit more relaxed in feel. And holding things together there at the bottom, a pair of trousers, or a skirt, that will work either direction.

Your travel outfits plugs in like this:

Yes, your blush top could be on either side of this equation, but I tossed it into the more relaxed side of things, just to show that it's possible to mix things from both sides.

This is the rest of your wardrobe for travel. Arguably, the hardest part of this wardrobe might be finding a skirt that you can wear with the blazer from your navy suit! The smartest thing to do would be to find a way to purchase all 3 pieces at the same time, from the same vendor. But in the absence of that, a change of texture will help "non-matching" things work together. This skirt is bouclé, which contrasts with your blazer without clashing.

And I chose a couple of short-sleeved sweaters to include here, because to me they span the "dressy/casual" divide really well. Under a blazer, they don't really make a statement. With contrasting trousers, they're more at ease and informal.

And I opted for tan trousers; men wear tan trousers with a navy blazer frequently, so it's a very accepted business ensemble. But if you're leaning away from "corporate dress", you can always just treat them like a pair of khakis!

Grey cardigan – Jardin des Orangers, pearl necklace – Elyona (similar here), circle brooch - Mikimoto, square scarf – Hermes Au Coeur de la Vie, navy short-sleeve sweater – Joseph (similar here), clutch bag – Tevolio (similar here), white short-sleeve sweater – Lamberto Losani (similar here), grey short-sleeve tee – Uniqlo (similar here), navy dotted silk tee – Uniqlo (similar here), striped scarf – Haider Ackermann (similar here), grey skirt – Uniqlo (similar here), tan cotton trousers – Planet (similar here), grey trousers – Max Mara (similar here), medallion print blouse – Prabal Gurung (similar here), navy suede pumps – Jimmy Choo (similar here), grey pumps – Vince (similar here),  navy boucle skirt – Boden USA(similar here)

Your template is complete:

This is always a good time to toss a couple of seriously elegant accessories into your bag. If you're going to have to go toe-to-toe with a knucklehead CFO who breaks three widgets a week, you're going to want to have all of the psychological armor you can muster! (but just for spite, your clutch bag is from Target...)

Now, you have lots of options!

I used to LOVE business travel, and I miss it terribly, but I'm not going to pretend that it wasn't sometimes a pain in the neck!


PS - For more wardrobe planning templates and the latest Pantone Color Planner check out the Planning Documents section of the website.


  1. A perfect capsule and strategy for me! I've settled on these colours as the core of my wardrobe - navy, blush/sand, grey. There are other colours lurking in the fabulous scarf that could be used to expand the capsule (e.g. I also love the 'reverse' of navy/beige, i.e. chocolate/light blue). I still do a bit of business travelling, but the capsule with its mix of formal/informal could easily be used outside of that context. I'm bookmarking this to remind me how workable and elegant a simple collection of good pieces can be. Many thanks!

  2. I love this clever collection, both the premise and the solution. I love it so much I may print out the page and sleep with it tonight. This is my life now, and your advice is invaluable. It will help me pack in two short weeks. I also appreciate a somewhat larger range of choices because of hot and humid summer weather. Thank you.

  3. Oh Janice, this is great! Please do other scenarios for "Whatever's Clean 13" - warm weather business trip, etc.

    Thank you as always.

  4. This template is brilliant! And I agree - a 3-piece navy suit would round out my business wardrobe to a T, but finding one that's *cough* affordable is proving a challenge. If only I could get sent to Hong Kong on business and get one made for me! (pity, all my business travel is domestic)

  5. This is such fun! And wildly practical (?? is that an oxymoron??) I don't travel for business at all, but I DO work in high tech. In this scenario, if the D office is populated with the high tech folks, even the relaxed outfits are going to put them off. A wee bit of advice for those trips from the corporate office to the offsite data center or engineering research facility? Throw in a pair of funky socks. Seriously, if you show them your crazy socks, they will like you. They may even talk to you. If you show up on Day 2 with a different pair of crazy socks, they'll even give you a widget. ;)

    1. So very true! What is it with tech people and socks?

  6. You have outdone yourself! Entertaining us while educating us. I also used to work with techies and loved the contract between them and the surgeons. Both cultures have their own rules and don't share them willingly. For anyone living in a moderate to large size city, there will be seamstresses or tailors who can easily replicate a high end suit for you. Beautiful fabrics are available online too.

    Deb from Vancouver

  7. This capsule makes me wish I did travel for business (a little). Love the spectrum from formal to relaxed. Formal seems to require the darker shades while lighter colors are more relaxed.

  8. I love these colors! In fact I am working to add them to my work wardrobe. However, my office is more casual. And in the warm, humid area where I live, (and because the air conditioning doesn't work properly in my office), I am needing an outer layer that looks professional but is cool in the heat and adds vertical lines to distract from my bulging, apple shaped middle! I am looking at short sleeved cardigans and vests but am struggling to find a look that is office appropriate without smothering me! Any suggestions?

    1. A tank tee under an open 3/4 sleeve button down shirt works for me.
      I like the Foxcroft no-iron shirts.

  9. I love the navy and gray combination. I never wear navy but I wear a lot of gray. I see a new combination in my future. Thanks for the ideas.

  10. Very nice combinations! My work wardrobe is more casual than this. I can sub out all my black for the navy easily. Thanks again Janice!!

  11. This is the best comparison I have seen! Looking beyond the colors and addressing the actual contrast between the two types of clothing that can still blend and work together - great!! I really appreciate the breakdown of Formal to Relaxed. I guess I've tried to think that way a few times when doing business travel but never with a solid intent like this. Thank you so much for the step-wise process and set up. Back to color though - I'm so glad to see that pair of khakis. I would have tried to keep it to the two neutrals but that extra pair of pants makes a huge difference when you aren't certain what you're getting in to.

  12. I'll read this tomorrow (it's late and I have dawn golf!) But just wanted to say that my bro is forever recommending this prog and I still haven't seen it !