Friday, January 08, 2016

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe Starting With Art: Kveikur by Justyna Polar

Someone sent this to me ages ago, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to get to this gorgeous piece...

 This suggests the most lovely color scheme, which is both timeless and seasonless:

I've also received lots of requests for travel suggestions for longer trips - that 3 to 6 week trip that includes a few meetings, maybe some teaching, maybe some sightseeing, maybe some time in an office, and almost certainly some casual outdoor activities. 

The trips that have been submitted to me for packing advice had a few things in common:
  • They are all more than 2 weeks, some as long as 6 weeks. This doesn't automatically require more than 12-15 pieces of clothing, but if you're going to be in one place for the entire time, a few more choices might make you, plain and simply, happier. And having 8 or 9 "tops" means that you only need to do laundry once a week!
  • A range of activities are included, but generally nothing super-dressy. Virtually nobody has mentioned that they'll need a skirt, but a nice pair of pants are definitely important.
  • Weather is uncertain, be it the Alps, or Florida in February. Warm days and cool evenings, with intermittent chilly days, seemed to be the general trend. 
 So, as some bright reader suggested, I "built out" the Whatever's Clean for All Occasions, and added some very useful space for any "special" garments needed.


This is still only 18 pieces of clothing, so while it might look a bit daunting, approaching it systematically will make filling it in a piece of cake. Or sticky toffee pudding... (mmm....)

If you're planning a trip for which you have a range of activities planned, it might make sense to choose a prevailing color scheme for your travel capsule wardrobe, and then work "outfit by outfit" to see how things accumulate. As always, I start with the travel outfit; this one is quite a bit more casual than I normally show, but still pretty and pulled-together.

(Of course you can wear athletic shoes when you travel. Just try to look as if you didn't get dressed with your eyes closed! I'm VERY sympathetic to those among us with mobility issues, and wearing your bulkiest/most comfortable shoes just makes sense sometimes...)

travel outfit of jeans, striped tee, navy jacket, and accessories
Blue scarf – John Varvatos; silver earrings – Lord & Taylor; watch – Skagen
 navy hooded jacket – Uniqlo; striped tee – J. Crew; jeans – L.L.Bean;
 cross body bag – Tory Burch; sneakers – New Balance; suitcase – Tumi

For most of us, the clothes that would concern us the most would be the things needed for business or meetings - the dressier end of the spectrum, for a trip like this. So choose your two favorite combinations and put them in your staging area. Yes, these use the same pair of pants - there's no reason you have to have an endless assortment of clothing with you for the entertainment of your companions!

I recently listened to a podcast in which a women mentioned that she bought a particular ring for a trip she was taking, as sort of a pledge to herself about how she wanted to conduct herself while traveling. That seemed pretty genius to me - a pretty, constant reminder to be more _______, while on your trip. And I'm not going to tell you that the pink ring below is not expensive...

two outfits with navy pants, a cardigan and a nice shirt, for business meetings or more formal activities.
pink chalcedony earrings – KhunBoom; pink linen shirt – Uniqlo; rose quartz ring
 – Rebecca Minkoff; navy cardigan – Uniqlo; navy twill pants – L.L.Bean; espadrilles
 – Andre Assous; light blue cardigan – Uniqlo; white shirt – J. Crew; bracelet
 – Chico’s; navy twill pants – L.L.Bean; zipped flat shoe – Gabor

Next up, you'll need clothes for the day-to-day activities that are the "meat and potatoes" of your trip - teaching, researching, whatever it is that you're going to be doing. A pair of nice jeans, a pair of capris or a 2nd pair of pants, and a few tops that can be layered are what you'll really want here. Don't forget some accessories!

Pink drop earrings – Kendra Scott; pink tee – Velvet; denim shirtUniqlo
 striped scarf – Farliero Sarti; jeans – L.L.Bean; espadrilles – Andre Assous; striped
 tee – J. Crew; denim ankle pants – Uniqlo; floral tote – Ted Baker
 zipped flat shoe – Gabor

And finally, you will want a warm leisure outfit, and a cool leisure outfit. Note how many of these pieces could intermingle happily with the more "everyday" parts of your wardrobe. Heading out to class and the wind has turned chill? Your pink sweatshirt is a valid option to pull over a tee shirt and jeans, just as much as either of your cardigans, or your navy jacket! And pink....

Here's where I chose to toss in three additional tee shirts, in the neutral, one of the accents, and the always-useful white. Space permitting, a long-sleeved tee, or another sleeveless, probably wouldn't be a waste of space. 

two leisure outfits to fit into a capsule travel wardrobe in navy, blue and pink
sweatshirt – Hanes; navy tee – Lands’End; sweatpants – Lands’ End
sneakers – New Balance; navy sleeveless top – Athleta; navy shorts – Acne Studios;
 sandals – Munro; white, light blue and navy tees – Uniqlo

Now we take all of these carefully chosen pieces, and plug them into the template:

an 18-piece travel capsule wardrobe in navy, pink and blue

Theoretically, there are at least 200 different ways to wear these pieces - you just have to look at the template to see plenty of possibilities! (If you're particularly clever, your light blue tee and cardigan will go together well...)

I hope this proves to be useful, and a big fun, for all of you embarking on long trips. You obviously can substitute colors as you prefer - if you like aqua more than pink, feel free! (yes, teacher going to the Alps, I'm thinking of you here!) If your neutral is brown, you could use peach and mint green accents. Etc. Etc. 

But I'm always happy to show more examples; is there a combination that you struggle to picture? Let me know and I'll work on it!


p.s. Readers in the Miami area - can you provide any insights into how someone might pack for a business conference being held there in late January? I've not been there for over 10 years...  Thanks!


  1. Thank you, thank you - this is almost perfect just for my regular life!! I would just add a few more pieces in other colors, and my whole closet would be ready (very casual life). Time to fill in the gaps!! Great job, and would love to see more of these wardrobes based on inspirational art/items/ideas. You do a great job!!

    Sue in WI

  2. From Margie in Toronto - very helpful Janice. Could I ask for a similar version with perhaps a few more formal pieces and a bit dressier - for colder rather than warmer weather - no sports/workout items needed (jeans and some casual tops/t-shirts will suffice for less dressy days). Thank you.

  3. A great template. I've refined my closet so much since reading "the Files" and packing to travel is so much easier. Now, if the cleaner had just DRY cleaned my gray capris instead of LAUNDERING them, i would be so much happier and still have clean clothes to complete this week away.

  4. This is very helpful for each seasonal wardrobe too as Sue in WI states. The pretty purses are a great choice because they along with the jewellery and scarves dress up any of this very nicely. You even manages to find comfortable shoes that cross the line between casual and a bit more dressy/serious. Inspiration everyday.
    Deb from Vancouver

  5. Thank you so much, Janice. This is so helpful just for everyday life too! I already have many of these similar items thanks to you. Just need to incorporate my new yellow items (instead of the pink). We are goi going on a 5-day trip which will include some nice dinners out but also very casual hiking. I will use the earlier template with fewer items but this color design except with yellow . Looking for a scarf and I'm done! aTHANK YOU THANK YOU. Janice Collins, Washington, DC

  6. Love this post! Other color combinations would be great. A silvery gray would be quite comfortable in place of the navy blue in this post. The pink and blue are the colors of the year so they should be readily available.

    What other colors would pair nicely with Pantone 16-0000? White? I prefer lighter colors in the spring and summer and am still struggling with accent colors. Too much gray doesn't feel right in the summer either.

    Love this new concept!

  7. AHHH - I thought that looked familiar. I sent you that painting! LOVE what you've done with it.

  8. Beautiful painting, beautiful wardrobe. I am curious how or where you'd incorporate dresses into the template. Would a dress count as a top and a bottom? I look so much better in them than in pants, which I never wear to meetings. Plus, I have noticed that I am an "outift" rather than a "capsule" person. I can and usually do pack for maximum versatility, but then feel frumpy. So am thinking that it might just be better to take outfits I like and repeat them more often. What would you and Vivienne advise?

  9. Janice,
    Wow, you do continue to amaze ! With some editing for a 10 day trip, this template really satisfies my need for variety during a trip, even though I won't wear any thing near the potential number of outfits! Keeping all of the various bottoms in the same color family seems to be the answer I have been seeking, with variety coming from lengths, and silhouettes, and accent color tops and toppers. I still struggle with 4x4 combinations sometimes when I choose both a dark and light neutral in bottoms, because that means more shoes, and the level of contrast with my personal coloring seems off, depending on what I try to pair together in an outfit. As I am bottom heavy, keeping the bottoms in a darker hue is probably the best choice anyway. By dark, I don't necessarily mean black or dark brown, but rather a medium hue which will still be darker than most of my tops. Many thanks, again and again !

  10. Loved the addition to the template! We went on two 3 week trips this year, and this would have been perfect. My overseas formula is several black pants, light cardigan to match, medium (fleece or puffer) jacket and rain layer. I usually just take many different colored tee shirts with necklace or scarves to match. I travel for pleasure, on tours, not business. I have found scarves to be invaluable, not only to dress up and pull together an outfit, but for warmth (easy to remove later in the day and keep in your purse). Necklaces are best for dinner, because you often have to wear some sort of audio device to hear what the guides are saying about the art in the museums. As suggested in a recent post of dressy top is handy for special evenings, and goes with the black pants and matching lightweight flowing jacket. I love these colors you have used in this grouping. Nice change from my usual red.

  11. You constantly amaze me - and depress me at the same time! lol. You make it look so simple, logical and stylish and yes, even effortless. However I have yet to achieve even a modicum of your ability to organize a suitable wardrobe for a trip. I still overpack, whether I'm traveling for a weekend or 2 weeks.

    I think the problem originates in my closet - which to my chagrin has not been reviewed and edited in several years. Since it is large and well organized I have clothes that fit if I go up a size up or down. It's easy to discard worn out items but I find it difficult to donate items that are in perfect condition but that I haven't worn for a while. When the time comes to pack for a trip I tend to pull out favorite pieces and then accessorize around them without keeping a prevailing color scheme in mind. Certainly I need to practice a more disciplined approach and honestly there isn't an excuse since you have provided the perfect templates.

    My husband will be on a business trip in a few weeks and I will use that opportunity to empty my closet. I've printed some of your templates and I'm hoping to rebuild my wardrobe with a more discerning, educated eye. Since we've retired my lifestyle has changed considerably and it isn't necessary to maintain a complete business wardrobe any longer. I do believe that fewer clothes can be freeing.

    I need to search your blog to see if you've covered this topic - I know you've written about building a cohesive wardrobe but I'm not sure if you've ever discussed how to eliminate items. I know there are many sites that offer suggestions but I really like your approach to creating outfits and I'd like to keep your tenets in mind as I weed through my clothes.

    Thanks again for your wonderful vision!

    Mary mcm

  12. Dear Janice: Wow! I am going to down load the template and start plugging things in. I will take a swimsuit instead of shorts and might try for a blazer for the more "formally casual" meetings, but this gives me SO much direction. Two of my neutrals (since reading the Files) are navy and gray. My packing was greatly influenced by you last year, and this year I have an even better grasp. I'll let you know how it goes. I don't fly until July, so I have plenty of time. I love your intellect and experience applied to these important everyday aesthetics. Thank you so very much!

  13. Janice,
    Perhaps you've posted on this, but I've been wondering if you use packing tools such as packing cubes, folders, zip lock bags, compression bags, etc ? If so, do you pack a given type of clothes in each cube or complete outfits together ? Lately I've been gravitating to the Eagle Creek lightweight compression cubes, but I wish they opened like the mesh ones, Do you ever bundle fold for packing ? It's fine for one location trips, but inconvenient for multiple hotel stays. Do you prefer rolling or folding the clothes for minimal wrinkling and space saving ? Thanks !

  14. Sorry to be so effusive, but I am so excited!! I drew out the template (I couldn't print it, so I hand drew it) and discovered that I have almost everything and can plug garments in - thanks to following the Files and hefty closet editing over the past couple of years. I now know what is missing and where I might need to purchase. So far "dressier"pants are the biggest hole. I have jewelry with my theme of "from the ocean to the mountains" of pearls, abalone, and sea glass (as well as my standard favorite chunky silver) and scarves - both dressy and warm. I'm adding silks for the possibility of extreme cold and pajamas as "special!!" I always go in a carry on but I have STILL managed to over pack! Since I need to take things for my teaching it is important to have some room for my laptop and so forth. Thanks one more time. I feel like I have a secret packing genius on my side ...well, I guess I actually DO!

  15. Love this for long trips!! I also love the Pinterest option! I can pin all my favorites to one spot. Thank you so much Janice!!

  16. This is soooo beautiful! Thank you for the inspiration -- and the introduction to Ted Baker London bags!

  17. Thank you! I love your posts.... I am attending a business conference at Disney Orlando next week! What to wear to look appropriate??

  18. Another great template, perfect for a three week trip I'm planning this summer.