Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How to Pack a Foolproof Travel Wardrobe, All in Neutrals

If you're in Chicago, you of course must go to the Art Institute of Chicago, our very deservedly famous art museum. But when you're there, make sure not to miss the fabric exhibit. It's small, it's in the basement, it changes every few months, and it NEVER disappoints...

Seen there last weekend, included in a really stunning exhibit of batik fabrics:

Batik Fabric early 20th Century from Central Java
Batik Fabric, early 20th Century, from Central Java

This fabric is maybe 9 or 10 feet long, and 4 feet wide. It's really kind of breathtaking...

Seeing these neutral colors working so beautifully together, our mythical heroine was able to solve her packing dilemma...

Batik Fabric early 20th Century from Central Java with style guidelines and color palette

I've got it all arranged...

We'll just go from city to city by train; I've already purchased the train passes....

Well okay, she thinks...

You just have to be able to carry your own bag; you know that I'm not going to be able to corral a mess of luggage on a train platform....

travel outfit in black and denim with brown leather accents

earrings – Chimento; cardigan – J.Crew; watch – Skagen; tee – L.L.Bean; jeans – L.L.Bean; scarf – Echo; suitcase –Thule; loafers – Naturalizer; tote - Baggu

And can I tell you something?

This should be interesting!

I wish that you would dress a little more casually for this vacation. I always feel under-dressed when you look so lovely, and I'm just wearing trousers and a shirt. You're not like other women; you don't need to get all gussied up to be beautiful...

She's gobsmacked. But this is worth doing, if it's worth mentioning, it must really matter!

So she plans. She schemes. She swaps things in and out (and in and out!) to get down to 13 pieces (plus a rain jacket!) for six weeks in Europe...

a cool summer travel cluster in black, ivory and brown

brown tee – Uniqlo; earrings – Talbots; scarf – Echo; bracelet - Miansai; black embroidered top – Jigsaw; cardigan – Stefanel; jeans – L.L.Bean; crossbody bag - Fossil

Scarves surely don't count as dressy, do they? Especially not in Europe...

She hesitates over a 2nd pair of jeans; these might need to be swapped out for a lightweight pair of black pants. Very casual black pants, though!

a travel wardrobe cluster for warmer weather, in black and ivory

satin dots top – Dorothy Perkins; bracelet – Siriporn; oversized tee – French Connection; scarf – Echo; ivory tank - Majestic; shorts – L.L.Bean; sneakers – Josef Seibel

So she packed trail shorts, instead of a dressier pair in linen. She packed her sneakers. She packed her lighter-colored tops without fear, because they have a long-standing agreement that she can shop any time she needs to!

warm weather travel outfit in black and blue

necklace – J.Jill; rain jacket – L.L.Bean; blue tee – J. Crew; sandals – Earth; skirt – L.L.Bean; scarf – Chomsuda Samana

She remembers her rain jacket, and reminders her sweetheart to pack one too...

She actually hesitates over her cotton skirt, and asks if it's too dressy for their plans.

Just don't take anything high-heeled!

an 11-piece travel capsule wardrobe in black, brown, blue and ivory

When she spreads everything out on the bed, it looks good together. Not exactly what she'd imagined, but she can see lots of possibilities...

a Whatever's Clean travel capsule wardrobe for warm weather in black, brown, denim blue and ivory

In all fairness, it took her a couple of tries to get to this point! And she was working with a pretty clear guideline...

a Whatever's Clean 13 travel capsule wardrobe for warm weather

They've long since agreed that they'll do laundry the first day in each city (and they've budgeted to have laundry done FOR THEM at least twice...).

She's got lots of possibilities, but after six weeks, these pieces are going to get OLD...

four ways to wear black shorts from a warm weather travel capsule wardrobe

four ways to wear blue jeans from a warm weather travel capsule wardrobe

four ways to wear a black skirt from a travel capsule wardrobe

four ways to wear black jeans from a travel capsule wardrobe

She will definitely have to replace 1 or 2 things, over the course of their trip.

And while she's carefully adhering to the request that she not be too dressy, she's also mindful that no mention was made about what lingerie should be packed....


How to Pack a Foolproof Travel Wardrobe, All in Neutrals
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  1. This is perfect. Very close to what I would take for 2 weeks or 2 months. I am definitely saving this one for reference for my next trip.

  2. One of my favorites! Since I work from home in a hot climate, this could almost work as my full wardrobe. Love it!

  3. Two thoughts:

    1) I would love to see a post with no neutrals! By which I guess I mean only spectral colors. Denim or olive would be okay, but no black, white, gray, or brown.

    2) The whole idea of caring so much what someone else is wearing and how one looks beside them strikes me as kind of weird and pushy. It's important for one's clothes to match one's activities of course: hiking in heels is just not going to work. But beyond that, we're people, not matched sets. I've been to parties where some folks were in shorts and tank tops and some were in formal dresses and they were all rocking their own style and everyone had a great time. (This is actually my ideal for society in general.)

  4. Train or bus travel is tricky because you often have to lift the suitcase up to an overhead shelf. As I am 5'3" and travel without a man, I am becoming more selective about packing. This is a great wardrobe for city or countryside. A bonus for me, is you've got the brown/black combo going. I'm not sure that I agree with Anonymous. I have a very casually dressed husband and I encourage him to dress in slightly more appropriate clothing when we are going out as a couple. But it is really just my preference.

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  6. I really do like the look of this wardrobe but there is no way I'd trust myself with that white cardigan or that dressy white top - that's just asking for disaster - I do like to have some white but I'd be looking at a couple of t-shirts that would fold down to nothing and 1 crisp white shirt - that cardigan would have to be in brown or a deep beige.

    I've often wondered - when you show simple t-shirts do you really recommend just the one or do you (and others) actually pack 2 or 3 of the same for a trip? I love these travel wardrobes and I try to follow your advice but there's no way I'd take only 1. T-shirts are so easy to fold or roll that I always take extras. As long as I have clean undies and a clean top I am good to go.

    1. It depends on how easy or difficult it will be to do laundry. (and how expensive!) And how much room I have in my bag. It's not unheard of for me to have 3 black tee shirts in my bag, if circumstances dictate. We all have to find our most comfortable system and stick to it as long as it works.

      One of the reasons that I clearly stipulated that shopping was allowed on this trip was because of the light-colored tops! If the weather gets really hot, something in a light color will be important, but as we all know, they're also scuzz-magnets! So being able to dash in somewhere for clean tee shirts is always important...


  7. I believe that several women can look at the same travel wardrobe, put their own spin on it and can look completely individual. That is what is great about these wardrobes, there are a few things I would swap out, I would probably replace the skirt with dressier slacks, shorts into hiking pants and change out the white to a beige. I think you should wear what makes you feel confident (I don't feel good in bright colors or bold patterns, for example.) I think some people dress just for the sake of being different (and oddly those people all just look the same to me), and there is something to be said for appropriateness and respect for yourself. I took a trip to 5 cities in Europe for 2 weeks, had to carry my own bag over cobble streets and in hotels with no elevators and it was so freeing to have a small, tight neutral wardrobe, I could just get up in the morning get dressed without much thought (whatever's clean), feel great in what I wore, be ready for my adventures for the day, and still look appropriate. I have been striving to carry that feeling into my everyday life and wardrobe.

    1. I love hearing about how well your trip went, and how comfortable you felt! That's the entire purpose of The Vivienne Files - to help women feel like their very best selves, all the time, without spending a fortune or getting "costumed-up" every day. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
      big hugs,

    2. I just want to share my recent experience. I fell in love with the black/ivory "all neutral capsule" (March 22, 2017) with patterned pieces. I used it as inspiration for this summer. I own basic black pieces, but I had very few ivory pieces. I bought the chevron patterned skirt (Dorothy Perkins) just as an experiment and the Uniqlo tee shirt (love both) that you showed in the capsule. I bought all-season ivory colored pants from Pendleton instead of jeans. I also purchased a marled cotton pullover sweater from J. Jill plus a few other pieces. I am very petite so finding pieces that fit is always a challenge, but being inspired to go out of my comfort zone is extremely helpful. The feel of the capsule is what I was looking for. For example, I ended up with a pair of snakeskin patterned pumps (cream/gray/black Kota Ankle Strap by Louise et Cie) which picks up the marled pattern and brings in the gray neutral a bit more. All in all, this was a great learning experience. I am not young ... still working but past the age of retirement. I depend on very classic clothes, but I needed a little more creativity and playfulness ... without looking silly or desperate. It has given me a lift as well as sparked some very nice compliments. Thank you, Janice.

  8. I love this wardrobe. This is one of my favorites from your site.

  9. Hi Janice....This really works for me and I would look for some batik fabric to make an easy shirt with matching simple skirt to add to this grouping. This is easy to do in Vancouver as we have a fabulous place called Maiwa.
    I adapt my clothing etc for place and people. My general appearance is always consistent with my own aesthetic but is respectful for my companions. I have some relatives who are very not artistic. Why would I want to make them uncomfortable/ I don't erase my exuberance but I tone it down!!

  10. This post will be a great help to me when I pack for my trip to Germany in August. Thank you, Janice!

  11. You are a master magician...always coming up with new and fresh ideas. Thank you for this inspiring scenario and clothes to match!

  12. Love the casualness of this wardrobe. Only thing I'd change to adapt it to my needs is to swap out the skirt for an additional top in a different color. When traveling for 2 weeks or longer I plan for 8 tops so that I can wear a clean top each day for a week and still have one to wear while doing laundry. Using the Whatever's Clean concept means that all my tops go with all my bottoms and toppers so putting outfits together is easy.

  13. Love this wardrobe because if the use of all neutrals and whatever's clean! My kind of look! I've learned through yiu, Janice, to go with my own style and colors - what I feel right for me without thinking I need to be trendy-- what a free feeling. I like going out into the world confident a snot concerned about the clothes while also looking my best. I don't want to be remembered for my clothes but rather my friendliness, etc. My simple and always classic wardrobe now helps me feel comfortable in my own skin. Who said that "confidence us always in style"? I could be comfortable all the time with just navy, white, and either khaki or grey (or both!). My copy of your black, white and grey:) Janice Collins, Washington grin D.C.

  14. This is an answer to my wardrobe/packing dilemma for my upcoming trip (ONE WEEK TO GO!!!) to China. It's hot, humid, and I'm staying with my Daughter and her family for 4 weeks, unknown itinerary. This is perfect. Pinning it to one of my boards, as well. Thank you ever so much! ~ Laura.

  15. For six weeks in Europe, if I had to stick to 13 pieces, I would probably switch one black t shirt to long sleeves. But tbh, I would likely add some sort of jacket that can go over at least one of the cardigans. I almost always travel with black microfiber jeans. They're a little more polished than denim (smaller and lighter to carry too) and can be dressy if they have to be, but just fine in a casual outfit. - nancyo

  16. This is perfect. I'm doing five weeks in Europe in the fall, and I have the wardrobe planned. It's very nearly this but without the blue. I wear neutrals most of the time anyway, so planning has been pretty easy. The one wrinkle is this is that our return to the US is on a cruise ship, so I have to factor in formal wear.

  17. THANK YOU!!!!
    This is the best one yet, gave me many ideas for an upcoming trip I'm going on that is definitely casual. And I'm a neutral girl so this is absolutely perfect, I would wear every outfit you put together - just my style!!

  18. I really like this capsule also but agree with the others in that I would be cautious about using the white jacket as part of my core. Would you be interested in doing a variation of this capsule where you switched the white to a bright colour?

  19. I love this wardrobe! My only concern is the scarves. If it is hot enough for a tank and shorts it is too hot for a scarf. I would maybe add more jewelry. Doesn't take up much room and can add personality. I find myself drawn more and more to solid colors and neutrals in general. Thanks Janice!

    1. If you're travelling north of Spain and southern Italy, it's not necessarily warm in Europe. I will be in Europe for 3 months this year due to work and staying with friends, and one definitely wants at least 2 scarves. June, for example, is cool and rainy in places like Reykjavik and Paris. One wants closed-toes shoes. Of course, I would suggest to always check the coldest location you're spending time in to be sure, but on this upcoming trip I am bringing a rain jacket as well as shoes that can handle rain and mud (for later hiking journeys, which I will wear in July if I have to). I'd say pack like Janice suggests, from colder to warmer. I have been advised, on more than one trip, to bring gloves and a hat for June in the North of the world! It's cold in the Nordic countries. They consider 72 degrees to be hot, by the way. ;-)

  20. Hello Janice
    I was wondering what the protagonist would pack for a particular scenario. Girls trip, involving a long car ride to a spa (in which she wears only a spa-issued robe the entire time), then on the car ride home, an overnight sort of shopping excursion, which would have to include comfy clothes but appropriate enough for a restaurant meal. What would she pack in her very small tote?
    Thank you. I love your advice and outfit planning photos.

  21. This is so timely for our upcoming trip. I really like the colors you've chosen. My beloved asked on our last trip if we could have a more casual trip in future. Love all details you include in this wardrobe, too.
    Thanks Janice!

  22. I am currently in the middle of a nearly 3 month trip to Europe, so I was really interested to see how you did this.. I'm sort of working backwards in my mind from this post to consider what pieces I could have eliminated without pain. Though, I notice that you said that she would definitely have to replace things along the way. I truly hate shopping when I travel, so I need to bring everything I need with me.

    On this trip, I ended up with 23 items plus 4 pairs of shoes. The shoes have worked well, but I have too much other stuff. One problem I have had is that it was still wintry when I left, and it's 90 degrees where I am today. So that grey cashmere cardigan that I wore constantly the first few weeks, is now dead weight and I'm wishing I had found room for a loose linen dress.

    However, if I'm honest with myself about this, there were really three big things I could have done better: first, I brought a pair of dressy pants just because everyone said I should. However, I rarely wear pants at home, so I should have ignored that advice. Second, one of the 4 skirts I brought was completely unnecessary - thrown in impulsively at the end- I've worn it but I didn't need it. Third, another one of the skirts I brought is flowered and it kinda goes, but not quite with everything else. So I brought 3 or 4 extra items only because they work well with the flowered skirt. They do go with the other skirts so I've worn them, but I would have been better off if I had not been so irrationally attached to bringing that one skirt.

    Thinking about it, I've been able to mentally eliminate 6 items quite easily and could probably find another couple if I worked at it. Live and learn. Recognizing the reasons for error is the first step to improvement, I guess.

    Next Autumn, I will do better.

    1. I would suggest mailing useless things to yourself as soon as you can, unless you're soon going home. I spend almost 6 months each year travelling through various places in Europe, and I always mail clothes to myself and then mail clothes + other things home. It's usually less expensive or the same overall price as checking an extra bag both ways. Plus, you get the joy of not having to carry an extra bag throughout your trip. But overall, I have done exactly what you're talking about. It has taken me years to figure out how to pack what is essentially Janice's "whatever's clean" wardrobe. I have finally stopped bringing that one (or more!) unnecessary garment that goes with nothing else.

  23. Oh, my! This is so delicious it could get me to reverse my transition from black to navy.

  24. I just returned from 3 weeks in Europe (S. Spain, Rome, Venice, UK) with a 20" roller bag and Janice's advice. It worked wonderfully!! The only change I'd recommend for fall or spring trips is flat ankle boots. I wore mine constantly in the cool weather. Many women were wearing them in southern Spain in April, even with warm temperatures. They were very supportive over all the cobblestones, kept my feet dry and blended in with all the other boots. I debated about bringing a 2nd long sleeve shirt. SO glad I did, I needed all my layers many days.

  25. I'm traveling to Paris for a week, then on to Tehran in the hottest season. We are attending two formal events and I have been sketching over and over to try to get it all into a carry-on, and now you've got me thinking, "How do I do this in 13 pieces plus rain jacket?"

  26. I love this color combination, because it allows for dark jeans, which I wear from time to time. I am going to play Devil's advocate for a minute, though, and suggest that a woman who does not normally dress down to this extent is going to prefer a dress, even a casual dress, over shorts. I identify with this woman's normal style, largely because the few times I used to bring shorts to European cities, I really regretted it. Even wearing a lighter color in Copenhagen, for example, really made me feel like I stood out like a sore thumb. There are very few times, though, when even the simplest black dress would not work perfectly. So I would definitely swap out the very American-looking shorts for either a skirt or dress, since this lady you're writing about, while well-intentioned in trying to adapt to a man who doesn't necessarily dress nattily, would nonetheless not feel right without at least one dress or dressier skirt. BTW, I don't think one would get tired of these clothes and colors in 6 weeks. Most trips go by so fast, you're just grateful when something's clean. :-)


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