How to pack a capsule wardrobe

Keep your travel wardrobe simple and varied through the art of coordination. Just throw in a few accessories for a look that’s individual yet stylish

DOES this picture look familiar? Do you feel like this before you head off overseas or for a weekend away? Not sure what to pack? Struggling to keep under those weight restrictions? Or just want to keep your luggage to a bare minimum? If you answered yes to all these questions, then you need a capsule wardrobe.

A capsule wardrobe is a small, considered collection of clothes that provides a minimum number of garments to meet your daily needs. It is also the solid foundation on which to build the rest of your wardrobe. Limiting your choices will help you focus.

However, just one capsule wardrobe won’t deliver what every woman needs for every occasion. What you need for work obviously won’t be suitable for the weekend; nor a week in the sun in Tahiti or a week skiing in Aspen; shopping in New York in January compared with  shopping in Singapore in July. Despite the obvious need for different items, underpinning every “capsule wardrobe” are key essentials.  Classic basics.

When packing for any trip overseas – for work or pleasure – the three most important  things to consider are the weather, reason for travelling and the places youll be visiting. 

But even I struggle to pack the basic essentials. My excuse – I like to be prepared for everything! The trick is to pack a well-edited, coordinating wardrobe where all the pieces work together.

You really don’t need hundreds of different of pieces to look good. With some careful thought and planning, all you need are eight to 10 key pieces to create 30 looks or more.  In my former life as a fashion editor, one of the most popular stories I did was “Eight garments, 50 looks”. No, that’s not a mistake! Eight garments, 50 looks. Every season, I would re-work or update the same story idea, incorporating the latest trends, colours and prints.

But the key is colour. A truly successful wardrobe is one based around dark-coloured basics (one that works with your skin tone, hair and eye colour) such as black, navy, grey or brown. Then add a neutral such as white, ivory, beige or stone. Once you’ve got that sorted, choose a highlight colour, one that works back with the other two. Maybe red, coral, turquoise, green or blue – whatever works for you. This is also a great way to introduce some print pieces, preferably in colours that will work back with the other two. But EVERYTHING you pack has to work back with three other things in your suitcase. 

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Next thing to consider is to invest in clothes that travel well. For example, fabrics that are lightweight and don’t crush – think microfibres, jerseys, cashmere and those with added stretch for comfort. Also choose fabrics that can be hand-washed and dried quickly. You really dont want to be bothered with dry-cleaning while on the road or using the hotel laundry facilities – they’re expensive!

Also remember, if travelling in economy or coach, you’ll generally be restricted to check in 20kg and carry-on 7kg only. However if youre travelling in business or first class, you can check in up to 40kg, so you probably won’t feel the need to be too streamlined. But it is still wise to pack smart. That way it leaves you some space if you wish to do some shopping!



* A dark-coloured lightweight creaseproof wool suit where the jacket and pants can be worn separately forming the base for several other looks. Such as pants with jumper or shirt. And the jacket over a dress, T-shirt, simple knit and jeans. If you don’t own or need a suit, then pack a smart jacket or blazer in a dark colour that can be worn over jeans, pants, dress or skirt.
*  A Little Black Dress – one that can be dressed down for day and up for evening.
* Jersey wrap dress or a simple dress in a colour co-ordinating print for day.
* Good quality T-shirts in white or grey marle in a variety of necklines or a classic Breton-style stripe top (the stripes provide relief from plain colours).
* Chinos or jeans, but make sure that both are smart and tidy, and lightweight. Many seasoned travellers advise against denim as it is heavy and bulky. So instead look for lightweight stretch cotton khakis, cargo pants or chinos.
* A pashmina or a warm wrap – particularly important as this can be packed in your carry-on luggage to keep warm (we all know how cold the air-conditioning on a plane can be!) or thrown over your shoulders to keep out the chilly evening air if out and about.
* Classic trench coat, waterproof Mac or a coat in a warm but lightweight fabric.
* Knitwear. Think jumper and matching cardigan in complementary colour palette or highlight colour. They can be worn together or separately to provide several different looks.
* Bathers (only if you wish to swim). A classic black or white one-piece can also double as a bodysuit under a cardigan or jacket.
* Yoga wear, athleisure or a stylish tracksuit if you wish to travel comfortably, workout in the hotel gym or go for a walk.

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* Shoes are critical. I suggest ballet flats or loafers for everyday comfort – ones that work under jeans or pants, dress or skirt.
* Maybe a good pair of runners, particularly if you plan on doing plenty of walking.
* If you’re travelling for business, pack one pair of black heels but keep them simple and classic. They should be comfortable, take you from day into night, and match everything in your suitcase.

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* An everyday leather or nylon tote bag, preferably one with plenty of pockets.
* A lightweight nylon cross-body travel bag, smart backpack or something similar.
* Smaller evening purse.

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*  You really don’t need a lot. But a mix of statement accessories will take you from day into evening — and stick to one colour. Avoid the real things purely from a security point.
* Scarves or wraps can completely change an outfit and are incredibly versatile. Think bad hair day, extra warmth, swimsuit cover-up. They’re also very European. But be sure to choose one that will pair well with every outfit combination.

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* If you’re travelling to colder climes, rather than take a bulky heavy wool or cashmere coat, which will take up half your case and add to your weight, invest in woollen thermals instead. Unfortunately, they may not be sexy, but thermals are practical and very sensible. They are lightweight, take up no space in your case and will keep you warm and toasty under your other garments. And maybe take a light coat, a pair of boots, gloves and a beret.

So, what have I forgotten? Is there one wardrobe essential you can’t travel without?  Or an accessory that changed the way you travel? Do you have any travel advice? Would love to hear from you. Ever stylishly yours…

* Picture: Tim Walker via Pinterest


  1. March 10 / 9:10 pm

    Hey Marina,

    Just noticed your comment on this post!!! From 2013!!!!
    Don;t know how I missed it. But thanks for dropping by!
    Love, AMG

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