There’s nothing more frustrating than opening your closet doors, seeing a rack full of clothing, and feeling like you have nothing exciting to wear on your upcoming trip. Capsule wardrobes — a term that refers to compiling outfits that leverage basic pieces that never go out of style, plus a few seasonal statement items — might just be the answer.
A capsule wardrobe will force you to take an honest look at your closet. It requires you to choose the pieces that you love for the quality and fit while discarding — or setting aside — the rest. Each item has a purpose. In the end, your capsule wardrobe will look something like this: three shirts, two tank tops, two blouses, one sweater, one blazer or cardigan, one coat, dark jeans, light jeans, one skirt, one dress, leggings, and three pairs of shoes.
In addition to being cost-effective and eco-friendly, a handpicked capsule wardrobe can be extremely useful, allowing you to maximize the space in your small suitcase or carry-on. No need to worry about over packing or going over luggage weight limits. Plus, getting ready in the morning becomes quick and easy, allowing you more time to explore new places.
1. Determine Your Travel Season And Activities
As the seasons change, so will your capsule wardrobe. It’s common to build a capsule wardrobe for each season to include the foundation pieces plus an added statement piece or two. During summer, your basics may include an extra dress or skirt, while during the winter it may be an extra shawl or sweater.
Your travel purpose — whether you’ll be stopping in Santiago before hiking Patagonia or city-hopping in Europe — will affect your capsule wardrobe choices as well. Traveling through cities will require a slightly different wardrobe than setting out on an outdoors-heavy itinerary. While it makes sense to bring hiking boots on one trip, simple sneakers may suffice for another.
2. Pick Quality Over Quantity
If your wardrobe is only made up of one or two dozen items of clothing, you want to make sure they’re durable. You’ll be wearing your foundation pieces at least once a week — whether your trip will last a week or a month. The frequency of use plus washing machine cycles can stretch and distort inexpensive clothing, requiring you to replace essential pieces every year or two. Invest in higher-quality clothing, and you’ll have your favorites with you and ready to pack at a moment’s notice for years to come.
You should also take into consideration how your clothing will look when you take it out of your suitcase. It may be a good idea to invest in clothing made of fabrics that resist wrinkling. Think leather, jeans, and Tencel or Lycocell — natural plant fibers that have the flow and feel of silk.
Our Pick: These pants from Everlane go with a variety of tops and are a timeless piece for any wardrobe. Bonus: They have an elastic waist for maximum comfort — so go ahead and have that extra scoop of gelato.
3. Pick A Color Palette
Although picking a color palette may sound overwhelming, it’s easier than you think. Most people are already drawn to certain colors, and when you determine a color palette for your travel capsule wardrobe, you can simply note which colors in your closet catch your eye. For example, if you have multiple items in various shades of blue, two red blouses, and a pair of orange shorts, choose to build your capsule wardrobe around a blue color palette. Another option is to choose colors that go together, like soft pastels or jewel tones. Having a color palette will make it easier to curate several different outfits that feature a single item of clothing because almost everything will match.
Our Pick: It’s hard to go wrong with a classic white button-down that can be accessorized in many different ways — and dressed up or down. The Passage Shirt from Athleta is an updated and lightweight version of the classic white button-down that’s a great addition to a capsule wardrobe.
4. Incorporate A Few Neutral Basics
Capsule wardrobes are based on the idea that you can and should re-wear your quality items. This means having basic pieces (for example, blue jeans, round-toed flats, solid-colored t-shirts, little black dresses, and so on) that can easily pair with other things. It helps if you pick your basic items in neutral colors such as white, grey, cream, tan, or black. These neutral foundation pieces should also be timeless and withstand the currents of “fast fashion.” For example, avoid studded pumps that may be “in” during one season and “out” the next season. Naturally, having these basics in your closet makes packing a breeze. If you need a dress during your upcoming trip, you can grab your capsule go-to with confidence, knowing it will pair well with everything else you pack.
Our Pick: Regardless of the time of year, a long-sleeve sweater is a travel must. Whether you are cold on the plane, battling a chilly night, or need the perfect accessory for around your shoulders, a timeless cashmere sweater is the answer.
5. Mix And Match For Different Occasions
Think about all the different occasions you’ll have to dress for during your trips. Are you going on a walking tour or spending an evening at a rooftop bar? Pieces that can be mixed and matched for day-wear and evening-wear allow you to make the most of your capsule wardrobe.
Ideally you should be able to wear each piece you pack in three different settings. For example, solid-colored dresses are a perfect basic item of clothing because they’re so versatile. A dress can be worn casually for croissants in a cafe followed by an adventurous day of museum hopping, or it can be dressed up with a blazer and flats for an evening drink downtown. Take the same approach for every other piece of clothing in your capsule wardrobe.
Our Pick: This back-keyhole maxi dress from J.Jill in heather grey can be worn spring through fall and is wrinkle resistant, meaning it can be worn right out of the suitcase!
6. Pick Layering Pieces
Layers are a traveler’s best friend, especially during long trips. Layering can spruce up a stale look and create a completely new and interesting outfit. For instance, a sweater worn over a blouse with a hint of collar creates almost-effortless dimension. Cardigans and blazers are also great layering pieces that provide warmth but also add flair to an outfit. Another great layer is a solid, neutral-colored tank top which can be worn by itself, under long-sleeve shirts, or paired with a jacket for warmth. Layered outfits can be worn for multiple occasions and activities. They’re not only practical; they’re also fashionable.
Our Pick: Cardigans were made for layering, and this beauty from Madewell is both cozy and stylish.
7. Add Color And Prints
Just because a capsule wardrobe is practical doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Once you have your foundation pieces, you can start to play around by adding pops of color that compliment your basics. Adding colors, textures, and prints can spice up the old look and make you feel like you have a brand new outfit. Keep mixing and matching in mind, and know that a statement piece or two can go a long way. For your long trip, consider taking two to three statement pieces that you can switch out when the seasons change.
Our Pick: Animal print has been having a moment for the last two seasons, and is still all the rage for Fall 2019. A leopard print scarf pairs perfectly with a neutral palette and dresses up basics in a capsule wardrobe.
8. Limit Yourself To Three Pairs Of Shoes
Although you may want a pair of shoes for every type of outfit, you only truly need a few pairs of shoes for the duration of most trips. Shoes can be quite heavy and take up space in a carry-on or small suitcase, so you’ll want to limit yourself to three pairs.
Walking long distances during travel is not uncommon. Comfortable walking shoes are essential to your travel capsule wardrobe. They can vary from white sneakers to black running shoes or hiking boots.
Your second pair of shoes should elevate your outfits. Consider stylish, comfy flats or strappy sandals. When you don’t want to sport your sneakers, these can be worn for an evening out on the town. If you’re traveling through different seasons and climates, you may need a third pair. As fall or winter approaches, you’ll need a pair of boots to keep your feet warm.
Our Pick: Anything from Teva! If it’s a comfy sandal you desire for trekking around cities or a lightweight boot for hiking, this brand never lets us down in comfort or style.
9. Don’t Forget To Accessorize
Accessories are a great way to show off style and personality. One of the best multi-purpose accessories is a scarf. A fun, colorful scarf can not only keep you warm but also create an exciting outfit. Otherwise, you can thread a thin scarf through belt loops to add a pop of color to your jeans or throw it over your shoulders or head when your travels take you to a church, temple, or mosque. Scarves can also be used as blankets while in the airport or on a flight.
It’s important to keep the same minimalist principles in mind for your accessories. This means bringing one of each type of accessory: one scarf, one belt, one hat, one purse. A purse that has a long cross-body strap with a zipper can be a great option for keeping your valuables safe. Plus, swapping accessories out each day can make you feel like you’re wearing a brand new outfit, even as you cycle through your capsule wardrobe.
Our Pick: The perfect travel crossbody, which can be worn as a fanny pack or a purse, is the Paravel Doubletake.
10. Add Metallic Accents
Your jewelry completes your travel capsule wardrobe. Mixing and matching earrings, watches, rings, and necklaces allows you to enjoy a whole new look each day of your trip. Metals, whether silver or gold, look amazing with any color palette and combination. Although jewelry tends to be small, keep with the minimalist principles when packing. You’ll avoid a tangle of options — and overwhelming yourself with choice. Depending on where your trip will take you, it can also be a good idea to keep your jewelry understated to avoid unwanted attention during your travels.
Our Pick: These stud earrings look like a million bucks but don’t come with a hefty price tag. They can be worn on the go or out for a nice dinner, and they go with almost anything.