How to plan your capsule wardrobe for an awesome trip
What is a capsule wardrobe?
What is a ‘capsule wardrobe’? It sounds a bit space-age, but I discovered that the phrase, ‘capsule wardrobe’ was coined in the 1970s by London boutique owner Susie Faux:
a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don't go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.
That makes sense to me. I’ve lived my whole life by the maxim it’s better to buy well - and what suits you - than to overpopulate your wardrobe with non-essential items. So how does that principle translate to a light travel wardrobe?
How to plan a capsule wardrobe for your light travels
My advice is to plan and pack only essential clothes items: one pair of shorts; one skirt; one pair of slacks; a few tops, and a jacket.
It’s important to choose the best items to mix and match - so that you look like you’re wearing a different outfit even though the basics remain the same. I’ve put together a capsule wardrobe of my own to show you how I get my ‘different looks’.
This is what I wear and take with me for three weeks’ away to a warm climate. I’ve featured only outerwear, but don’t forget to pack your underwear and bathing costume!
Day wear #1
When I travel, my essential everyday basic wardrobe is a pair of comfortable, fitted shorts with a select range of tops. My base colour is black or grey. I add a few pops of colour with my tops, either in red, white or sometimes blue. I’m careful to take with me only the colours that suit me (I’m a ‘winter’) - otherwise the item is a waste of precious luggage space. I take a neutral coloured long-sleeved t-shirt, which I like to wear on the plane when it’s cool.
Day wear #2
Another option for day wear is a skirt. I’ve chosen a neutral colour that’s different to my base colour, adding another colour option to my basic wardrobe. But I can still mix and match my skirt with the t-shirts I wear with my shorts. On cooler days, I wear my jacket with the skirt. Alternately, I wear my soft wrap, which ties in a multitude of ways, giving a different twist on the selection of bottoms or tops.
Evening wear #1 + #2
For the evening, I like to wear a pair of black unstructured slacks with a top that’s slightly more dressy than my day wear (first image). To that I add a ‘killer’ necklace for my cocktail statement look. As an alternative, I wear my day time sleeveless top, paired with my multi-functional wrap.
Sometimes I wear these evening slacks during the day, depending on what I’m doing. They’re a little more dressy than my shorts so work well for museum or art gallery visits.
On board comfort
I like to be comfortable when I’m on board a plane. In the old days, I used to take a spare pair of clothes to change into on the plane, but nowadays I travel long haul in one set of layered pieces. My basic travel gear is a pair of leggings with a t-shirt or top, over which I pull on my long-sleeved t-shirt and finally my jacket. As I get into warmer climates, I peel off the top layers.
On holiday, I wear the leggings during the day or at night, paired with a t-shirt and the wrap. They are comfortable and a little warmer than a skirt or shorts.
Throwing in a scarf - or as one of my readers suggested, buy a scarf on holiday to treat yourself (lighter than souvenirs) - is always useful. I dress up my day or evening wear with a silk scarf around my neck or over my shoulders.
I take very little jewellery with me, just one pair of earrings, one necklace, a couple of rings and that ‘killer’ necklace.
What shoes for a capsule wardrobe?
I take one pair of closed shoes. My shoes need to be comfortable as I’ll be wearing them every day and most evenings. My go-to shoes are currently the Merrell brand: they are comfortable, contemporary and stylish enough to suit any occasion.
I take a pair of sandals, which work equally well for day and night wear, but choose them carefully as they need to be light and comfortable.
For the beach, I slip in a pair of thongs, which I don’t mind leaving behind if I want to swap them for a small purchase.
How much does it all weigh?
As an extreme light traveller, I take only a carry on bag when I travel - for long or short stays.
My capsule wardrobe weighs 4.5 kilograms (that’s just under 10 pounds), which includes everything I’ve described, leaving enough space for toiletries (1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds) and the weight of my bag (1.5 kilograms or 3.3 pounds).
This capsule wardrobe + toiletries fulfils the permitted carry on weight of 7 kilograms (15 pounds) - a very handy weight for your hand-held luggage. Keep that in mind when you have to pick up your bag and run for the bus, train or plane. Or when you have to hoist it into an overhead locker. Or carry it up innumerable stairs. Packing a light capsule wardrobe is liberating in so many ways.
I hope you find my capsule wardrobe useful when planning your own light travel wardrobe.
My capsule wardrobe stockists
These recommendations are entirely unsolicited: they just happen to be my favourite stockists for quality travel wear.
I wear the Tradlands long-sleeved t-shirts all the time. I have one in grey and one in the neutral colour.
I like their selection of t-shirts as they’re lightweight but good quality. Also Everlane supports responsible and sustainable manufacturing, which is another good reason to purchase their clothes.
I like Sportscraft skirts: they’re good quality and fit well.
Anything from Icebreaker is tops. I wear their bottoms, leggings, tops and jackets. Excellent for layering when visiting cold climates.
I’m a great fan of Merrell shoes. I have their walking boots, two pairs of day shoes and a pair of Mary Janes. I love the fit and comfort and they looks stylish during the day and at night.
Lounge the Label
I bought my evening top and pants - which I’ve worn for a few years - from Lounge the Label in Melbourne.
About the author
I’m Slobodanka Graham, digital publisher, content entrepreneur and extreme light traveller.
In Montenegro on holiday, I’m wearing items from my ‘capsule wardrobe’ - I knew this photo would come in handy one day!