This won’t be as pretty as the Polyvore sets you’ll see on fashion-oriented blogs. I’m not a photographer or a fashionista. In spite of this, I want to post a capsule wardrobe as I packed it in an under-seat size carry on bag for a recent (early March) family trip to Hilton Head, SC.
Compact capsule wardrobe saves precious vacation time
Packing lists and capsule wardrobes—which is just a fancy way of describing a simplified wardrobe that can be mixed and matched to create many combinations— help me enjoy my trips more. My stress is reduced, I don’t waste precious vacation time deciding what to wear, and I can present myself the way I prefer to be seen when I’m meeting new people.
Rarely do I see a travel wardrobe capsule that reflects the reality of someone like me. Items of clothing on my petite yet plump and short-waisted body look nothing like the stock catalog photos on Polyvore. More importantly, my priorities begin with function before moving on to the more enjoyable considerations of color and form.
Dressing appropriately while maintaining health & function
I have an autoimmune condition that involves widespread joint pain. I suffer particularly from foot problems. My wardrobe is constrained by the limiting factors of shoes that accommodate bulky rigid orthotics and clothes that don’t squeeze or pinch even when inflamed joints swell.
My symptoms flare when I’m tired. Travel, no matter how wonderful, comes with physical and sometimes mental stress. Traveling light is one way to reduce symptoms from my condition: I’m less likely to wear myself out, physically, with a lighter weight bag.
And yet! I’m a colorful person who enjoys attractive clothes. I don’t obsess over fashion, but I accessorize daily. When time is ample, I willingly spend some of it on my appearance. I rarely wear black, which I find both boring and depressing, and my neutrals are often dark red or dark plum instead of sedate grey, navy, or taupe. I express myself sartorially.
Wardrobe considerations—climate and events
Our trip was for four nights and five days. We flew to Savannah, stayed three nights in a Villa at Sea Pines Resort, then DS1 and I rode the train (Amtrak, overnight) back home. We left and returned to temperatures in the 40’s; it was 60-79°F in Georgia and South Carolina. Because DH was traveling for work, we needed dressy clothes suitable for socializing with professional colleagues in a resort environment.
With a rental car and apartment style accommodations, I could have easily packed everything plus the kitchen sink. Aside from enjoying the planning exercise of creating a packing list for this trip, I wanted to travel light on Amtrak. There was no baggage car on our Northeast Regional train after connecting in New York City. The train’s carry on restrictions are much more generous than found on airplanes, but handling luggage remains one of my least favorite aspects of travel.
I used my smaller travel pack for this trip, a Tom Bihn Western Flyer. Even fully packed, I can typically manage this bag myself. It’s better when I don’t bring a laptop, which I didn’t need for this quick getaway.
Packing lists — never forget a vital item
Here’s my clothing packing list, adapted from this one at LadyLightTravel.com:
For early spring travel, outerwear choice is pretty critical. We had occasional light rain in the forecast. Even a week or two earlier, I would have gone with my purple, lightweight down coat, but water resistance is my bottom line in spring. All five pockets on this coat zip securely closed—a travel essential!
- Teal Duluth Trading soft shell coat (thin gloves, not shown, in a pocket)
- Purple down vest
- Purple thin knit cap (not shown, in coat pocket)
- Teal waterproof sneakers
- Grey Propet Women’s Travelactiv Mary Jane (dressiest shoe I could consider)
I had to make sure everything I brought worked with my comfortable, supportive Ahnu Sugarpine sneakers in teal. These are my go to shoes for reducing the likelihood of crippling pain from too much walking. I opted for the waterproof pair that coordinates nicely with my raincoat and capsule color scheme of teal-magenta-grey.
I started my fashion choices by selecting the bottoms. As a fairly modest dresser, there are some pants I won’t wear with more revealing tops. I wanted the freedom to remove layers as necessary in case the temperature was hotter than forecast while still literally covering my bum.
- Teal blue Goddess dress
- Grey crinkle-rayon palazzo pants
- NYDJ lightweight pull on ankle jeans in a dark wash
To layer underneath on the colder, northern ends of the trip, I had pieces ranging from long johns, to silk pettipants, to pantyhose (which violate the comfort doctrine, but I do wear them as needed to add discreet warmth when dressed formally.)
I’m counting my soft, stretchy Angelrox Goddess dress as “bottoms” because it layers well and stands in for a skirt. These dresses (I also own a full-length Goddess Gown) are body conscious so I usually wear a wrap or otherwise layer on top. Tight is not my style. The Goddess dresses are so soft and so comfortable, though, I can forget to be self-conscious about the snug fit. Wearing one, I feel as glamorous as an old time movie star with the comfort of pajamas!
This is where I cut back from my usual policy of having one or two extras, just in case. The weather was forecast to be moderate enough, and I knew I could go shopping if necessary. I usually do bring more pieces than this, but I absolutely did not need additional tops to wear fresh, interesting outfits every day.
- Grey cotton/spandex Duluth Trading No-Yank Tank (not shown)
- White ExOfficio crinkle kimono tunic
- Floral sheer silk poncho
- Magenta faux twinset (sheer silk turtleneck & cotton/nylon cardigan)
This is where the magic happens! Wow, no, not really that exciting, but… this is where a bunch of clothing pieces that I like turn into full-fledged outfits like those I wear at home when my full closet is available.
I don’t bother with makeup very often, and my hairstyle is almost as minimal as wash-comb-go, but I didn’t realize how much my accessories matter to my sense of being “fully dressed” until after our home was burglarized a few years ago. Mostly, I was grateful that we weren’t at home or hurt and that nothing more than “stuff” had been stolen, but every morning for weeks, I would turn to the shelf in my bedroom where my costume jewelry had been and feel my heart sink at the empty space dusted with police fingerprint powder.
The thieves took most of my deceased grandmother’s costume jewelry and a little velvet box full of Post-it sized love notes my husband left me every Sunday morning before his karate class during our first few years of marriage. It’s ironic that they missed our hidden safe where my few expensive pieces of “real” jewelry were hidden, but they stole slips of paper many times more valuable to me and lots of $20 jewelry that gave me joy but probably earned them virtually no cash.
- Pashmina in grey/magenta/teal
- Scarf in teal/white rayon
- Angelrox teal “sleeves” (arm warmers or fingerless gloves)
- Earrings (silver dangles)
- Earrings (colorful stone dangles by Shayla Lynn Jewelry)
- Necklace (silver with moonstone by Shayla Lynn Jewelry)
Here I am mentioning the unmentionable, but I have to specify these details for completeness if you’re wondering how a capsule wardrobe really packs into a case as small as the Western Flyer.
- Floral silk caftan
- White rayon tank/tunic for sleeping (also works as a top in hot weather)
- 5 pair underpants
- 2 brassieres
- 7 pair socks (one wool, 2 thin ankle socks, 4 no show footies)
These don’t factor into the wardrobe as far as style goes, though I’ll admit to a touch of smugness that my travel caftan color coordinates in teal blue.
Underwear and socks pack so small, I do usually bring enough to avoid hand-washing because I don’t enjoy it. I could get by with two pairs of each by sink washing every night, but I’ve never felt the weight loss was worth the time spent from my vacation day.
Remember that the outfit you wear on travel day doesn’t go into the carry on. Here’s what I wore onto the plane along with my water resistant teal jacket.
This is where I confess to everything else I stuff into my carry on bag… except there isn’t very much. First of all, my full confession includes the fact that I prefer to carry my everyday purse (a Tom Bihn medium Cafe Bag) aboard as a personal item. I don’t have to cram all my daily distractors into my Western Flyer!
I have a Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag that is always packed with my carry on comfort kit. This is where my inflatable neck pillow, silk sleep sack (we call it the sleestak, a la “Land of the Lost”), ear plugs, eye mask, and lip balm live. During a flight, it is big enough to temporarily house my Kindle or iPad, too, if it is easier to reach than my purse.
Aside from the Packing Cube Shoulder Bag, my Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube 3-1-1 toiletry kit, and my electric toothbrush, I stash a water bottle in the front pocket of my Western Flyer, and I always carry at least a small personal PackTowl with the water. I’ve read my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Also, my little guy is prone to motion sickness. And playground swings are often wet. A towel always comes in handy for moms as well as hitchhikers.
Putting it all together
When you’ve packed it all, the Western Flyer looks like this.
It zips closed without a fight. The Western Flyer isn’t over packed, and the bag weighs in at 9 lbs (just over 4 kg.)