Friday, May 8, 2009

Packing List: Clothing

Back when I used to wear suits to work, I received a core wardrobing guide that showed how to make two suits, a two-piece dress, two blouses plus two other pieces into 25 outfits appropriate for the office.

Five colors were used: blue and deep plum as the basic colors, and turquoise, black, and white for the accent colors.

Unlike other core wardrobe guides that focus on essential pieces, such as a trench coat, or advise buying suits, slacks, and skirts in neutral colors; this guide used neutrals only for a solid white cardigan sweater, a pair of solid black slacks, and as the background for a print blouse.

The trick was that every piece went with every other piece, both tops and bottoms, by selecting two colors that work together as the basic colors and using a third color for an accent color as well as two neutrals.

I'm not into suits anymore, but coordinating a few pieces to get what appears to be an entire closet's worth of clothing is a valuable principle to learn for traveling especially now that many airlines are charging for checked luggage that used to fly for free when you paid the price of a ticket.

By coordinating, I can travel with four tops, three bottoms, and two dresses, plus a two-piece swimsuit, and have 25 outfits that cover a variety of occasions from the opera to the beach as well as function as sleepwear. I usually prefer this configuration over the four tops and two bottoms that others use because it eliminates having to add sleepwear that can’t be used for anything else and prepares me for both dressier as well as more casual situations.

How I did it was by selecting a comfortable skirt that I wouldn't mind wearing a lot and building my travel wardrobe around it by pulling other pieces from my closet that use the colors of the skirt's print (blue, purple, green), as well as neutrals. There's also pink in my travel wardrobe although that's only because it's in a plaid with green.

Here's the packing list with what I've packed for trips during spring and summer in brackets to illustrate the principle:


Four tops -

T1 = Long-sleeved big shirt that can be dressy or casual and may be worn alone or as an overshirt. Because of its length and long sleeves, this piece functions as a very light jacket when worn over other tops, using a shawl for more warmth, and as a swimsuit cover-up when you've had enough sun. [Crinkle cotton polyester spandex in emerald green]

T2 = Top that can go dressy or casual. [White silk T-shirt]

T3 = Top. [Purple cotton knit T-shirt]

T4 = Top. [Emerald green polyester tank top]

Three bottoms -

B1 = Skirt or pants including convertible slacks-to-shorts. [Blue, purple, greens, and white print rayon skirt]

B2 = Skirt that can go dressy or casual. [Rayon black skirt, below-the-calf length]

B3 = Elastic-waisted/drawstring long pants or shorts. [Light gray polyester cotton Capris]

Two casual dresses, loose enough to double as nightgowns, eliminate needing a robe:

D1 = Blue and green plaid seersucker cotton dress.

D2 = Green and pink plaid seersucker cotton dress.

Some may prefer more pants and T-shirts instead of one or both of the dresses or use only long T-shirts as sleepshirts, tops, and beach cover-ups. On the principle of one to wear, one to wash, and one for spare, figure on using Top #3 or #4 (T3, T4) and Bottom #3 (B3) as daywear that doubles as sleepwear. However, if you're going away only for the weekend, you may as well scratch the dresses and pack a set of lounging pajamas.

To the above, women should add three sets of underwear including socks, footwear such as flip-flops, comfortable walking shoes, sandals, or boots; dressy sandals or shoes, a packable sun hat, a bandanna, rain gear, a swimsuit, a pareo, a blazer, sweater, or sweater wrap, depending on the destination's climate; and optional dressy shawl and scarves to aid variety.

Having a pareo is great because it can be used as a beach cover-up, a skirt or dress, a casual shawl, a picnic cloth, light blanket, and towel. Usage is limited only by imagination. Mine is a rayon black and white zebra print that goes with my swimsuit as well as Tops #1, 2, 3, and 4 (T1, T2, T3, T4) and Bottoms #2 and 3 (B2, B3), above.

Having a dressy shawl provides an alternate for the T1 overshirt if a little variety is desired for evenings out. Mine is a black burn-out floral print that looks great over white silk.



J1 (optional) = Blazer or suit jacket that's appropriate for casual or dress attire.


T1 = Regular collar, short-sleeved shirt that can be casual or dress attire under the suit jacket.

T2 = Long-sleeved dress shirt unless a different shirt is preferred.

T3 = Casual shirt such as a polo shirt.

T4 = Casual shirt such as a sports shirt.


B1 = Casual slacks.

B2 = Dress slacks or suit trousers.

B3 = Casual slacks, convertible slacks-to-shorts, or shorts.

As with women's clothing, men's clothing can do double duty as sleepwear. Consider using undershirts or colored T-shirts and shorts and swim trunks instead of pajamas and leave the robe at home to conserve packing space.

Then, add three sets of underwear and socks, footwear, a packable sun hat, rain gear, bandanna, and an optional tie or three plus handkerchiefs for the pocket of your suit jacket.

By the way, if you're heading off for a beach vacation, I recommend packing two or three swimsuits instead of only one, so you'll always have a dry swimsuit available.

For both men and women, cold weather changes the list only by requiring a base layer, beefing up the environmental layer with a winter coat or jacket, and using cold weather clothing such as those with long sleeves and a sweater instead of the tops listed above for warm weather. Exchange the sun hat for a knit cap or packable winter hat and add a scarf and gloves, mittens, or convertible mittens.

Instead of T-shirts, shorts, or dresses for sleepwear, both sexes should pack thermal underwear of silk and light wool and have them do double-duty as the base layer and pajamas. I suggest two or three sets of silk thermal long underwear and one set of wool. If it's really cold, wear the wool underwear over the silk.

For decency, in case of fire or room service or if you want to trot down the hall for some ice or use the bathroom, add a robe made of silk or microfiber to wear over your thermal underwear.

A note about fabrics - Of course, you want clothes that are wrinkle-resistant, but it's best to leave jeans and corduroys at home because they're heavy, bulky, awkward to wash in the sink, and take the longest time to dry. Washable silk, washable rayon, woven cotton, washable linen, as well as synthetics and blends, are good, particularly silk and rayon, because they're lightweight, pack smaller, and dry fast. Some look good if wrinkled on purpose while still damp and allowed to dry that way. Cotton knit is more comfortable than woven cotton but dries slowly. In hot weather, I prefer seersucker because it's comfortable, virtually wrinkle-free, and dries reasonably quickly, but go ahead and don your still-damp cotton knit in the morning and let your body heat and the summer sun dry it off because it won't take long. This tip works for other fabrics as well.

Now, let's see how I get 25 outfits from nine pieces by coordinating my clothing coded as T1, T2, T3, T4, B1, B2, B3, D1, and D2 for women:

T1+B1, T1+T2+B1, T1+T3+B1, T1+T4+B1,

T1+B2, T1+T2+B2, T1+T3+B2, T1+T4+B2,

T1+B3, T1+T2+B3, T1+T3+B3, T1+T4+B3,

T2+B1, T2+B2, T2+B3,

T3+B1, T3+B2, T3+B3,

T4+B1, T4+B2, T4+B3,

D1, D2,

T1+D1, T1+D2.

By wearing the bulkiest outfit (T1+T3+B1) and shoes on the plane, I can pack the rest in the main compartment of my carry-on bag (44 linear inches at 21" x 13" x 10" or 53 x 33 x 25 cm) along with my underwear, flip-flops, sandals, laundry kit, and toiletry and make-up kit, with room to spare for additional items.

For men, it's the same concept of mixing and matching to get the maximum potential out of what you take on a trip.

If I pack a swimsuit that has the style of top and bottom that could double as a camisole top (T5) and shorts (B4) or vice versa:

T1+T5+B1, T1+T5+B2, T1+T5+B3, T1+T5+B4,

T5+B1, T5+B2, T5+B3, T5+B4,

T1+B4, T1+T2+B4, T1+T3+B4, T1+T4+B4,

T2+B4, T3+B4, T4+B4.

By changing only the swimsuit (T5, B4) to pieces that do double-duty, the number of my outfits increases from the original 25 to 40 outfits while retaining the same number of pieces I'm packing. Another option is to take a swimsuit that can double as another set of underwear.

Does this challenge you? Think about it.

How long are you planning to be gone? With this list, it doesn't matter because it'll cover you for three to four days without needing to do laundry and if you can go three to four days, you can do laundry and go for two to three weeks. If you can go for two to three weeks, you can be gone for months and not need more clothing until the weather turns cold.

Do you really like having to cope with all that luggage, including lost pieces, that you've been used to taking? How do you rationalize the expense of the larger or additional luggage, the weight of the heavier luggage with contents, and additional fees?

Years ago, a former co-worker brushed off the idea of packing light saying that she doesn't want to have to wash clothes every night. She didn't know that it wasn't like what she was thinking.

All you have to do is pop your things into the sink with washing liquid and let them soak while you shower, then rinse, squeeze, and hang them to dry over the tub, and you're done. Except for coordinating sink and tub times with your travel partner, that really is all there is to it. Doing underwear and socks every night isn't anywhere near the same type of chore as running a load through commercial machines where you have to keep an eye on it for an hour or so, fold everything afterwards, and get it back up to your room.

If you buy quick-drying underwear such as those labeled "ExOfficio" or "EC2 Quik Dri" you can easily get away with taking only two sets because when the excess water is squeezed out after it's washed and rinsed, the garment rolled in a towel like a burrito and squeezed again or stomped on, unrolled and hung, it will dry in only a few hours.

Besides, depending on your activities and production of body odor, it's possible that you could wear a bottom twice before it needs to be laundered. That leaves you washing a top every night, or two tops and a bottom every other night. Or, you can leave off doing laundry until you're down to your last set of clothes and hit a laundromat then. Whichever is easier.

(Tip: Body Mint keeps you, and your clothing, fresher, longer.)

Some travelers enjoy having to hunt down laundry facilities, getting the right change, waiting for machines to be available, and doing their wash. They consider doing laundry as part of their travel experience because the time spent at the laundromat is time spent observing and making acquaintances with local residents or writing postcards or in a journal.

This packing list doesn't take that away because you can still take everything, except what you're wearing, to wash at the laundromat, and you can still add more tops and bottoms that make you use a suitcase too large to carry on, yet still be small enough to be a lot more convenient than what you've traveled with before. You'll be better off, however, subtracting items from this list, such as Dress #2 (D2), rather than adding to it unless it's to add another pair of socks.

The main benefit is that a coordinated wardrobe costs less and makes it easier to dress for the day and evening because everything goes with just about everything else no matter what you plan to do, even if you stay home and don't travel at all.

Bon voyage!

No comments: