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Creating a Vacation Capsule Wardrobe

There is an art to packing vacationwear. You want to bring everything you’ll need and still have room in your suitcase for souvenirs. Enter the travel capsule wardrobe. This simplified approach to packing is unified by a similar color scheme, so each item you pack can be mixed and matched to fit the occasion. A travel capsule frees you to pack light, which is especially helpful if you’ll be traveling by train or plane. Ready to get packing? Start by answering a few key questions that will help you ditch the fifty-pound suitcase and build your perfect travel capsule wardrobe.



Choose three base colors that complement your skin tone and personal style. Chances are, you have many wardrobe pieces that fall into this scheme already. For your three colors, choose all neutrals that can be brightened up with accessories, or choose two neutrals and a complementary color such as brown, olive green, and ivory. Include two pairs of shoes that match your color scheme and are easy to pack. Wear your bulkiest shoes and outfit on travel days to save room in your suitcase.


This answer determines the clothing types you’ll pack. A ski-trip wardrobe looks very different than one packed for a tropical paradise. Will it rain or snow where you’re headed? Will the temperature be consistent, or will it be cooler in the mornings and evenings but warm at midday?


You need rugged clothes for a camping trip but can be more flexible for a sightseeing vacation. Will you dine at fancy restaurants or cook over a campfire? Will you lounge by a pool or visit a high-end shopping district? If there will be a mix of activities on your trip, plan wisely to make your capsule wardrobe work for any occasion.


Determine how many wardrobe variations you can make with each piece. For example, a black t-shirt works with jeans as a daytime sightseeing outfit. Pair it with a blazer and slacks for a fancy dinner. Mix it with a long skirt and cardigan for a museum tour. Lay out or try on each outfit before you pack to ensure everything looks as you envisioned. The number of pieces you pack depends on the length of your vacation and your access to laundry facilities. Plan for two outfits per day for flexibility.


Accessories stretch your wardrobe further without taking up valuable suitcase space. Bring a belt to cinch a long t-shirt and match that with leggings. A tie adds sophistication to a button-down and blazer. Ball caps to berets, fedoras to fascinators—hats can be functional and shift an outfit from casual to formal. Statement jewelry, like a chunky necklace or shiny bangle, adds bling to any outfit. Keep jewelry simple, and, with the exception of your everyday staples, don’t wear or pack anything you’d hate to lose.

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A good travel capsule addresses every type of event you’ll run into on your trip. From grabbing a pint at the pub to cocktails at a Michelin-starred bar, pack enough classic styles and accessories so you’ll feel at ease anywhere. Written by Ronda Swaney. Photography by flyfloor/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Trim the Toiletries

A travel capsule wardrobe solves the problem of overpacking clothes, but what about toiletries? Here are a few tips to pare down to essentials.

Buddy Up. If you’re traveling with someone else, plan to share items such as shampoo and conditioner.

Take Flight. North American air passengers need simplified carry-ons. Liquids must be kept in a 1-quart or 1-liter clear plastic bag, and each liquid item must be 100 ml/3.4 ounces or less.

Pull Double Duty. Opt for multipurpose toiletries. For example, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap works as shampoo, face and body wash, laundry detergent, and even dish soap.

Containerize. Rather than packing full-size bottles, use small containers to hold toiletries. If you don’t already have travel-size containers, repurpose household items. Empty mint tins can hold aspirin or vitamins, and an empty prescription bottle makes a great Q-tip holder.

Avoid the Leaks. To ensure your toiletries (and clothes and electronics) arrive safe and sound, put a small square of cling wrap under the lid of your liquid bottles. This helps prevent leaks during travel.

Shannon Parberry

Shannon Parberry

(907) 232-0227

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