How to build a versatile travel wardrobe for any trip: A 3-step formula

Travel wardrobe for 7 days in Rome, Italy
Travel wardrobe for 7 days in Rome, Italy

Woah, long time no see! For everyone who hasn't seen my little note on Facebook: The reason I haven't posted much in recent weeks is not that I'm abandoning you guys, but that I'm currently working extra hard to wrap up a special project for INTO MIND, one that I've been planning for a while now. I can't wait to tell you all about it, hopefully not too far into July (if I get everything done by then ... fingers crossed).

Right now I am looking for beta testers! If you are interested and want to give me some feedback, email me here.

Ok, so ... travel wardrobes! No matter whether you are going on a weekend city trip or a three-week beach holiday: your travel wardrobe should be 100% tailored to your style, be as versatile as possible (to save you valuable suitcase space) and give you something to wear for everything you might want to do during your trip. Essentially, the perfect travel wardrobe consists of all the same qualities as a great capsule wardrobe, just on a smaller scale and for a much more defined set of activities.

In this post I'll show you a 3-step formula that you can use to put together a remixable travel wardrobe for anything from a long weekend to a month-long road trip. To illustrate the steps a bit better, I'll use a 7-day holiday in Rome, Italy as an example.

Step 1 // Dissect your travel plans

  • Write a list of activities
  • Estimate the number of required outfits for each
  • Select 1-2 proportions for each activity

The most important piece of information you need to build a travel wardrobe is your itinerary or travel plans. What will you be doing all day during your trip? Sightseeing, lounging by the pool, going out to dinner? As a first step, make a list of every planned activity (or groups of activities that you can wear roughly the same types of clothes for). Next, estimate on how many days you will need an outfit for every activity, i.e. how many days during your trip will you go sightseeing, swimming, etc. Don't worry about getting the numbers exactly right, estimates are fine.

The list of activities you'll create is essentially a profile of your lifestyle during your trip. To make sure your travel wardrobe is optimally tailored to that lifestyle, this next step is super important: choose 1-2 proportions (i.e. specific combinations of item categories) for each activity. Make sure you take into account any special functional requirements when choosing your porportions, i.e. think about dress codes, how much walking you will be doing, what the weather will be like, etc. Also: Wherever possible, select proportions that overlap with each other, at least in one or two item categories. For example, pick "maxi skirt + tank top + heels" for one activity and "shorts + tank top + sandals" for another.

How to build a versatile travel wardrobe: Step 1
How to build a versatile travel wardrobe: Step 1

Step 2// Build a basic wardrobe structure

  • Translate proportions into item categories
  • Decide on item frequencies based on travel plans
  • Add details

This second step is about turning your set of proportions into a basic wardrobe structure including item counts. First, make a list of every item category you need to create your proportions. For our sample that would be 7 item categories: Shoes (heels + sandals), dresses, shorts, skirts, bikinis, short-sleeve tops and long-sleeve shirts.

Done? Ok. Next, you need to decide how many pieces you need to pack per item category. The two factors to take into account here are a) how many proportions each item category is a part of and b) how many outfits you need during your trip for each of those proportions. You already established both of these in step 1, so refer back to your notes and play around with a few different alternatives. For example, two of the proportions in our sample require a long-sleeve shirt (beach + Vatican visit) and we only need 1 outfit for each. Since that means we would only wear a long-sleeved shirt twice during the trip, a single piece for that category should be enough.

Lastly, write down any ideas you already have about what kind of item could fill each slot, like I did in the table below.

How to build a versatile travel wardrobe: Step 2
How to build a versatile travel wardrobe: Step 2

Travel Wardrobe for 1 Week in Rome, Italy
Travel Wardrobe for 1 Week in Rome, Italy

Step 3 // Plan your outfits

  • Choose specific items
  • Create a few sample outfits
  • Optional: Plan outfits based on travel schedule

Once you have finalised your wardrobe structure you can start selecting specific items for your travel wardrobe. The key challenge here is to choose items that all work with each other so you can actually create the different proportions you sketched out in step 1. If your trip is relatively short you can probably do this just by imagining a few constellations in your head, but if you are packing for a longer trip use one of these strategies:

1. Build your wardrobe around a colour palette: pick one or two neutrals, a few main colours and some accent shades. Last summer I actually wrote a complete post about how to use your colour palette to build a travel wardrobe. Check it out here.

2. Choose a foundation of basics + a few statement pieces. The sample travel wardrobe above is an example for this approach, and consists of mostly neutral basics + 3 statement pieces (the dress, bikini and orange top).

Next: Plan out some outfits.

Planning your outfits ahead of time is a good idea for two reasons: a) it will help you make sure your travel wardrobe is versatile enough and works for your destination and b) it will save you tons of valuable getting ready time during your trip. So: Once you have finalized your packing list, write down a few sample looks for your key activities. Include as much detail as you want on top of your main items: jewellery, bags, make up, hair, etc. If you already have a set travel schedule, feel free to already allocate your outfits to specific dates. Remember: You always have the option to change your plans and wear something completely different, but chances are, some days you will have better things to do than think about your outfit, so it's good to have a few go-to looks prepared.


items from the example | Chambray shirt: 7 For All Mankind, Mid-length skirt: James Perse, Heels: Dune, Shorts: Alice + Olivia, Bikini: J.Crew, Flat sandals: J.Crew, T-shirt: Rag & Bone, Dress: Vero Moda.