Social media is filled with travel photos of gorgeous young women in flowing gowns coordinating with the scenery. We long to look like these women, but the reality of travel, for us ..um… more mature women, is not as glamorous as these images portray. Travel involves a lot of walking… and dust… and sun. And how do these influencers climb a mountain in a full length gown? Let alone pack light with sundresses in every color? Sleeveless dresses and high heels just aren’t practical, especially as travel clothing for women over 50. But no worries! Take a look at how French women dress, and you’ll find you can create a travel capsule wardrobe with functional and stylish clothes that allow you to pack light, feel comfortable, and look great!
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What is a capsule wardrobe and why is it a good idea to use one for travel? A capsule wardrobe is defined as collection of basic items that mix and match and don’t go out of style. The items harmonize in color and put together can create many, many looks. This system is ideal for traveling light. By curating your travel clothes you can travel carry-on only, limit decision fatigue, and still look lovely. Perfect for the older woman adventurer!
As frequent travelers, I have created two basic capsule travel wardrobes, one for cold weather and one for warm, and adjust those when I plan my trip. I try to stick to a 10 piece wardrobe for my trips, but may add or subtract as the circumstances dictate. I use a phone app for my packing lists with the capsule wardrobe items as basics. But you don’t need an app or anything special to create your capsule wardrobe – just make a list of the clothes you will use in your capsule, or keep the list in a notebook or a spreadsheet. Whatever works for you!
A capsule wardrobe is defined as collection of basic items that mix and match and don’t go out of style.
Choose the basics for your capsule travel wardrobe
Begin with what you have. There is no need to go out and buy items if you have the makings of a good travel wardrobe already. You are looking for clothing that travels well – lightweight, easy care clothing you enjoy and would happily reach for at home. (I’d add wrinkle free clothing, or wrinkle resistant, if that’s not already your closet standard. It is mine! Who has time for ironing?!)
Simple is best – make your clothing the least interesting thing about you.
Choose a neutral color for your base: Black works for most cities, whites for the tropics. But choose navy or beige if it’s more flattering on you. Still neutral! I began with a black base, but have changed to navy as it’s softer against my skin and hair.
Pick 2 tops and 1 bottom (pants, shorts, skirt) – in this neutral color. Make sure these items are comfortable, classic, and easy to care for. A Breton striped shirt is a great item to add here.
Add one solid white (or black) shirt: Bring one additional solid top, a tee if the trip is casual, or a button down for dressing up. These are the travel wardrobe essentials! The classic button down goes well with everything, and can even be worn open as a jacket. I pack either a black merino tee or an Eddie Bauer wrinkle-resistant button down shirt.
Add a solid black (or neutral) bottom: I always pack one pair of black pants or capris. These go with everything and don’t show dirt. (Helpful hint: wear dark colors on a flight. Nothing like turbulence to cause a spill!) Some people always pack jeans. These are heavy, and slow to dry when laundered, so don’t usually make it into my luggage, but there are trips when jeans are mandatory! You do you!
Add a topper – a lightweight sweater or jacket in the neutral or a coordinating neutral. Having some sort of topper is critical if you’re visiting sacred sites, or traveling in areas where women dress conservatively. A pashmina will do the trick if you’re averse to sweaters.
Add a dress (or two) depending on your destination and style of travel. I have a couple of print shift dresses I may pack, but generally choose to bring a dress in my neutral color. Extra points if this dress is able to be styled up and down. I’ve been won over to Wool& merino wool dresses lately which can be styled as a dress, a top, or a tunic. And love my Diane Kroe origami which performs similar tricks!
Add a blouse in a complementary color: Choose silky sleeveless tops and you can pack two!
I took a camel DKNY cashmere cozy as my topper on our South African trip. It was perfect on the long flight, serving as sweater and blanket in one. I reached for it again in the cool evenings on safari and in the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town wore it to dress up for dinners out.
Pay attention to the lengths that work for your body. Unless blessed by the genetics, most women in their fifties and sixties will want a bit more coverage in their wardrobe. Tights, and short skirts may not flatter as they once did. But pair those tights with a long tunic and you’re good to go! (Or combine the two in one of my favorite travel items – the travel tights by Diane Kroe – tights with a skirt attached!) I find capris or cropped pants flatter my legs and I choose tops with sleeves to protect from the sun.
Accessorize your capsule travel wardrobe by adding color and style
Have fun – choose a few colorful pieces to jazz up your outfits. This is where we can learn from the style of the French woman. She might rely on a simple black outfit, but livens it up with accessories! A silky blouse, a colorful scarf, or a bright skirt – lightweight pieces that add some spice to your outfits. You can find great inspiration from bloggers like TheVivienneFiles who designs capsule wardrobes for women around the colors in a scarf or piece of artwork.
Jewelry– those neutral outfits are asking for some fun jewelry. Leave your valuable pieces at home but bring a chunky necklace or sparkly earrings. Small things can bump your day outfit to evening wear! I love to pick up jewelry as I travel. Great to wear on the trip and a wonderful (lightweight!) souvenir when we’re home.
Use an app like Outfit Planner, Stylebook or Cladwell to visualize how your wardrobe picks work together. Don’t pack anything that doesn’t go with two or more pieces. (see Pack Lighter with Stylebook)
Test pack I lay out all my planned clothing at least a week before the trip. This is a great time to make sure the pieces work together as well as to check for stains, and necessary repairs. This is also when you might notice you have a bit extra room to add ONE favorite scarf or t shirt! But be careful, it’s easy to throw in a couple of “just in case” items that’ll negate all the work you’ve done to create a minimalistic travel capsule!
[scarf: Gold & Blue William Morris from the Met Opera Shop – a favorite, shown also in capsule collage above!]
Shoes for travel
Probably the biggest challenge for packing light is shoes. It’s difficult to pare down our options when it comes to footwear. Most experts recommend limiting ourselves to two pairs of shoes, with the heaviest being worn on the flight. I have to admit I often take three – sneakers or walking shoes on the flight, a pair of flats, and sandals. Wear heels if you are absolutely comfortable in them, but for my travel wardrobe over 60, I stick to stylish flats.
But I’m still hopeful that I’ll come across that unicorn – a casual flat/sandal option that’ll take me to dinner or the pool… Recommendations gladly accepted!
Adding new items to your travel wardrobe capsule
If you don’t already have items in your closet that will work for your trip, there are many options for women’s clothes for travel. In addition to the tried and true big travel clothing companies – Travelsmith, Magellans, etc. – many clothing lines cater to women in their 50s, 60s, and above. They usually offer flattering clothes that travel well.
Quality first! It’s past time for fast fashion- those trendy, inexpensive items that’ll be worn one season before ending up in the donation pile. If you’re going to buy women’s clothes for travel, invest in good quality pieces. You will pay more initially for that merino wool top, but it’ll serve you for many years. (Merino wool is the ultimate travel fabric – wrinkle resistant, odor resistant, and quick drying!)
Find a brand that fits you well and is designed with travel in mind, i.e. wrinkle resistant. Look into convertible clothing which can give you a lot of options. The following brands carry stylish travel clothing for older women:
Athleta carries affordable pants that work for travel days, and evenings out. Well tailored, the black Venice pintuck pants, are always on my list. And I love the dressy sweatpants from Encircled in Canada. They’re slouchy and soft, great for travel days, but look refined enough for an evening out with a jacket or pretty scarf.
Chico’s Travelers Collection has wrinkle free options that look great coming straight out of the suitcase. Many dressy options, too! I always include a few items from Chico’s in my packing list.
Diane Kroe specializes in travel-friendly clothing and has some of the best travel clothes for women. Most are multi-functional – converting from scarves to cardigans, skirted tights to bodysuits. Diane Kroe’s line includes stylish clothing for plus size women as well. I always have a Diane Kroe piece on my packing list!
Wool& clothing isn’t designed specifically for travel, but the simple merino dresses are a natural to work as your base. They also offer merino wool leggings which are wonderful for layering on chilly mornings.
Eileen Fisher‘s styles are timeless. The luxe merino stretch line would seem to be the perfect travel solution. (I haven’t had the opportunity to try this line, but have had great success with lightweight, odor resistant merino wool.)
Visit REI to see lots of options for active travel – Patagonia, Prana, Exofficio, Icebreaker – all are great options if you’ll be hiking or cycling on your trip.
Perfect travel clothing for women over 50 is comfortable and makes you feel good
It’s most important that you pack only things that are comfortable to wear and make you happy. Don’t include a ‘travel friendly’ option that you’d never reach for at home.
I can’t emphasize this enough. DO NOT pack anything you wouldn’t be comfortable wearing at home. Traveling in our older years is a gift. We no longer have to dress to impress, but can dress to de-stress. We can find comfortable clothing for older women that will make us feel good. And as we have come to learn – if we feel good, we look good!
This basic capsule travel wardrobe will serve you well from Paris to the Grand Canyon. But if there’s room in your luggage, allow yourself a favorite item or two. A bright colored dress or graphic tee will be a nice change from the basic wardrobe.
And as always -make sure to pack a hat for skin protection!
Are there clothing essentials you reach for when packing? Please share your travel tips in the comments!
scarves by Hermes, scarf in featured photo by Klaradar
For more suggestions read Traveling Clothing for Women, Easy to Pack Favorites