As an over 60 woman, I plan my travel wardrobe around classic, easy-care items. I take inspiration from the French style of dressing, focusing on solid colors and classic lines in high quality pieces, accented with colorful scarves and jewelry. A dress fits perfectly into this capsule. Designing your travel style around a simple dress is a great way to pack light and look great!
Why pack a dress for travel?
I’m not your typical dress person. At home you’re more likely to find me in jeans or workout wear. But when I’m planning a trip, I want to be ready for anything – museum visits, evenings out, and lots of walking. The right dress does the trick! On cruises, a dress is always on the list. (We don’t book anything that requires formal wear. It’s just not our thing.) But even on an active adventure where you’re in hiking or cycling clothes by day, it’s nice to have an option for something soft and pretty at night. A dress can even work as nightwear if you’re in need. That’s where dresses for travel come in!
This post includes affiliate links. Traveling Tulls may earn a small commission, at no additional expense to you, if you purchase something from one of these links. We were not supplied with the dresses we review here, but were so impressed with the Wool& dress and bike shorts, that we have chosen to partner with Wool& going forward. DISCLOSURE
As a woman over 60, I began traveling IN the sixties. My Dad wore three piece suits, and my mom and I wore dresses. Does that make me a travel dress expert?? No, but it does give me an appreciation for the functionality of dresses.
What Makes a Great Travel Dress?
Any piece that makes its way into our bag has to earn its place. Dresses are no exception. Here are our criteria for the perfect travel dress:
1. Packability – lightweight, wrinkle resistant
2. Versatility – I don’t pack anything that I can’t wear more than once. A dress that can go from daytime touring to evenings out is perfect. A dress that’s convertible gets extra points!
3. Low Maintenance/Ease of Care – who has time for doing laundry on vacation? A sink wash and air dry are usually the most we do on vacation.
4. Quality – don’t be fooled by fast fashion. Invest in well made, classic items from ethical companies. Not only is this best for the planet, but it’ll save you money in the long run.
5. Comfort and Pleasure – (Probably the most important yet often forgotten criteria) Do I like how I feel in this dress? Do I enjoy wearing it?
Choose your color, a dress style you like, and fabric that travels well
Color. The foundation of the French woman’s style is the little black dress. It is simple yet classy and never goes out of fashion. When creating a French-inspired travel wardrobe, I start with a solid color dress – the base palette – and add color and patterns with other pieces and accessories. Parisian women may favor black as their base, but you should choose what’s best for you, and your skin tone. Navy blue, wine, or dark gray can be more flattering to women over 60. They certainly are for me.
You can choose a patterned dress if it works best for you, or add that fun dress as an extra if there's room in your luggage.
Style. Your choice will depend on your personal preference and your destination. Sleeveless dress are great for hot climates, and will work just as well in cold weather when you add layers! But some ladies prefer short sleeve dresses! And some love maxi dresses! (though maxis will take up more luggage space!) Go with what makes you comfortable!
Fabric. To earn its place in your bag the dress (and every item really!) has to be lightweight and easy to care for. This is where the fabric choice comes in. For example:
- Cotton is heavy, retains odors, and takes forever to dry.
- Linen is wonderful, but wrinkles can be frustrating.
- Synthetics are very lightweight, but can retain odors.
For ease of care and sustainability we recommend choosing natural fibers such as bamboo and wool for your travel clothing. Bamboo is quickly becoming a popular material for travel clothing. It’s sustainable and odor resistant. And then there’s merino wool – my favorite fabric for travel clothing (and for my at home wardrobe too!)
Merino wool has a natural warmth and resiliency not found in other textiles. Merino sheep, bred originally in Spain, have ultrafine wool which doesn’t provoke the itchy reaction some people experience with wool. AND it’s naturally odor resistant. That means you can wear a merino wool item over and over again, with only an overnight airing out!
I've been a convert to merino wool since I invested in merino sports socks for our cycling vacation. Seven days on the bike and only one wash needed! They were truly odor resistant, but also soft and comfortable even after hours of wear. We began purchasing quality merino wool tees in preparation for our Grand Canyon rafting trip and added a sweater for our second safari. With the switch to merino we saved over a pound in luggage weight from our first safari. This is a big deal when you're limited to 35 pounds including photo equipment!
Best Dresses for Travel: tested and recommended
– Rowena swing dress, price: $138 USD
- Packability: 11 oz., wrinkle resistant.
- Versatility: simple swing dress, but can be styled as a top or tunic
- Ease of Care: fabric is 78% ultrasoft merino wool and 22% nylon
- Quality: very well made
- Comfort and Pleasure: temperature regulating, very comfortable, and has pockets!
I discovered Wool&, a small Oregon company producing merino wool clothing, through a Facebook ad. To prove the durability and natural odor resistance of merino wool, the company challenged people to wear their dress for 100 days straight. (I can’t imagine they expected this challenge to be so popular or to inspire an online community of women sharing the ups and downs of daily life over 100 days! No doubt the kindest group on social media!) Needless to say, given my interest in merino wool clothing, I was intrigued.
I base my capsule wardrobe for travel on navy blue, so I opted for the Wool& signature item, the Rowena swing dress in marine blue. It’s a wonderful rich blue and I’m thrilled with the color. The dress has a boat neckline which is very flattering (and protective in the sunshine). As this is a swing dress, the body of the dress is loose and flowy, and the material is light and lends itself to dozens of styling tricks shared by the Facebook community.
For the first month of the challenge, I played with the dress. I shopped my closet, pulling out long neglected items to pair with the dress. It was fun being creative with a simple piece of clothing, and truly surprising to pull out the dress each morning to find it as fresh as the day it arrived!
Then I got serious and began testing the dress for travel. I limited myself to a small capsule and worked on different outfits for different travel scenarios. I wore the dress to my grandchild’s christening, and another granddaughter’s lacrosse game. I wore it during zoom meetings, neighborhood clean-ups, and even for bike rides. The Wool& Rowena came through every time.
I had two opportunities to travel during this time – once to NYC for a fun weekend, and once to Texas for a sad event. The dress became my nightgown in Texas and gave me comfort.
Ease of Care: I aired out the dress every night – flipped it inside out and hung it over a bar. I sink-washed the dress six times and washed it in the washer once just to test durability. (I did use a lingerie bag) Day 100 the dress looked as fresh as on day 1.
Wool& offers several other dress styles, including the Sierra, a sleeveless option that’s very popular with travelers, the Willow, a 3/4 sleeve swing dress with a v-neck, and several others.
Our favorite convertible option…
Price: $150 CAD
Packability: wrinkle resistant, but at 14.3 oz, not particularly lightweight
Versatility: converts to multiple styles
Ease of Care: Dress is made from 92% poly and 8% spandex, so not a natural fabric, but it dries quickly and resists wrinkles.
Quality: well made in Canada
Comfort and Pleasure: stylish and extremely comfortable!
I’ve been a customer of Diane Kroe Designs for many years. I love the versatility of the collection. The Origami is one of my favorites. I wear it as a top most often, but love having the option to wear it as a dress or skirt when traveling. This piece is great for older women travelers. The shape and drape are stylish and forgiving.
Tip: for maximum comfort (and modesty) consider wearing leggings or bike shorts under your dress. I love my merino wool Frankie Bike Shorts by Wool& – keeps me fresh and comfortable and has pockets!
Have we convinced you to pack a dress for your travel?
Some last thoughts. The right dress can be endlessly versatile. Wear it to a nice dinner? of course! but you can also wear it when you’re on a bus tour, for a hike in the mountains, and even sometimes as a workout tunic over exercise tights. (believe me. I’ve done it several times!)
What do you think? Will a dress fit into your travel wardrobe?
[Another option often offered in travel dresses is a reversible dress - pattern on one side and solid on the other. My hesitation here is that you’re actually buying a dress with two layers, so almost twice as heavy as a single layer dress.]