Social media is filled with travel photos of gorgeous young women in flowing gowns that coordinate 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! 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 recommend using 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. It’ll take you from a morning walk to afternoon tea. 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 a frequent traveler, I have created two basic capsule travel wardrobes, one for cold weather and one for warm. As I plan my trip, I adjust these capsules. I try to stick to a 10-piece wardrobe for my trips, but may add or subtract as the circumstances dictate. To make things simpler I use a phone app for my packing lists with the capsule wardrobe items as basics for every trip. 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.
In theory the capsule wardrobe is all you need for a 2 week trip. In practice the capsule wardrobe is often the base wardrobe for the trip, with extra pieces added as space allows.
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. Let’s set an example of sustainable living by using what we have, before buying something new! Look 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. Just splurged on a quality merino wool top from Wool&, the Stevie 3/4 sleeve top. I’m thrilled with it – flattering and super comfortable. I know it’ll make it in my every packing list!
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.
[Optional] 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.
Add 2 tops/blouses in complementary color: Choose silky sleeveless tops and you can pack three!
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 genetics, most women in their fifties and sixties will want a bit more coverage in their over 50 capsule 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! 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 renowned style of the French woman. She might wear a simple neutral outfit every day (often black) but will liven it up with accessories! A silky blouse, a colorful scarf, or a bright skirt – lightweight pieces that add some spice to your outfits. Some women will design their whole capsule wardrobe around the colors of their favorite scarf.
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.
Review and visualize your capsule wardrobe
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. Remember, your goal is to create mix and match outfits for travel. (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 of extra room to add another 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 must admit I often take three – sneakers or hiking 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
Shop your closet first! Set an example of sustainable travel by using what you have before buying something new. The fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to global carbon emissions. Commit to reducing your ‘fast fashion’ consumption. Wear what you have and, when new is necessary, invest in well made, timeless designs.
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! Bonus points for it’s being a sustainable fabric!)
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:
Brands offering quality travel clothing for women over 50
Athleta carries affordable pants that work for travel days, and evenings out. Well tailored, the black Venice pintuck pants, are always on my list.
Encircled in Canada has a line of ‘dressy casuals’ which are ideal for travel. I love the dressy sweatpants. They’re slouchy and soft, great for travel days, but look refined enough for an evening out with a jacket or pretty scarf. Encircled has committed to sustainability and is making many of its classic pieces in bamboo and merino wool.
Coolibar specializes in sun-protective clothing. This is so important as travelers are out in the sun so much and often forget to reapply sunscreen! I’ve added several of these pieces to my travel wardrobe. My favorite is the Amara button-down shirt which resists wrinkles and lets me channel my inner “coastal grandmother.” Ha!
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 capsule wardrobe.
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 silk tops and the luxe merino stretch line would seem to be perfect travel solutions. (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, Smartwool, 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 over 50 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!
For more suggestions read Traveling Clothing for Women, Easy to Pack Favorites
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scarves by Hermes, scarf in featured photo by Klaradar
30 thoughts on “Women Over 50: Your Best Guide to a Capsule Travel Wardrobe”
There is virtually nowhere you can’t go in a white blouse and black pants. Dressed up or down, having these two items that fit well are indispensable.
Yes! But I make sure to pack two white blouses as I’ll inevitably spill something the first day! 🙂
I own the Edie Bauer wrinkle free shirt, I’ll leave it home and pack my llbean pinpoint wrinkle free shirt instead , because it is really really wrinkle free.
Thanks for the tip! I haven’t tried the LL Bean pinpoint wrinkle free, but will now!
This is an EXCELLENT article! As a full-time International Petsitter, you would think I would have the packing thing down to a science, but I SO do not. This will help me immensely! Thank you!
Most of my wardrobe for years has come from Eileen Fisher. Her tunic tops and crepe or ponte pants (black) are perfect for travel. And they come in all sizes now.
I’ve heard great things about that line, but haven’t tried it. Thanks for the suggestion!
Lovely informative article!
Loved your information. I find it so hard to pack for long trips. The younger gals make it all look so easy.
Thanks, Dana! I can’t imagine how many clothes the younger girls bring to create such instagramable images!
Over the years I have managed to create a coordinated set of clothes that come with me when I travel. But I must admit because I wear many of these just when travelling they don’t wear out. So I feel like I am always looking the same in my travel photos! Good idea to think about one for hot and cold temps. My biggest challenge too is shoes.
Ha! But I bet you’re likely the only one who notices the repeated outfits!
Lindsay phillips shoes……her tag line is change your style not your sole, I have several pairs, Switch flops with changable straps for the day, heels with changable button decorations for meals and evenings, 2 pairs……endless possibilities, a travellers dream
Due to ongoing foot problems,I have chosen vionic flip flops. Choose plain ones for everyday and sparkly ones for dinner.
Thanks. What capsule app do you use?
I use Stylebook mostly. I used to use Cladwell. Do you have an app you recommend?
I love the short sleeved blouse you picture below your heading, “What is a capsule wardrobe and why recommend using one for travel?” Where can I find that or something similar? Been struggling to find blouses that serve many purposes like that one would, that are not cheaply made and that travel well. Help!
One of the fashion tips my husband and I brought home from Europe is their use of scarves in the winter. They are beautiful, warm and functional. Great ideas for travel clothes.
Shoes I have found that are comfortable and I can wear to dinner, Naot- Kayla or Hero
Thanks Leslie, I haven’t tried Naot shoes. Will have to look for them.
I have a pair of sparkly Fit Flop sandals that are extremely comfortable and take me easily to dress up at night. I’m about to embark on a long multi seasonal trip and hope to be able to pack in a smaller suitcase for ease getting on and off trains. Being plus size is a challenge because it takes up more space. Thanks for your ideas.
I’m only 33 but I’m also baffled by how these ladies pack all these long flowy dresses to hikes (some even rent them!). I love clothes and fashion, but I too prefer being practical. There’s a middle ground. Thanks for sharing these tips!
Starting to build my wardrobe now for a 2-week trip to Europe in early spring. My biggest challenges are being prepared for rain/cooler weather and being able to stick with carry-on luggage only. I have some wrinkle-free basics (tops and bottoms) which supposedly will wash easily (we’ll be in AirBnBs with washers but no dryers). I am sensitive to fabrics so Merino wool is not an option for me. I have a lightweight packable down jacket and recently invested in some waterproof trainers, plus I am planning to bring a pair of flat boots. Thank you for your tips, the scarf-for-a-pop-of-color idea is a game-changer!
Sounds great Neysa! Consider a technical fabric base layer to help with the cooler weather. Packs light but will keep you cozy.
may I ask where do you purchase the dress at the top of your first picture with the scarf around the neck. I have been looking for one of theses but not having much luck.
Love this article as most seem always to skinny models, which i am not!!!!!
Hi Carol, that dress is an old favorite of mine, from Travelsmith. It’s no longer available but you might find similar dresses at Lands End, Chicos, or Wool&.
Thanks for your kind words!
Thank you so much for this post. It is great to see the pieces all work together.
Re sandals, I have a pair of rose pink Merrel sandals that are great to walk around in all day, and are lovely worn with a sun dress. These are my day/evening shoes for a hot tropical destination. https://www.merrellaustralia.com.au/products/sandspur-rose-convert-marron
Ooh! I love those. I have similar in black but I love the subtle pink. Thanks for sharing!
We are going on the Viking Grand European cruise this fall. I am trying to put together the Capsule wardrobe & I love your suggestions. I know the white/black stripe long sleeve Tee is popular & I love it. I just can’t seem to find one I love. Any suggestions?
That will be a wonderful cruise!!
The stripe shirt is a classic and perfect for Europe. But as you’ve found, sometimes it’s hard to find one that suits you. I recently purchased one from Yala made of bamboo. Haven’t travel tested it yet but plan on taking it to Peru next month. Let me know if you find one you love!