How to Create Your Vacation Capsule Wardrobe

Model with Beis pink luggage.


Is it just me, or is half the fun of going on vacation planning the outfits you're going to wear on vacation? In this digital age of Instagram-optimized Airbnbs and moment-by-moment social sharing, the internalized pressure to make sure every look is a lewk while traveling can be real. I’m not an influencer—just a normie who loves fashion—but I know I'm not alone in curating my outfits to match my surroundings when planning a trip, even buying new pieces to debut against the backdrop of an exotic locale. I’m also guilty of wearing the same one or two outfits on repeat because none of the lewks I packed seem appealing once I’ve arrived.

I’m currently on a nomadic journey across the U.S., which has forced me to quickly get clear on my packing strategy. While my lifestyle entails more driving and working from (temporary) home than swanning around in resortwear, I still want to feel put together and like myself while traveling, which has led me to dabble in creating mini capsules for each leg of my trip. As a stylist, I’ve found that much of the advice I give to my clients on big-picture wardrobe planning can be translated into a useful packing strategy. Below, my best tips from life on the road.

Get Inspired

I have my personal styling clients spend time finding muses before building their own wardrobes, and I recommend the same strategy here. Create a mood board for your trip—Pinterest is great for this—and craft an archetype for the vibe you want to channel. Are you a ‘60s film star roaming the Italian countryside on a moped? A retired disco queen dazzling in caftans at the cruise ship buffet? What do the colors look like—are they bright and saturated, or faded and dreamy? What are the key sites or locations you envision yourself against? You don’t have to orient every outfit around this vision, but having an overall vibe you want to channel will help you stay focused when picking pieces and get closer to living out your fantasy IRL. Plus, it’s a fun way to get yourself psyched for your trip.

Commit to a Color Palette

When packing, it’s tempting to think only in terms of individual outfits. And hey, if you have unlimited luggage space, be my guest! But for most of us, that can quickly spiral into overpacking, especially once you factor in shoes and accessories to match. That’s why I’m a firm believer in color-coding for any trip under two weeks. Pick three colors—let’s say two neutrals and an accent color—and only pack items in that color family, plus all black or all brown bags, shoes, and belts. Yes, you might have to leave out some favorites—but remember, you can always wear them at home! Your mental and physical load will be lighter with less to choose from when trying to get out the hotel door in the morning, and you’ll leave yourself room to mix and match according to your mood. You might even end up inspired to take a more minimalistic approach to your wardrobe at home.

Emma Aubry Roberts wearing an all-black outfit with black-and-white boots

Emma Aubry Roberts

Think Practical

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to peacock a bit while traveling. In fact, this trip might give you the chance to wear those riskier pieces that are lost on your daily grind. But if you spend your days in jeans and T-shirts, the likelihood that you’ll arrive on location and suddenly want to be dressed to the nines is slim. As they say: Wherever you go, there you are. Traveling inherently puts you out of your element in many ways, so it’s important to find a balance between familiar and new in your clothing. And of course, you’ll want to keep in mind local context like weather, planned activities, and cultural norms. I’d recommend filling two-thirds of your suitcase with outfits you’d wear in your daily life—if perhaps a more elevated, color-coded version of them—with the rest leaving room for your only-on-vacay fantasy. And of course, bring comfortable shoes.

Make It Your Own

Structure creates freedom, and my only intention in helping you narrow down your suitcase is giving you room to be present in the moment. Have a statement piece that makes your heart sing but doesn’t fit into your color palette? Bring it. Want to schedule a week’s worth of day and night looks in advance to fit your itinerary? Do it. Love that for you! The most important rule of packing is to please yourself—and of course, to leave room for on-location shopping.

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