Building a Professional Travel Wardrobe

Work Travel Essentials
Work Travel Essentials

If you've watched the show Tim Gunn's Guide to Style then you'll know that he believes that ten properly constructed pieces which fit properly will bring out your best features and form the core of any woman's wardrobe. The following is my shopping list for a dream travel wardrobe based on these 10 essential items. I went on Jcrew.com to create my list, but these pieces are standard classics that you can accumulate over time when things are on sale at a variety of places.

Things to keep in mind are choosing mostly neutral colors and accenting with accessories as well as making everything as layerable and mix-and-machable as possible. This means you can go longer with less items. I actually really like this list, enough that several of these items which I don't already own might be making their way to my closet very soon.

I also added two pairs of shoes, both quite small when packed. The flats can go with the jeans or the suit and slip on and off making them airport friendly. The kitten-heels are the perfect height to be fancy and dainty, but not kill your feet, which will probably be swollen anyway. These heels go with all the skirts and dresses I have chosen, but are perfectly sleek enough to wear with jeans.

1. Basic Black Dress - The basic black dress has been around for a long time. It is often called the "Little Black Dress", and it's true that shorter skirts on the basic black dress, when they hit you in the right place, can be more flattering than a long black dress.
-This black dress is elegent enough to wear to an awards dinner or out with an important client, but can also have a cardigan belted over it for a less formal occasion. "Elegant in crisp cotton cady with a subtle sheen. Sleeveless silhouette. Fitted bodice, slight A-line skirt with front and back pleats. Scoopneck at front and back. Inset waistband. Side-seam pockets. Back zip. Fully lined. Falls above knee; 21" from natural waist."

2. Trench Coat - The trench coat is one of the pieces that is both classic and currently a hot fashion item. Most any store sells this piece now. It is great for fall and you can pick it up in a wide range of lengths. "
-I actually have two of these, one designed for actual rain in black and a softer almost snuggly cotton one in beige. I like this one for its simplicity and classic fit. "Straight shape. Rounded collar with topstitching. Double-breasted. Long sleeves. Self-belt with adjustable closure. Vertical flap pockets. Back vent with functional tab closure. Back flange. Interior piping and welt pocket with contrast triangle. Fully lined. Falls to thigh."

3. Classic Dress Pants - Although it doesn't say black, this is probably what you want to look for. Black is flattering on all figures and goes with everything.
-I chose charcoal as it is a more forgiving color to travel with and a crepe wool which relaxes its wrinkles much faster. "This light, lovely wool crepe has a soft matte texture and a very fluid drape. In the office or out on the town, it's easy to wear and keeps wrinkles at bay. Zip fly. Slant pockets."

4. White Shirt - The white shirt is a definite classic. But it can also come in many different styles to make it look trendy and not dated or like a man's piece of clothing. Find one that accentuates your best attributes and minimizes trouble spots. For example, if you have wide shoulders, stay away from large collars.
-I interpreted this one to allow off-white as I find white gets pit stains too easily so white shirts don't stay in my travel wardrobe long. I like this shirt under a blazer with a suit or over jeans and unlike the standard button down its flowy shape makes it more forgiving after a big business dinner. "Sumptuous silk georgette with a carefully pleated ruffle neckline—perfect for layering or wearing alone. Classic fit at bust, with a flowy bodice. Standing collar. Pleating at center front."

5. Jeans - Everyone has a pair of jeans, but does everyone have a pair of jeans that make them look great? The wider leg, low-rise jean style has been popular (and still is) but a narrower leg is coming back along with a higher waist, which eliminates the unflattering "muffin top" look. -These were chosen specifically for your off hours as jeans still aren't universally accepted work wear. I did choose a dark wash so that they can be dressed up more easily. Pair these with the jacket and white shirt, or polo and trench, or polo with the sweater belted over it, or...you get the idea. "Square through the hips for a boyish slouch, with a straight leg. Japanese cotton denim. Sits lower on waist. Eased through hip and thigh, with an easy, straight leg. Belt loops. Button fly."

6. Cashmere Sweater - This is one item probably not many people own. But including it forces people to buy a piece of clothing that is high quality and that is also a luxury item. Having a cashmere sweater in your closet is like giving a gift to yourself. And aren't you worth it? "
-Cashmere when traveling isn't the most forgiving fabric so I chose a merino wool instead. The perfect finishing touch to any outfit—layer it on. "We love it ladylike and belted, or casual and comfortable over jeans and shorts. Merino wool in a 14-gauge knit. Enamel buttons. Fitted. V-neck. Rib trim at neck, cuffs and hem. Long sleeves."

7. Skirt - If you need dress pants then you also need a skirt. A skirt is womanly and can be flirty or businesslike. Nowadays women do not wear many skirts or dresses, which makes a lot of them fall into a rut of dressing sloppily or like men. See number 8.
-Modal is one of the best travel fabrics out there. I chose a shape which can be dressed up or down. "The perfect skirt for sunny stroll in a comfy cotton/ Modal® rayon/spandex blend. We love it just as much with strappy sandals as we do with sneakers. Swing skirt. Elastic at waist. Welt pockets. Hits above knee."

8. Day Dress - Women also are not wearing as many dresses anymore. It was certainly liberating to go from the '50s when women wore dresses every day to wearing more practical pants for gardening, exercising, and so forth. But the dress does not have to be abandoned altogether. They can be very flattering, and there is nothing wrong with "dressing up" for daytime.
-I almost never fly in a suit as its just a disastor waiting to happen and I know I'll need it on the other end of my travels. Even with a tight schedule I'll still probably favor throwing on a dress, leggings and pashmina and changing in the airport bathroom over flying in jeans or a suit. "We love this more refined, sophisticated jersey viscose so much we called it "dressy". We're wearing this dress all season long, from the beach to brunch. Jersey viscose/spandex. Fitted bodice; fuller, flowy skirt. V-neck with ruched pleats at the center for a flattering silhouette. Short sleeves. Straight, flowy hem. Falls above knee; 21" from natural waist."

9. Blazer - The blazer sounds very masculine, but when you get the right one with a proper shape it is not. Women's blazers should follow the silhouette of a woman's body and accent the hourglass curve at her waist. It is also a perfect piece to put with the skirt or dress pants, and white shirt. Or make it casual with a pair of jeans.
-Again, wool crepe is wrinkle friendly.

10. Sweat Suit Alternative - As mentioned before, women wear fewer skirts and dresses these days. But some women have taken casual to the extreme and spend days on end in sweat suits. It is possible to be casual and comfortable without looking like a slob. Find a comfortable material (that's why this doesn't say jeans again – denim is not as comfortable as a nice soft cotton) that you would want to wear every day. It could be khakis, cords, a cotton dress, or much more.
-I thought about selecting khakis here, because really, who doesn't love a pair of khakis? But since I already have jeans in my theoretical travel wardrobe and would never carry both in my carry-on I chose this cute dress instead. It can be worn as a skirt or a dress making it truly travel friendly. Cotton/spandex. Strapless.

11. Bonus: One Indulgent Trendy Item
I went for a bag fancy enough to carry as a purse, big enough to be an overnight bag or a laptop bag and made of a nice leather.

(In the second season, the Jacket replaces the Blazer on Tim's list, and the Any Occasion Top replaces the Cashmere Sweater.)

12. Jacket: -"Flounced and feminine in midweight Scottish lambswool herringbone with soft ruffles and just a bit of swing. Ruffle at collar and down center front. Updated for fall with long sleeves. Patch pockets. Interior piping. Fully lined."

13. Any occasion top: Here I chose a Parisian polo with a longer placket so it can be layered. Layers are the key to comfort when traveling and this gives you more options. "Ooh-la-la: it's a flattering, fitted take on a classic, in lightweight cotton piqué with an extra-long placket. Rib trim at collar and cuffs. Short sleeves. Tennis tail (slightly longer in back). Hits at hip."

It all adds up to hefty chunk of change, but think of it as an investment. Also, I have equivalents to almost all of these pieces that I have accumulated over the last 7 years. I fly roughly 150k miles a year to a wide variety of events and know that having a good go-to set of travel clothes is invaluable. I shop with coupon codes which give me on average 25% off, so this can be done without spending a ton, you just have to collect and curate. For those of you who have read my other travel wardrobe posts and worry about my selections, this was written from the perspective of someone with access to hotel laundry if necessary, traveling with only carry-on bags for less than two weeks in the US. (So any OBOW readers still out there, yes I know that this isn't the most practical handwash list). If I was going international or for longer periods and needed to hand-wash then I would have different selections. There is no way I would lug a trench coat, a blazer and a jacket to Paris. Also, I would never bring all of these items on one trip. This would be my core wardrobe that I mix less quality, more transient items in with.

Please comment with any of your favorite pieces that I forgot, stores, coupon codes, or other wisdom.