Fashionable travel clothing exists! Here’s how to find it.

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One of my greatest frustrations is when people equate travel clothing with unfashionable and ugly.  I’ve heard travel clothing called “jungle clothes” or “backpacker clothes”.  Some people insist that all travel clothing is ugly because the ones they’ve seen are ugly.  One travel fashion blogger even stated that “travel clothing was idiotically inappropriate in big cities like Auckland or Sydney.”  Really?  All clothes are ugly because the 15 pieces you’ve seen are ugly?.  Argh.  Here’s the irony – these people have probably seen others in travel clothes and didn’t know it.  Great travel clothing looks like regular clothing.  So how would others know if you were wearing travel clothing?  Please, let’s stop perpetuating old and trite stereotypes that travel clothing is ugly.  Many clothing manufacturers are making some really nice clothes.

Fashionable travel clothing exists.  Here’s how to find it.

With travel clothes it is all about the fabric.  True travel clothes have fabric that is light weight, wrinkle free, and quick drying.  The trick is to find this fabric in clothes that look cute and normal.  It is a bit of a treasure hunt.  It takes a lot of work but the result is worth it.  Here are some “clues” for your own personal hunt.

Look in the right places

I had a university friend complain to me that he couldn’t find any normal people to date.  He was using Craigslist to find women.  That explained a lot.  The same analogy applies to great clothing.  If you go into REI then you know what you’ll find?  You’ll find backpacking and mountaineering clothing. REI is a mountaineering store.  When REI advertises travel there is another word in front of it – “adventure”.  That’s a hint.  REI does carry some nice clothing but most of it is for heavy duty outdoors activities.  You’ll have to look at more places than REI if you want to look stylish.

Another mistake people make is to look at travel companies.  That seems reasonable on the surface.  The problem is that many of these companies focus on older clients.  Travel Smith and Magellan’s are clearly selling to the retirement crowd.  There’s nothing wrong with that but you’re unlikely to find the latest cuts or fashions within their selection.

The internet is your friend

Most stylish travel clothing is only available through the internet.  There are few brick and mortar stores that carry a wide choice of cute clothing (none, really).  You’ll have to set aside time to virtual shop.  Here’s how to search:

  • Go to the manufacturers websites.  I’ll look at the websites for REI, Backcountry, Packing Light, etc.  I’ll compile a list of clothing suppliers.  Then I’ll go over to the supplier website.  There are many more choices than the limited  selection found on the outdoor store websites.  A store may only carry 2-3 styles of pants but the manufacturer may have 20 different styles.  The supplier site usually has a greater choice of colors and extended sizes.  The newer experimental styles are almost always on the manufacturer website.
    Travel Shirts - the good, the bad, and the ugly
    Travel Shirts – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Guess which one REI does not carry.  That’s right – the pretty one.  You’ll have to go to the Ex Officio web site to find it.
  • Go to athletic company websites.  A lot of athletic companies have clothing that is quick-drying and rugged. Athleta, Title Nine, and Sahalie all have cute and stylish clothing you can move in.  Most of these clothes have a fitted athletic cut, something that is more common in “fashionable” clothing.   Golf and tennis stores are another place to look for cute clothing.  This is very brand dependent but if you look you’ll find some nice things.
    This is athletic gear
    This is athletic gear.  Yes, really!  The blue tops are tennis tops by Serena William’s Eleven brand.  The other two tops are by Athleta.  The merino hoody is by Athleta.  The merino dress is by Title Nine.  The slim-fit pants both have stretch in them for athletic activities. 
  • Go youthful.  Some travel clothing corporations have companies that focus on different age demographics.  Norm Thompson, Appleseeds, and Sahalie are all owned by the Blair corporation.  Norm Thompson is geared toward retirement travelers.  Sahalie tries to attract a younger crowd.
  • Read travel blogs.  Many times there are recommendations for companies or clothing you never knew about.  This is a great way to find out about new manufacturers.
  • Read the reviews.  I love negative reviews.  They usually tell me far more about the product than the positive ones.  Something that one person views as negative may actually be a positive for me.  Many reviews give information about how the product performs in day-to-day use.
  • Use keyword searches.  I’ll use search engines to find travel clothing.  I’ll enter travel product terms such as “light merino sweater” or “light knit dress”.  Don’t forget your good friends “stretch”, “easy care”, and “wrinkle resistant”.  I’ll find a lot of the smaller companies this way.  They may not make travel clothing, but they do make clothing that is great for travel.  E-commerce stores are another place to look for small suppliers.  This is how I found Woolovers merino sweaters.  Once I see something I like I’ll go over to the supplier website.  They usually have a larger selection than the store website.
    Not Ugly
    Not Ugly! Clockwise from left – wool blend skirt from PrAna, down bomber jacket from Athleta, merino tunic/dress from Athleta, polyester “flannel” shirt from Royal Robbins, polyester/nylon/spandex corduroy pants from Royal Robbins, hemp chambray shirt from Royal Robbins, merino Nordic print dress from Title Nine

Get the right cut and fit

Cut greatly affects how clothing looks on a person.  The term “relaxed fit” or “comfort fit” usually means baggy.  I look for indicators that the clothing cut works for women.  “Princess cut”, “fitted waist”, “slim fit” are usually indicators that the clothing design fits a woman’s body, not just hangs on it.  You should know that different companies have different cuts.  If something doesn’t fit your body then look at another manufacturer.  For example, Royal Robbins goes for a curvy fit where Prana has a modern fit.

Cut makes the difference
Cut makes the difference.  The ruching on the left shirt (Royal Robbins) flatters most figures and hides many figure flaws. The draping gives a bit of elegance while hiding stains. This t-shirt easily goes from trail to dinner table. The shirt on the right (Lole) has raglan sleeves which are unflattering for many figures – especially those with larger busts. The raglan sleeves are often associated with sporting attire.

Get the right features

There’s nothing that says “backpacker” faster than a pair of patch pockets.  How about those cargo pants?  Pockets are great and necessary but size and placement are important.  Look for the term “hidden pocket”.  A pocket at or near the waist is flattering to a women’s anatomy.  Bulges on the bust or hips are something to avoid.  This is a case where less is more.

Less is more
Less is more.  Only one of these travel pants are suitable for a museum or dinner in a nice restaurant. The cargo pockets on the Ex Officio pants make it look sloppy. The Royal Robbins pants have a very simple design but still have enough pockets for keys and a wallet.

Get it tailored

Tailoring takes a garment from OK to fabulous.  A dart here, a hemline change there, and now the garment looks great on you!  Tailoring gives you a put together look that is stylish.  Many people don’t realize that tailoring isn’t that expensive.  If you’ve spent all that money on your travel clothing don’t you want it to look great on you too?  Think of it as an investment in clothing you’ll use for years to come.  You don’t even need to get everything tailored.  Button down shirts and travel pants are the best candidates for tailoring.

Mix it up

Do you know how many of my capsule wardrobes are 100% travel clothing?  None.  Zero, nada, zip.  I mix my travel clothing with regular easy maintenance clothing to get a stylish capsule. I carry what I call a capsule core of travel clothing (more on that in a later post) and add in other cute pieces.  The combination of travel clothing and easy maintenance clothing is what gives the capsule its true power.

Think for yourself

It’s great to take recommendations for clothing but in the end you are responsible for what you buy and wear.  Anonymous postings on backpacker sites have no weight at all.  Does that person have 3 months experience 10 times over, or have they gone into the deepest most inaccessible parts of the world?  You don’t know.  If someone advocates for or against a clothing item you need to find out why they feel that way.  Each person carries biases that colors their thinking.  Evaluate their recommendation against your own personal needs and your own research.  Are their assumptions correct?  Is what they are saying always true?  You are responsible for your clothing choices.  If you travel with clothing you hate then the fault is with your judgment, not the clothing.  Pick the clothing that works for your own needs.

Please spread the word!

Would you do me a favor?  The next time you hear someone state that travel clothing is unfashionable, gently correct them.  They’re probably a traveler with limited experience and will be happy to hear that there are nice choices out there.

Want more info?  Snarky Nomad has a great post on this same subject but for men’s clothing.