fashion, fashionable clothing, fashionable travel, REI, stereotypes, travel clothing, ugly travel clothing
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Lynne in NC said:
Great posting and timely for our upcoming travels. Thank you!
rhonda bovine said:
Hmmm, I am thinking you may want to update your Magellan comment on this post as their website is down and I think they have been sold. Maybe to a company that will target a younger audience, possibly? Maybe all those retirees didn’t like their products either!
Cindy Heazlit said:
The website says that they’ll be back. I’ll take them at their word for now.
I agree with most of what you posted…two things however…I find patterned shirts hide stains well and as a pear shaped woman of a certain age I do prefer the cut of the pants on the left and never wear narrow legged pants or horror of horrors…jeggings.
I never buy ‘travel’ clothes…I wear what I usually wear at home and if I can’t wear it during my day to day life it does not belong in my cupboard.
Cindy Heazlit said:
Actually there are several nice looking straight leg pants (Vs pencil pants) that still fit in the travel category.
Many “travel” clothes also work in day-to-day life if they are of good cut and color. My modal shirts and dresses are a normal part of my regular capsule wardrobe. It’s also true of my jackets, pants, and fleece. Then I’m only buying one set of clothing that works for regular life and travel.
That’s the point – travel clothes should look like regular clothes to the point that they are indistinguishable from each other. If you buy travel clothes as part of your regular capsule wardrobe then you merely need to shop your closet for the travel wardrobe.
Thanks for a very informative post!
Armed with your advice, I’ve begun creating a new capsule wardrobe for myself utilizing as much clothing from travel or athletic wear companies as I can, while still looking appropriate for my current business casual working environment. Why? Well first, I’ve lost weight (3 sizes) so all of my current clothes are falling off of me. Second, we are downsizing from a house into a small apartment and I will have limited closet space, so pieces must be able to go from work to leisure. And third, we plan on retiring to travel in an RV within the next year, and I need to plan ahead for the clothing that will serve me well for life on the road.
Clothes from these companies cost more than their counterparts, so I must be judicious in selecting (logo-free!) pieces that will be the most versatile. I’m starting with black pants, a black dress, several “wicking tees” & button-up shirts, and a wrap cardi from Columbia’s Anywhere & Global lines, and Hanes cool-dri Tees.
Cindy Heazlit said:
I think you’ll find laundry just became easier too. I recently revamped my wardrobe and found the Starting from Scratch series from the Vivienne Files to be extremely useful.
Yes, the clothing from these companies cost more. They also last for years and years of abuse, so they are worth it. Don’t forget places like Sierra Trading Post that sell the off season and close out items!
I just love the Vivienne Files, and funny you should mention it, but the Starting from Scratch is guiding my decisions (my palette is black + gray with shades of turquoise, violet & berry), plus I’m making sure my traveler wardrobe has a “whatever’s clean” 13 at the core. Thanks for your tips on where to shop!
I mostly shop at regular stores! I just go for merino wool and cashmere sweaters and cardis, linen tops, cotton + polyester blend shirts (no iron), microfiber panties, Calvin Klein triangle bras instead of sports bras for city trips etc. except for jackets and few pieces of athletic clothing (tanks, leggins) I do not own any proper travel gear and I am sure it it’s not necessary if you choose right items at regular stores!
Cindy Heazlit said:
I’ve found that normal low maintenance clothing works for domestic and city travel but specialty clothing is still the best option for ultra light travel. This is especially true in airlines with strict weight limits of 8 kg or less. It’s almost impossible to do ultra light travel without some specialty clothing.
I have now incorporated several travel clothing items into my regular clothes. I enjoy the Royal Robbins pencil pants and the work-to-workout bras from Title Nine.
Rev. Dianne Glave, United Methodist Church said:
I turned to this blog for traveling light clothing tips. My roommate when I went to the UK had a gigantor suitcase. Not I! Thank you.
Cindy Heazlit said:
Glad to help out! I hope that your roomie learns light travel too. You only enjoy the full advantage of light travel when everyone packs light. I’m still working on my family…
Many thanks for your wonderful blogsite that I came across. I realised I needed to change my approach when I didn’t wear half the clothes on my latest trip to Sydney.
My aim is to try and travel with just a carry on luggage bag for my next trip – that’s a big ask for me. Your examples of outfit combinations is hugely helpful in figuring out what to get.
Just some clothing retailers that people might be interested from New Zealand that have lighter weight travel clothing:
Kathmandu – was originally adventure travel clothing, now seems to be getting a lot more travel clothes that don’t look like you are going to hike up a mountain. I got the Mosida pants, a wide legged pant, weighs next to nothing. If you sign up for the Kathmandu club you get 20% off automatically and they have tremendous end of season sales (no one plays the tag price at Kathmandu).
Macpac – similar to Kathmandu, not so fashionable, but has lovely lightweight, casual clothing. Good sales too.
Icebreaker – awesome Merino clothing, some fashion items. I find the tops a bit short though as I’m quite tall.
Metalicus – australian brand of stretchy casual clothes, suitable for layering and travel. A bit pricey unless on sale.
Just thought I’d mention it as the NZD and AUD are quite low and if buying in the end of season sale there might be quite good buys for your travel kit.
Cindy Heazlit said:
I’m familiar with Icebreaker. There are so many wonderful brands from Down under. I’m a huge fan of Sea to Summit.
Thanks for a reminder that it’s end of season down there!
Great post! We travel 365 days a year and finding clothes that look great, are lightweight, and can hold up well while living in a suitcase is quite a challenge. Your post has given me some ideas where to turn next time I need to replace an item in my wardrobe.
quizquest (@quizquest) said:
Thank you for this whole blog! Fall trip to UK & Spain vie Pyrenees is really making me think. Wet/cold/windy to possibly snowy to hot and dry. You helped me find linen *knit* tops at Gap/BR that didn’t come up when I googled!
An additional suggestion: the Thinx brand “period” underwear…not just for periods. I don’t have the period problem anymore, despite being younger, but as you may imagine, they are magically absorbent and odor resistant. (OK, so maybe it’s science rather than magic!) But they’ll keep you dry if you sweat. (I generally use pantyliners, but sometimes you run out or are in a situation where you won’t be able to dispose of plastic, although that’s more adventure-travel-y). Also, they’re somewhat protective if you have an unfortunate episode of gastic distress…you aren’t as likely to be washing all your clothes out.
quizquest (@quizquest) said:
I just realized I should also give a shoutout to Betabrand. Their stock is limited, but they crowdfund clothing, primarily travel/commuter cycling that is stylish but comfort oriented. They also crowdsource ideas, so they are always coming up with cool innovations.
I’m so glad to find a Royal Robbins fan. Their clothes are the BEST. I love the Expedition Stretch shirts and wear them all the time, at home and while traveling.
You wrote: “a capsule core of travel clothing (more on that in a later post) and add in other cute pieces.”
That’s exactly what I do, too, and I was just reading reviews of travel clothing elsewhere on the internet and feeling annoyed by a lack of awareness of this very simple option. :)
Though I blog about many things, my most recent post ( https://wp.me/p44h81-4Lj) at ReallyWonderfulThings.me was a capsule wardrobe for summer in New Zealand. There’s plenty of emphasis on sun protection there, and fashion isn’t my MAIN thing, but I’m very likely to pair a travel skirt with an Hermès scarf on a city trip!
I think bottoms are where I most appreciate specialized travel garments. A lot of that is about secure pockets. I judge jackets based upon pockets, too. Shirts/sweaters? It’s either about fit or how nice it feels.