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By request, today I’m thinking about how to get the most out of your clothing choices when you have to pack for both work and fun.

When on a business trip, most people pack separate bags for their business attire and their play time clothes. In my line of work, I don’t have that luxury. I have only one bag for months at a time. My work day lasts from 7am until 11pm on most days, so free time is scattered throughout my day. I’m also a comfort fiend. At my house, my kids are so used to soft, comfortable clothes that they refuse to wear jeans or anything stiff and restrictive, so shopping for a soft, comfy yet presentable set of clothes is a normal mission for me.

The way I begin thinking about what clothes to pack is by setting up standards. My guidelines are material, color, fit and comfort level.

First, I try to pack natural materials like cotton, silk or linen. These tend to be the most breathable and comfortable to wear. Synthetic materials tend to get hot, itchy and smelly. I avoid polyester for sure. You may be concerned that these types of clothes will be too wrinkled to bring. I’ll be posting later about how to solve that problem with an easy folding technique.

Then color. Black. Lots of black. I’m a little on the sloppy side when I eat, so wearing black makes my clothes last longer since you can’t see my drips as easily. Black is always presentable and never goes out of style. Black goes with everything, even black…assuming the dye of your clothes isn’t faded. So I usually bring basic things in black- pants, shoes, jacket, cardigan, long sleeved top, tank top. Then I’ll bring some things with vibrant color to go with the black, like a red silk blouse or patterned skirt. In the summer, I’ll mix basic pieces in black with some neutral colors like beige or gray. So choose mostly neutral colors and then wear one item a day with a bright color or pattern.

Fit is my next criteria. Baggy clothes are common here in the U.S. but Europeans tend to wear more fitted clothes. My suspicion is that this is why we think they are so well dressed. Fitted things just look nicer on every body. Think about what is in your closet right now. Do you even own anything that is cut to match your body shape? Or is everything a little baggy and billowy? Take jeans, for example. Jeans can look like sloppy work clothes if they are too big, but a nice pair of fitted jeans in a dark dye can be attractive enough to wear to the opera. But that doesn’t mean they have to be uncomfortable. I always buy pants with a bit of spandex in them, just in case I eat all six courses at an Italian feast. It’s been known to happen…..

Comfort index is next for me. Put on the things you are thinking of bringing. Can you really move in them? Is there anything scratchy? I find that brand-new clothes are not the ideal choice. Bring things you know you like, things that make you feel good.The final question is, can it be dressed up? Most neutral things can. Bringing strategic accessories can liven up any outfit. See how nicely a hat can liven things up? 😉

For men, a decent suit coat can dress up anything for instant respectability, and these days it is stylish to wear a suit coat with almost anything- with jeans, chinos, over a sweater or polo shirt. Younger guys can even get away with a suit coat over a t-shirt with a pair of sneakers and it looks pretty cool. My son has mastered that look.

Women have tons of options for looking dressy in comfort clothes. Interesting jewelry or a scarf can make even a plain sweater and jeans look dressy. European women are masters of the accessorization of simple clothes. As an example, a staple look for me is black jeans with a colorful silk top and a soft cardigan with some interesting jewelry.

I’m also a fanatical dress wearer. I think modern American women just don’t wear dresses and they don’t know what they are missing! I bring at least two in my bag. A black knit dress is more comfy than pajamas and can look fancy with a scarf and sandals. Even the most simple dress with a cardigan looks office appropriate, but is great for sightseeing too, especially if it has pockets. If you are going somewhere cold, leggings under a dress and black boots work well. If you are going somewhere hot, dresses are the only way to go. Two words- natural air-conditioning. Skirts are nice too. Many high-end athletic stores like Athleta sell sport skirts that are nice enough for work but meant for play.

Pretty much all of my outfits are going to be that mix of dressy and casual. I’ll be breaking it down into tops, bottoms and accessories later this week.

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.

One Comment

  • Amen on the dresses! I wear almost exclusively dresses in the summer in Roma and packing them for travel is a breeze! I am never without an LBD from Travelsmith, winter or summer. I can wear one to go to a market in Bolzano on a hot summer day or out to dinner in Paris on my wedding anniversary, appropriately accessorized, of course!

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