Reader Request – Packing & Traveling

I received the following cry for help this past weekend:

I’m flying to Kentucky in several weeks for graduate school interviews, then Maryland, and then Florida. Memphis is a maybe. Sooo my issue is a few pieces to swap around to create several interview outfits, in addition to more casual attire for a dinner at a prof’s house. I want to look professional but still bring some fashion into it, if not quirk. I personally am wondering if a plain white t-shirt could be placed under a suit and then a turquoise necklace added to keep it youthful and interesting.  On that note, I need ideas for what to wear under a suit jacket, and how (if possible) to avoid wearing pants to every interview. What color tights are acceptable, and what kind of shoes?? And for a coat, what do I do then? It’s winter in some of these places, and Kentucky said the weather is super unpredictable so bring rain stuff.

This is a phenomenal question and one that is relevant to a lot of people. Whether you’re traveling for work, interviews or even a wedding, if there’s business or formal attire required it can be hard to decide how much clothing to pack. If you read my Wanderlust post you’ll know that I’m a big fan of interchangeable pieces and mixing & matching articles of clothing so that you can take a smaller bag. That’s especially relevant in this case since the reader will be on the road for nearly a month – who wants to carry multiple heavy bags around for that long?

The key here is going to be separates and layering, that way you can add to the outfit or take pieces off without losing the professional feel of the look. Since she’s going to be attending graduate school interviews the foundation of her suitcase needs to be a suit. Or two. I recommended that she buy two suits – a pants suit and a skirt suit. (I sent her three emails covering clothes, packing and accessories. Including pictures and links. Overkill?)


For the pants suit you want something simple but of nice quality so that you can mix it up for different occasions – pants with a button down & no jacket, full suit with a t-shirt or just the jacket over jeans w/ a striped t-shirt.

(L) AK Anne Klein 3-Button Pant Suit - $99 (sale price), (C) Who*s Who - $225 (sale price) @ & (R) Tahari by ASL Suit - $105 (sale price) @ Macy's

For a skirt suit you can go with a standard pencil skirt or amp up the youthful aspect and try a tulip or trumpet silhouette (personally I’d go with a non-pencil skirt and use a sheath dress to double as a pencil skirt). Black, grey and black & white are all good choices, but try to remember that you want to be able to deconstruct the suit to pair with other pieces in your suitcase.

(L) Anne Klein Belted Skirt Suit - $140 (sale price), (C) Nine West Belted Flared Suit - $240 @ Macy's & (R) AK Anne Klein Speckled Skirt Suit - $100 (sale price)

And while my office is business casual and suits aren’t required, I frequently add a blazer to my outfit for a pseudo-suit, which is another type of look that you can try in lieu of a suit.

For cocktail parties, receptions, dinners etc a Little Black Dress is a bit too informal so I would go with a sheath dress paired with a blazer that can be taken off. This can easily be spiced up with heels & funky jewelry to keep it fun and young, but remains professional.

(L) Black & White Ponte Colorblock Sheath Dress - $60 @ New York & Company, (C) Fluid Travel Knit Sheath - $100 @ Coldwater Creek & (R) Calvin Klein Ponte Colorblock Sheath Dress - $100

In addition to a sheath I would recommend a multi-purpose long-sleeved black dress. Cocktail length is fine. You can wear it with one of the suit jackets or as an alternative to a suit during the day or with tights and heels to an evening event.

(L) Lauren by Ralph Lauren Dress Long Sleeve Knot Dress - $135 @ Bloomingdale's, (C) Lauren by Ralph Lauren Long Sleeve Boatneck Sheath - $100 (sale price) @ Macy's & (R) 3/4 Sleeve Sheath Dress - $130 @ Ann Taylor

All the tops need to be multi-purpose – they can be worn under either suit, with a skirt or pants, or with jeans and a blazer. You can even wear a shirt under the sheath dress or the sweater over the top of it. 
(1) A white button down is a must. Be sure that the material is thick enough that it’s not transparent (see Real Girls Need Real Closets for more tips on buying the perfect button down).

Top Left: Tommy Hilfiger Military Button Down - $80 @ Macy's, Center: J.Crew's Perfect shirt with french cuffs - $80, Top Right: Ann Taylor Perfect Long Sleeve Shirt - $70, Bottom Left: Canna Tie Blouse - $75 @ Piperlime & Bottom Right: Tie Neck Button Down Shirt - $40 @ LOFT

(2) 2-3 Nice, well made shirts. Short or long-sleeved, black, white & striped are all good choices.

Top Left: Knitted Tape T-Shirt Jumper - $70 @ TopShop, Center: Women's Striped Boat-Neck Top - $15 @ Old Navy, Top Right: Classic Long Sleeved T - $80 @ Alexander Wang, Bottom Left: Pia Ponte Knit Tee - $50 @ Banana Republic & Bottom Right: Boatneck Long Sleeve Tee - $35 @ Ann Taylor

(3) At least one long-sleeved black sweater – My first stop for sweaters is usually Zara, I have a longer torso and theirs are a good fit. My second stop is usually Banana Republic, though their blacks tend to fade if you over-wash. You’re going to be using this for layering so don’t worry about thickness, just find a good material that wont wrinkle too much in the suitcase.

Top Left: Pullover v-neck - $50 @ Banana Republic, Center: Long Sleeve Boatneck Tunic - $40 @ Ann Taylor, Top Right: Long-sleeve scoop neck sweater - $20 (sale price) @ GAP, Bottom Left: Tommy Hilfiger Jenny Long Sleeve Sweater - $40 @ Macy's & Bottom Right: Knit Sweater - $35 @ Mango

  • Bottoms: A pair of black pants and a pair of nice, dark wash jeans – no holes!
  • Outerwear: Either a black or tan trench coat or a black coat (cashmere, wool – whatever), something that will cover you backside and is big enough to layer over a sweater.
  • Travel clothes: I recommend choosing a comfortable, non-wrinkly outfit that you can use for all your traveling. I usually pack black pants with a long-sleeved shirt, boyfriend cardigan, scarf and flats.


You can really let your personality shine through with how you choose to accessorize your outfits, I would pack lots of accessories and add them to each look to give it a bit of punch, but you need to keep in mind your audience and not go overboard.

“Before leaving the house, a lady should stop, look in the mirror, and remove one piece of jewelry.” – Coco
Bring some basics like pumps and a large carryall, but you’ll want to spice things up with some additional pieces.
Jewelry: You’ll want to pack a couple of statement necklaces to wear with the more traditional pieces. A dramatic collar and a great pendant necklaces are both good ideas.

Top Left: c.A.K.e. by Ali Khan Champagne Beaded Collar - $85 @ Macy's, Center: Anna & Ava Multi-Row Pearl Necklace - $60 @ Dillard's, Top Right: Juicy Couture Pave Chain Link Starter Necklace - $70 @ Lord & Taylor, Bottom Left: Spike Spray Collar - $25 @ TopShop & Bottom Right: Oval Stone Collar - $30 @ TopShop

I would also bring thick bangles or cuff bracelets (make sure they don’t make a ton of noise – that’s a no no) and some smaller ones of layering. Also – at least one cocktail ring, something fun.
Scarves: In addition to a basic black scarf/pashmina, you could add a patterned or bright jewel toned scarf to a look to make it more interesting. Or you can even try faux fur.
Tights: Unfortunately extremely bright tights are hard to pull off in these types of situations, but Swiss dot or a subtle pattern would be perfect with either the sheath dress or the skirt suit. I would also pack solid black and navy or grey, depending on the colors you end up with for your suits and dresses.
Shoes: Black pumps and a pair of ballet flats are the basics that you should start with. I would recommend keeping any heels at a lower level in case you’re asked to walk a lot or given extended tours. A pair of black or patent leather booties or flat ankle boots would be very versatile as well.
Extras: I would also pack an umbrella, a hat if you’d like (not a beanie probably – maybe a bucket hat or those cute 20’s style hats), gloves, a black clutch for an evening event and a small fold-up tote in case you need to carry something extra (I also bring one of my fold-up Longchamp bags when I travel).
Packing Overview:
Pants suit
Skirt suit
White button down
2-3 long & short-sleeved shirts
1-2 long-sleeved sweaters
Sheath dress
Long sleeved black dress
Dark wash “nice” jeans
Black pants
Ballet Flats
Need some inspiration? Harper’s BazaarInStyle, Marie Claire and Elle talk suits, business attire and interview style.
Good luck travelors!


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