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Presenting, the Ultimate Summer Travel Capsule Wardrobe for All Your Vacation Needs

Don’t forget to leave room for souvenirs

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In the past few years I’ve fallen into the bad habit of overpacking, whether it’s a three-day weekend getaway or a week-long excursion to the mountains. But for summer 2024 I am determined to be smarter about the way I pack, and that effort all begins with a summer travel capsule wardrobe. “Having a capsule wardrobe you can mix and match with abandon is really the secret to only ever using a carry-on,” shared my friend Shazia, who travels on average 12 weeks out of the year for work. “You’ve got to be able to make the most of every item in your suitcase—and no single-use pieces!” But what exactly does this magical mix-and-match summer capsule look like?

The specifics of any summer travel capsule wardrobe will change depending on where you’re going and what you plan to do there, but the basic idea remains the same: Only pack items that can all be paired with one another to create a range of outfits using as few pieces as possible. Those who’ve seen TikTok videos espousing the 333 packing method know all you really need is three tops, three bottoms and three pairs of shoes, and you’ll wind up with 21 looks. For a city excursion, this might mean packing three pairs of pants/shorts and a variety of comfortable walking shoes, whereas a tropical adventure might require dresses that can double as beach cover-ups and sandals that can go from day to night. Read on for all my best tips on how to build your ideal summer travel capsule wardrobe, and the ten items that can see you through just about any vacation you have planned this season.

The Top Summer Travel Capsule Wardrobe Items at a Glance

1

Walkable Sandals

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2

Chic Sneakers

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3

Shorts

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4

Lightweight Pants

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5

A Breezy Skirt

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How to Create a Summer Travel Capsule Wardrobe

Stick with One Color Palette

For a lot of folks, the easiest color palette is going to be neutral hues—black, white, beige, navy, forest green, etc.—but if you’re someone who really loves color, you can absolutely shake things up and add in some brighter pops. Just be sure that whatever colors you go with, that every piece can be worn with every other piece. This will ensure you can really maximize your outfit options.

Start with Shoes

Shoes are perhaps the most important part of a travel capsule wardrobe and are dictated by the types of activities you’ll be doing on your trip. In general, I find packing one cute sneaker and one walkable sandal is sufficient for summer vacations, but if you’re planning on exploring rocky beaches you’ll likely want to add a water shoe. Or, if you’re going out for a celebratory dinner you might want to add a pair of fun heels. Try to limit your footwear options as much as possible, then start building your outfits from the bottom up to match.

Then Bottoms

Your next most important category is bottoms. These should be simple and versatile, like jeans, linen pants or an easy midi skirt, so that you can dress them up or down with a variety of tops. You should be able to get through a week-long vacay with just three bottoms, so really try to limit these to basic essentials. 

Go Ham with Small Accessories

The easiest way to make a repeat outfit feel fresh? With the help of standout accessories. Jewelry, scarves, sunglasses and hair clips all take up minimal space so you can toss multiple options into your suitcase to play with. Pack a few different styles of earrings, a pair of colorful sunnies in addition to classic black or tortoiseshell, a floral neckerchief or a full arm stack of bangles to accessorize your capsule wardrobe for all sorts of occasions.

Embrace Versatility

Everything in your travel capsule wardrobe should be able to be worn with multiple other items in your suitcase. If you just bought a fabulous new top but it can really only be worn with black, high-waist jeans, it’s likely best to leave it at home this time around. Double check that all your top options can be worn with all, or at least most, of your bottom options and shoe options before you go packing them all into your carry-on to guarantee you’re making the most of your precious cargo space.

How to Travel with a Carry-On Only (Because It *Can* Be Done)


1. Walkable Sandals

Teva

Time to show off that pedicure with a pair of comfortable sandals you can wear all day long, whether you plan to explore a whole city or post-up poolside. Opt for a pair of sandals that feel nicer or dressier than basic flip-flops so you can style them up for a nice dinner too. And while black, brown or beige will likely be easier to pair with other items, I love the idea of using your shoes to add some color to your ‘fit with a bright yellow or bold red.

2. Chic Sneakers

Dr. Scholl’s

Comfortable sneakers are key to keeping your feet happy on a full day of city exploration, but rather than reach for your chunkiest walking shoes, I highly suggest investing in a pair of sleeker kicks with a fashion-forward twist. The Dr. Scholl’s Time Off sneakers pictured above have been going viral on TikTok for their supreme comfort and support, all without sacrificing style. And Wellness Director Sarah Stiefvater swears by the trendy Adidas Samba for travel all throughout the year. And don’t forget to pack some cushy socks to go with whatever kicks you choose.

3. Shorts

J.Crew

Some folks swear by their denim cut-offs, but I think linen or cotton shorts are a more versatile option that are every bit as comfortable. A simple silhouette in a neutral hue can be more easily dressed up for dinners or other events than denim, and khaki, linen and cotton twill are lighter weight and more breathable as an added bonus.

4. Lightweight Pants

Madewell

I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a trip and not packed jeans, but for summer I like to prioritize lighter weight materials to give my travel capsule wardrobe an elevated twist that’s just as comfortable as my beloved denim. Linen trousers are a fabulous option because the fabric is breathable, but the silhouette is undeniably polished. You can also try “made for travel” materials like this pair of Aday pants that can be tied in a variety of styles, won’t wrinkle and are made of a quick-drying fabric that’s also eco-friendly.

5. A Breezy Skirt

Boden

Swap the fitted miniskirts for something much more freeing, like this A-line linen number from Boden or a silky slip skirt. I find midi lengths to be the most versatile—they still allow for plenty of air flow around your legs during the day, and are easier to dress up for a fancy night out—but if you adore a mini just be sure to opt for silhouettes that will give you enough range of motion to feel comfortable all day long.

6. A Button-Up Shirt

Reformation

Opt for a shirt that has a looser fit for more versatility so that it can double as a lightweight jacket or cover-up. And be sure to choose a button-up made from lightweight, breathable materials (these are not your pressed work shirts) so you won’t feel stifled in the heat.

7. Tees and Tank Tops

Buck Mason

Tank tops, T-shirts and long-sleeve tees are staples I just can’t live without, no matter the destination. Be sure to choose options that can be layered under or over other pieces (like a tank dress or button-up shirt). I find the best options are made of natural fibers, but feel free to invest in whatever colors or even patterns you like best

8. A Silk Cami

Quince

Silk camisoles are my secret weapon when it comes to looking chic and staying cool in the summer. They instantly elevate the look of casual summer basics, like denim shorts or linen pants, and are far more posh than a cotton tank. Plus, silk is wonderfully breathable and won’t show sweat as easily as, say, a polyester or cotton blouse. Simply tuck it into some high-waist jeans or an equally breathable silk slip skirt, add some glam jewelry and you’ll be ready for a night out on the town.

9. Versatile Dresses

Tuckernuck

My friend Shazia told me she avoids packing any single-use items unless she has a specific event she’s packing for (like a destination wedding or concert), which for dresses means really paying attention to versatility. You’re going to want to stick with frocks that can be worn for day or night, like a black linen mini dress or a floral-print midi. They should work just as well with sandals as they do with sneakers. This is also where that arsenal of accessories can come into play to style your dress for any and all occasions.

10. A Convertible Handbag

Madewell

Handbags are my kryptonite when it comes to packing—I always want to have options but they take up so much space! So my new go-to travel bags are convertible handbags like the Madewell number pictured above. It comes with an adjustable strap that can be worn as a crossbody or a shoulder bag, and it also comes with a removable top handle for a cute nighttime look.

More Items to Consider

As mentioned above, the easiest way to shake up a repeat outfit is with bold accessories, like statement earrings, a bandana, colorful sunglasses or a fun hair clip, so feel free to add a myriad of extras to your suitcase. You may also want to add a warmer layer for after-dark activities or to wear on a plane. Opt for something easy and lightweight, like a denim jacket, oversize blazer or cashmere knit that pairs well with all your planned outfits. If your summer plans involve ample time at the beach or pool, look for a cover-up that can double as regular clothing to get even more use out of your capsule wardrobe.

PureWow’s Favorite Carry-On Luggage


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Editor

Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...

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