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If you will be traveling for work on a frequent basis, packing on Sunday night will be much easier if you have a business travel capsule wardrobe to pick from. A capsule wardrobe is a collection of a minimal amount of items to rotate between, made of items that are timeless staples which will not go out of style.
Building a professional capsule wardrobe to pick from while traveling will ensure your look is consistent, and ease the stress of planning your outfits for the week. You already have enough to deal with at the client – your clothes should not be adding any additional pressure to your mind. After three years as a road warrior, I have developed a capsule wardrobe that I can quickly pick from. I will update my closet with fresh colors, however my primary look has remained the same for over a year.
Building a Business Travel Capsule Wardrobe
A business professional capsule wardrobe will primarily be composed of staples. You can still incorporate fun items into your look, but the beauty of a capsule wardrobe is the simplicity. You do not need to think too hard about whether items match, because they should all coordinate. Because staples are minimalistic, you can re-wear pieces week to week without anyone noticing.
Professional Wardrobe Staples
For a complete business travel capsule wardrobe, I would recommend the following items:
- 10 Button-up Tops
- 5 Bottoms (Combination of pants and skirts)
- 3 Blazers
- 1 Wool Coat
The above wardrobe should give you more than enough outfit options, where you can build two week rotations.
Step 1: Start with the suits
If you are building a business professional wardrobe, you will need some suits in your closet. I recommend purchasing separates that are easy to mix and match. It is easiest to first purchase a blazer that you like, and then find multiple matching bottoms to go with it.
For every blazer that you purchase, you should have 2-3 coordinating bottoms. This means that if you purchase a black blazer, I would recommend at least 2-3 black bottoms. This may include a black pencil skirt, black skinny pants, and black boot cut pants.
The most professional suit will be black or navy. You should have at least one suit in these formal colors, for when you are giving presentations or need to speak to c-level executives. If you like the variety, for your 3 blazers I would recommend one in black, navy, and then gray. You may also consider a tan suit for the summer.
Step 2: Pick coordinating tops
Your blazers are chosen, your bottoms match, the next step in building your capsule wardrobe for work is to buy your tops. To make packing for work trips easier, invest in tops that can be dressed up or dressed down. My closet primarily consists of Express Portofinos, because these button-up tops can be worn under a suit or worn to team dinner. The convertible shirts can also roll up the sleeves for a business casual look as well.
To make packing and accessorizing your professional wardrobe the easiest, you will want to purchase tops in the same color family. If cool colors look good on you, all of your professional wardrobe tops may be shades of blues and purples. If pink is your favorite color, you can invest primarily in whites and blushes. While you do not need to limit yourself to a single color, having tops in a predictable range mean you do not need to worry as much about ensuring your shoes and accessories match. I know that my rose gold watch band will always coordinate with my pink blouses.
Your suits can last throughout the year, but I do like to switch out my tops depending on the season or color trends. As long as your suit is black or navy, you can wear a top in nearly any color and still look professional.
Example Business Travel Wardrobe
Now that you have built your professional capsule wardrobe, what does your packing list look like? If you are traveling Monday through Thursday, the above wardrobe recommendations will easily get you through two weeks. A business travel wardrobe may contain the following items:
Week 1 Wardrobe
For week one, I am going to select black suits with a cool, blue palette. Notice that the tops selected are all blue or neutral colors.
Week 2 Wardrobe
For week two, I am going to alternate between navy and black pieces. Notice that the tops selected are all pink, and red colors.
Selecting like-colors for the week will help you coordinate matching accessories, such as shoes or jewelry.
Where to Shop for Business Professional Clothes
As you develop your style and you move up the career ladder, you will gain access to higher quality clothes. Because your style is changing and you are figuring out what works for you, I would not recommend investing too much money into your wardrobe yet. As you build out your wardrobe over time and better understand what works for you and what doesn’t, then you can begin investing in those high quality pieces.
You can find quality blazers for under $100, pants and skirts for under $70, and tops for under $50, especially if you pay attention to sales and sign up for coupon mailing lists. The majority of my consulting wardrobe comes from the following stores; if you are using coupons, you can easily stay under those price limits.
H&M // H&M was where I bought my first business professional clothes, when I started interviewing in college. The pieces make a great price point when you are just beginning to build your business professional wardrobe and are collecting staples. Blazers from H&M cost $35-50, which is a steal compared to many stores. I also really like their dresses.
Express // Express is one of my favorite places to shop for business professional clothes. Over half of my business professional tops are Portofino Shirts, which are button-up long sleeve blouses that fit perfectly under a blazer. Sign up for the mailing list, and you will get coupons emailed and mailed to you throughout the year.
White House Black Market // WHBM is my holy grail for pants – the pants here fit me well and I do not need any additional tailoring, so WHBM is my #1 favorite place to shop for business professional clothes. My favorite jackets are the Essential Blazers and Long-line Blazers, and my favorite pants are the Body Comfort Side-Zip Pants. I frequently shop the sales section for my sizes that may turn up.
Macy’s // Many of my colleagues and friends shop at Macy’s for their business professional clothes. As a department store, Macy’s will have a wide variety of brands for you to try on and choose from. This can be a great place to purchase your business professional staples.
LOFT // I do not own many items from LOFT, but I hear many coworkers rave about LOFT’s clothing. Clothes from LOFT will be a great investment towards your business capsule wardrobe, and will last for many seasons to come.
In the photograph below, of my navy suit, my blazer is from White House Black Market and my pants are from Express.
Packing Your Business Travel Clothes
Our Ultimate Business Trip Packing List post goes into further detail on what to pack for a work trip, however in summary you will want to pack one extra outfit for the amount of days that you are traveling. For example, imagine I am going on a business trip Monday through Thursday. I would wear a suit with heels on the plane, for my business professional wardrobe I would pack:
- 4 Button-up Blouses
- 1 Blazer
- 2 Pants
- 1 Pair of Heels
If you are traveling for work on a weekly basis, then all of your belongings should fit into one carry-on. Typically, I would fit all of my clothes into one half of my carry-on, with the other half of my carry-on left for shoes and toiletries.
To stay organized, I recommend purchasing packing cubes for your suitcase. Packing cubes are a great way to save space, and packing cubes will help you keep your business professional clothes and your casual clothes separate. I also pack all undergarments in their own packing cube, to keep these items together.
Travel Capsule Accessories
Designing a business travel capsule wardrobe does not stop at the clothes. For the complete professional look, you will want to consider your accessories as well.
Business Travel Shoes
I exclusively wear heels to work; I love the look, and it gives me a confidence boost. The majority of my heels are from Payless, and have comfort plus padding inside which allows me to stand in these heels all day. I have these shoes in a variety of colors. When I am traveling for work, I will wear one pair and then bring a pair that coordinate with my wardrobe for the week. My favorite pairs are a navy pair and a burgundy pair, which I will rotate between throughout the week.
Jewelry While Traveling
I do not advise traveling with a lot of jewelry, because many pieces tend to be expensive and sentimental. Traveling with a lot of jewelry is risky, as it can easily get stolen or lost. I love jewelry and believe it adds a professional touch, so I will only travel with one jewelry set and wear the same pieces the entire week.
In my ears I keep small hoops, which I do not change out. I would recommend small studs or simple pearls, which would match any outfit. Additionally, I wear a pendant necklace from Kendra Scott everyday, wearing the same necklace throughout the week. Occasionally I wear bracelets, but at most I would bring one to wear throughout the week. Watches are a great professional touch, so I will wear my Apple Watch everyday with my outfits as well.
Handbags and Wallets for Travel
In addition to your work bag, you will typically also carry a small handbag or wallet. It is recommended that you get at minimum a professional-looking wallet for when you have to go out to team lunches or dinners. I love my Logan RFID Zip Around Clutch from Fossil, because it protects my credit cards in addition to holding my phone. This wallet fits easily into my backpack so I do not need to carry a separate purse.
Mixing It Up
The purpose of a business travel capsule wardrobe is to streamline your packing process: with a cohesive wardrobe, you do not have spend time planning your outfits the night before your work trip. However, don’t let your capsule wardrobe limit your creativity. If you have trendy tops or flowing skirts, you do not need to exclude your fun pieces from your business trips. Instead, use your capsule wardrobe as your base, and supplement unique pieces as necessary.
Overall, your new business travel capsule wardrobe will help make packing easier, and ensure you consistently look great while on the road. Have you ever tried building a travel capsule wardrobe? Let us know in our comments below.
Traveling for work? Also check out:
- What to Pack for a Business Conference
- 30 Jobs That Require Traveling for Work
- The Ultimate Business Trip Packing List
- How to Get Delayed Luggage Reimbursed
- Is TSA Precheck worth it?