You’re trying to dress for an important meeting, and your bed is full of clothes from your closet that you tried on and discarded. The dreaded “I have nothing to wear” is right around the corner, even though you have a wardrobe full of options.
We’ve all been there. But what about when you’re trying to pack for that professional trip? How do you narrow down the essentials, fit them in your suitcase, and keep them from wrinkling?
It’s the closet dilemma on a travel scale, but you can avoid it. Just add these business-professional clothing essentials to your suitcase, and you’ll be ready for anything!
Choosing outerwear strategically is a science. If you do it right, you can pack seven top/bottom items and have at least 12 complete and different outfits. This is extra helpful if you don’t plan on using your business hotel’s laundry service, and you’ll be gone more than a few days.
Start with picking four shirts in solid colors or with prints that are easy to match. Long sleeves are a smart idea if you’re going to be in the air conditioning or a cooler climate. For short sleeve shirts, bring a blazer or business jacket.
Next, pick two of your favorite versatile pants or skirts (as appropriate), and add a pair of jeans for the best variety. Solid bottoms pair well with patterned tops and vice versa. Jeans aren’t always a good choice for the business day, but they’ll be ideal for relaxing after work.
Whichever bottoms you choose, keep them professional. Skirts should stay right at or slightly below the knee. Trousers and jeans shouldn’t be too tight or have obvious rips or tears. Mixing three bottoms and four shirts gives you 12 different complete outfits.
One more thing, though: If you’ll be in an upscale restaurant or professional event, add a simple black dress and jacket (sticking with the knee-length rule above) or trousers and a polo shirt for a total of 9 clothing items.
Your preferences for underclothing are personal to you, but here’s a basic suggestion of what to bring.
Again, if you don’t plan on using the laundry services, pack a pair of underwear for every day, including your return home. Depending on your shoes, you’ll need a pair of socks for every loafer or sneaker day and optional nylons or tights for high heels.
Now, you’ll have about 12 items (not counting the extras for each new day).
Footwear is a headache for most business travelers. How can you fit a pair of shoes for every possible outfit and occasion in your suitcase?
Since you’re only bringing three pairs of bottoms, this becomes easier. Shoes should be matched with the whole outfit, but they mostly go with the pants or skirt.
If you’re wearing a skirt, heels pair well. Trousers can go with loafers, boat shoes, sandals, sneakers, or any other footwear, as long as it’s professional.
Bring three pairs of practical shoes, if possible. These can be rotated through your outfits. For small suitcases or tight spaces, consider wearing the heaviest or largest pair, which are usually sneakers or boots. Clean the shoes you want to pack and store them in a bag, heel to toe, in opposite directions.
When you have limited suitcase space, fold your underwear and socks up into balls and store them in the toes of each shoe before you put them in the bag. These three pieces bring you to a total of 15 different items to create your outfits from.
Some people will argue that accessories don’t count as “clothing.” Anyone interested in fashion will tell you that this isn’t true. An outfit isn’t complete until it’s accessorized, but we won’t count these in our total in case you see jewelry and extras as optional.
That said, if you accessorize, add your favorite minimalist jewelry to your suitcase. It shouldn’t be over-the-top and gaudy. Stick to elegant, simple pieces that go with most of your outfits.
Include a classic scarf and a blazer or jacket. Finish the look off with a laptop bag or large tote if you’re carrying electronics or files.
Consider bringing two purses if you carry them so that you can have one for business meetings and one for dressing up in the evening. If you pack one of the purses, you can put all your accessories and non-liquid toiletries in it to save space.
Going through your closet to find the perfect business outfit is often overwhelming. It’s easier when you’ve narrowed down the clothing essentials to what fits in your suitcase. These 15 pieces plus accessories will get you through any professional event on your trip.