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More Style Than Stuff in That Carry-on Bag: the nutshell version

By iVillager akorelc/cl-akorelc (rev. Nov 2003)

packing list

9 easy pieces=31 combinations

(A) Coordinated monochromatic jacket
(B) skirt
(C) trousers
(D) 1 pair of jeans
(E) 1 easy-care solid shirt or blouse
(F) 1 lightweight cardigan or full button-front knit shirt (depending upon season and nature of trip)
(G) 1 large square scarf in complimentary print;
(H) 1 white T-shirt;
(I) 1 complimentary solid color T-shirt

The matrix:

Start with A+B.
Then add E (A+B+E).
Then switch (A+B+F), etc.
Start the next sequence, A+C.
The third sequence A+D.
The fourth sequence B+E.
The last sequence D+F.

These are 31 best combinations out of at least 33 possible. Can you find them?

This strategy was developed over 30 years of international and domestic travel and it hasn't failed me, yet. It has carried me through formal charity functions in New York, up to month-long business trips overseas and many family vacations. The following plan will accommodate everything from a business meeting to a night on the town.


Choose fabrics according to the climate you'll be traveling to. I prefer natural fabrics such as cotton and washable silk, wool and rayon blends. Drip-dry, especially if it dries quickly, is always best. No-iron fabric is a definite plus. Avoid anything that's prone to static cling. Some women look great in stretchable knits and there are wonderful coordinating pieces to be had. Personally, I appreciate anything that contains a bit of spandex for the added packability and "give." I find that traveling makes my body go a bit off its regular schedule and I'm prone to some bloating until I get normalized.


Depending on the nature and length of the trip, take one pair of walking shoes and one pair of low-heeled pumps. A pair of zories (some people call them flip-flops) make good shower and lounging shoes and are great for running down to the hotel shop for a postcard. Wear your walking shoes onto the plane. Who really wants to be flying down the ramp or racing to the next gate in heels? Besides, traveling makes your feet swell.


Navy, black or beige travel best in any season; the main three pieces of this wardrobe plan don't have to be a suit but could look like one if in balanced fabrics and tones. Use color in the scarf, the shirt and one of the T's to break up the monochromatics. Wear more color, if that's your preference. Brighter reds for warmer seasons and deeper reds for cooler can also be great basic colors to build upon.


Take only the jewelry you're wearing, and leave the crown jewels at home. Resist the temptation to wear heavy metal -- it sets off the security gates -- even in your belt and shoes -- or wrist dangles that can get caught up on things. Pearls always look chic. Younger women may opt for more contemporary designs than a classic strand. Just keep your jewelry simple.

Putting it all together:

To get the first-class look when you're sitting in coach, remember the rule: less is more. Simplicity is always the most elegant and classic. My personal standard in-flight uniform consists of a jacket or blazer over jeans and a white T-shirt, with the scarf tied loosely about the neck and a simple, short strand of pearls. This looks more chic than all the makeup and baubles in the world.

Ideally, the jacket and cardigan can be buttoned high enough to wear without a shirt or with just the scarf for modesty. That adds to the number of possible combinations.

My favorite traveling raincoat packs into its own pocket (check sites like for such items). This would not be counted in the nine basic pieces and can be stashed in your tote bag or the front pocket of your carry-on.

Out on the town:

Nothing looks more glamorous than a jacket over trousers and pearls. The only time I ever vary what I wear on the flight is when I have to go immediately to a meeting after landing. I'd swap the jeans for the trousers.

The small stuff:

Pack all your lingerie, sleepwear and toiletries in a hanging roll-up organizer to save time in the bath and space in your bag. Most hotels can supply hair dryers. A good haircut staves off the desperate need to carry a store of electrical gadgets that just take up space and weigh a ton. If you HAVE TO HAVE a curling iron, try one of those little portable butane ones (please see "What's in that Totebag" for information on banned and allowed items).

FYI: I've heard that carrying nail polish and bottled nail polish remover on a plane is no longer allowed because of an incident when a lady's bag leaked noxious odors that made other passengers ill. I've not been asked about that one, yet, when boarding a plane. Have your nails done before you go on your trip; clear polish is easy maintenance; carry a couple of disposable polish-remover packets and pack them plus your polish in a zippered plastic bag inside your organizer.

I use jumbo zippered freezer bags for packing the clothes and, later on, storing laundry. Squeeze the air out before sealing them for better space utilization. I also pack small sizes of any makeup and toiletries into zippered plastic bags for spill protection. Shoes can be stuffed with rolled items, like socks, and slipped into travel shoe bags then fitted around other packed items inside the carry-on bag. With heightened security and more scrutiny being given to the contents of carry-on luggage, clear packing bags are becoming more desirable because they allow the contents to be quickly viewed without rifling through them.

The secret to traveling light and hassle-free is careful planning with common sense. Spend your time enjoying your trip, not rearranging your suitcase!

What's next:

The next installment deals with what's in your tote bag and how to bring home the gifts.

A future installment will be on lightweight packing for men, based on traveling experiences with my darling groom.

Bon voyage!

© Alysia Korelc 2005 All Rights Reserved