Packing Light: Olympic Gold-Medal Layering

30th July 2012

I’m in New York about once a month lately for work and pie, so I thought I’d give you a peek into how I pack for variable weather, and a trip that encompasses both business and social elements. Because I like to pack everything into a single carryon and a laptop/camera bag, I tend to plan my outfits beforehand.

These are the quick snapshots I took for my last trip. They were taken for personal reference so I could just look back at my phone to remember how I wanted to mix and match everything. That’s why there are no fresh flowers and globe collections in the background. Still, I recognize that not everyone is this anal meticulous, but most people don’t loathe checking bags as much as I do either.

Packing Light New York: Sweater, Scarf, Skirt | Mighty Girl

Spring in New York is easy for me because it’s exactly how I dress in San Francisco. Two factors are at play: 1. I need to go from business in the day to drinks at night without stopping by home. 2. I need to prepare for a chill when I’m outside, and the heat of a crowded bar at night. And as I shed layers, I’d like to carry minimal crud around.

The outfit above is how I’d leave the house for a day of work.

Silk scarf, vintage
Cashmere sweater, vintage
Rock crystal necklace, gift
Navy mini, Zara
Gray tights
Royal blue flats, Target

Packing Light New Yorka: Sweater + Skirt | Mighty Girl

If it’s warmer than I expect, or if the sun comes out mid-morning, I can stuff the tights and scarf in my tote.

Packing Light New York: Tank + Skirt | Mighty Girl

And then, whuuuut? I find myself at bar in Greepoint that weirdly has steam heat and a surplus of cute guys. Voila. Orange tank is Mossimo brand from Target.

Packing Light New York: Culottes + Sweater | Mighty Girl

Same concept, different outfit.

Hand-knit cap, thrift (again, whoever gave this up is a monster)
Cashmere cardigan, L.L. Bean
Handmade safety pin, Etsy (no longer available)
Cotton skirt, purchased in Buenos Aires
Navy Tights, Target

Packing Light New York: Tank + Denim Skirt | Mighty Girl

Warm bar or restaurant, and the sweater goes in my purse or over my shoulders. Obviously, I can lose the tights and the hat too, but after 8 hours of hat-hair, and the probability that I haven’t shaved my legs? That’s a last resort. This yellow tank top is also Mossimo for Target, which makes the best long tank tops for tall girls.

Packing Light New York: Coat + Booties | Mighty Girl

It was supposed to rain while I was there, so I wore this warm wool coat on the plane. I can wear it belted or loose, and it works with all of the outfits pictured here.

Silk scarf, Hermes
80s Wool Coat, thrifted
Cashmere sweater vest, thrifted
Brass necklace, ALT Summit gift bag
Same navy skirt from Zara
Grey tights, Target
Elf booties, Vintage

Packing Light New York: Layered Tees + Skirt | Mighty Girl

Here are the bones of this outfit, and I can take it down even further by removing the sweater vest. Stripe shirt, H&M.

Packing Light New York: Coat + Pant | Mighty Girl

This is what I wore on the plane. It looks sort of hobo here, but I actually wore it with the belt.

Scarf, thrifted
White T, Zara
Black pants, Gap
Flats, Urban Outfitters

Packing Light New York: Layered Tees + Pant | Mighty Girl

Here’s how the outfit looks without the coat. The grey long-sleeve T-shirt is Gap Body, and it’s the best thing ever. I’m about to order it in every color because it’s so soft and layers so well. Cozy.

Packing Light New York: Tee + Skirt | Mighty Girl

Here’s the same Zara T-shirt without a layering , which I paired again with the unstoppable Zara skirt. In reality I ended up wearing it with the black pants for solo brunch with my favorite novel. The vintage-style half bra beneath is Anthropologie (pervert).

So those are my layering tricks. You’ll note that I dress almost entirely in color blocks, with print coming in as an accessory or base layering piece.

How do you make your wardrobe stretch when you’re traveling somewhere with temperature swings? I’m all ears.

17 thoughts on “Packing Light: Olympic Gold-Medal Layering

  1. Daniella

    Hey Maggie, you dress in a similar way to me (except for me being a size 14 Australian) and you have these fabulous thrift (we call it op-shop) finds. I love your colour inspirations too.

  2. jen

    i love you maggie mason. a woman after my own heart. i hate checking a bag. i often find that even with a carry on, i pack too much that doesn’t quite go together in the end and i’m left wanting. i have a two week trip to turkey coming up in september, i might have to put together outfits and take photos like this for reminders. the days are supposed to be warm (75-85) and the nights cool (55-60) so layering will be key. any thoughts on how to pack for long trips with only a carry on?

  3. Mrs. Kennedy

    I second the motion for Gap long-sleeved Ts. I had a coupon and bought another dozen Favorite Ts last week to replace the ones that had worn out/got too stained/etc. I buy them in Tall because 1. I’m tall, and 2. they tend to shrink up over time and I like to keep my belly covered if at all possible. V-necks are a nice option, too.

  4. A Little Coffee

    Awesome! The only other trick I would add to this is to pick a single neutral shade as the base for all your outfits and pick a couple of colours that work together as the coloured pieces, so that you can mix and match every single item you bring with every other item. (For example, don’t bring a black skirt and a brown pair of pants. Bring either both in black, or both in brown, so that you can wear them both with the same shoes/tops/accessories) If everything is working from the same base colours and same accent colours, then you will be able to bring just one or two pairs of shoes, one set of jewelry and a couple scarves, and they will work with everything.

  5. Frances

    Hi Maggie. I just finished reading your book and it was such a hoot. You are very funny and a great writer (but you should know that already;). Thanks for the insight and fresh ideas. I hope you have a great trip with lots of inspiration collecting opportunities;). I seriously have a winking problem. The first step is awareness, right?

  6. Megan

    I deeply appreciate the non-staged elements in this post. I have that garbage bag of stuff, too!

  7. Michelle

    I absolutely love all of these outfits, and the versatility of the layers is just the icing. Well done!

  8. alison

    I bought one of those safety pins a few years ago on Etsy! Then when I got it, I loved it so much that I bought 3 more. It might be my fault there aren’t any more.

  9. Shevon

    Maggie my dear, you are my inspiration! I went to Italy and France for two weeks last month, and I brought only a carry on full of sun dresses and underwear. You would have been proud! I bought these awesome flats that fold up by Desigual while in Florence, and they remind me of the little flats that you have for packing light!

  10. my honest answer

    Oooh, thanks for the tips! This should help me out packing for Camp Mighty – I’m combining Palm Springs and Chicago in one trip so packing is sure to be a challenge.

    A post about how you pack – roll? fold? bag? – would also be amazing if you have the time!

  11. theresa

    I went on vacay in January to Vietnam (80 degree days) and Japan (30 degree days). It was a packing nightmare, but I made it work with lots of light-weight, long-sleeve tops and slacks – I’m sun shy. I had a pair of jeans, some warm socks, and cashmere sweaters for the cold weather. I was lucky that I had access to laundry to refresh my options regularly.

    One of the things I’m mindful of when packing light but creatively is to vary my neckline, i.e. turtle neck, crew neck, button-down so that I feel like I have more clothing options among my limited pieces. Also, I love that scarves are super light and easy to pack, and yet add so much dimension to an outfit (you’ve already worn).

    Thanks for this What to Pack post, these are among my Mighty Girl faves!

  12. Aine

    Personally, I very carefully plan every outfit based on a completely imaginary version of the climate in my head, end up bringing too much stuff and panic buying a teeshirt or hoodie. And maybe an extra bag to bring said panic buy home. Works beautifully :-P

    I love these posts; someday I’ll get over my weather optimism/pessimism (it swings either way) and follow your wonderful advice!

  13. abby

    i work in a more formal company – jackets often required. when i travel to other offices, i bring 2 knee-length lined sateen cotton (summer) or wool crepe (winter) pencil skirts (J. Crew, BR, Nordstrom)–i have them in khaki, navy & white mini-stripes, black, grey and dark navy blue. then i bring as many tops (knit from Gap, H&M, Zara, etc.) as i need for the week and 2 3/4-length cardigans (J.Crew). i make sure they all match the same pair of patent leather flats, tights or footies and a dressier jacket. whatever i wear on the flight, i bring one more top of (usu Hanes white vnecks & Gap jeans) and that’s my casual wear for the week. in the winter i might add a scarf; in the summer just earrings & a necklace. it all fits on one side and then running clothes & shoes on the other. it’s not the most stylish, but it allows for conservative office wear and no checking.

    the only time i struggle to pack light is when i have to bring the down parka in the middle of winter as well as the outdoor running clothes.

  14. Maren

    Oh, Maggie, I went to a wedding in Minneapolis a few weekends ago and thought you would have been so proud of my carry-on luggage packing skills (that I forgot to buy 3oz bottles and had to check the bag in the end was totally my fault). I wore a black peasant blouse, grey cardigan, black leggings, khaki skirt, woven blue-grey print scarf and flat metallic sandals on the plane out of SFO, and stripped all the hot stuff off once I hit the MN humidity. Those sandals plus a pair of wedges got me through the whole trip, plus a pair of Capezio dance capris, a few tissue-weight tees for sleeping in a shared hotel room and hungover brunch, and two very foldable dresses for the rehearsal dinner and wedding (and a clutch that matched both).

    Besides the obvious skirt/leggings uniform, my layering tip has just been to accustom my feet to wearing cute flat sandals in any reasonable weather (ie not snow). That way I never have to worry about socks or bulky shoes, and I always get a new pair of bronze or gold sandals each year that go with everything, And I own seven pairs of black leggings.

  15. Catherine

    I love these packing light posts! They always inspire me to pack more efficiently and remember less is more!!

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