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Wear to Work: Travel Friendly Capsule Wardrobe for Your Next Business Trip

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Wear to Work Capsule Wardrobe

In today’s edition of Wear to Work, we’re answering a question from a reader about suits, suiting separates and creating a capsule that will travel well to a business conference.

Hello Megan,
I appreciate your blog posts, particularly the focus on pulled-together office casual looks. I’m writing to suggest a blog post topic about finding a great suit for work travel. What details or cut makes the pieces look good as stand-alone separates as well as a sharp-looking suite?

I’ve been looking for a suit that fits into my  conference travel packing formula:
Day 1: suit jacket and dressy jeans en route (jacket doesn’t get wrinkled in my suitcase)
Day 2: wear a suit for my killer presentation
Day 3: suit pants + twin set

A related topic that I’d love your advice on is navigating the items sold as “suit separates.” At Nordstrom Rack recently I tried “suit separates” that was hanging on the same rack by the same brand.  I was annoyed to find that the fabric and the colors were slightly different between jacket and pants – I was hoping for a mix and match option, but instead, they looked like I’d gotten dressed in the dark.
This was true with both Anne Klein and  Calvin Klein. Disappointing! Do you have any hacks or workarounds for this?

Durham NC

Sample Travel Capsule

Wear to Work Capsule Wardrobe

Day One – TravelTank, $130  |  Blazer, $70  |  Jeans, $168  |  Earrings, $160  |  Pump, $56 Day Two – PresentationBlazer, $119  |  Pants, $65  |  Tank, $130  |  Earrings, $160  |  Bracelet, $110   |  Pump, $56 Day Three: Business CasualPants, $65  |  Tank, $130  |  Cardigan, $27  |  Earrings, $160  |  Bracelet, $110   |  Pump, $56

Thank you for your question, Melissa!

First, let’s start with travel appropriate suiting.

Travel Suiting

For something to travel well it all comes down to the fabric. You want to avoid linen, linen blend and certain cotton blends. It’s best to look for four season wool, a wool blend, microfiber, poly blend and anything with some stretch.

I like this Anne Klein jacket and trouser, featured above, made in a poly-blend. Note the color is called “Anne Klein Black.” This tells us that these are meant to be worn together. More on this is a minute.

Hack: Pack your suit in your suitcase wrapped in a dry cleaning bag. It will arrive wrinkle free every time. 

Next, let’s talk about mix and match suiting, because it’s a question I’ve been getting for years. I came up with a simple formula to follow when using a suit as a base for a capsule:

  • Mix and match suit pieces within a collection
  • Layer in separate jackets
  • Pair suiting bottoms with better tops and sweaters

I explain why in more detail below:

Suiting vs. Suiting Separates

Some suits are designed with true wardrobe building in mind. Brands like Lafayette 148, Hugo Boss and Theory offer a basic line of suiting that allows the consumer to purchase a few pieces each season.  You could pick up a skirt and jacket one season, then a pair of pants and a dress the next and the fabric and dye lot will be the same.

This, of course, comes at a cost. The fabric and process is expensive, but the quality is excellent. It’s a smart option for someone who spends their days in suits.

The most popular suits are in the mid range brands like J. Crew, Talbots, Ann Taylor, and Anne Klein, etc. Each season they create a few suiting capsules that you can buy and mix and match them within that collection.

Typically, you’ll see these hanging on a rack together. They will most likely not work with pieces you purchased in previous seasons, although there are a few exceptions.  But you can usually find a pant/skirt/dress/jacket combination that interchange nicely.

Shopping Tip: If you are at a discount retailer, like Nordstrom Rack or Off 5th, they hang garments by the same brand together, but those pieces might not have been designed to be worn together even if they look similar. Often they are from different collections and even seasons. 

Suits by nature are formal which is why a suit jacket looks funny when paired with jeans or separate trousers. That’s why I recommend wearing your suit jacket exclusively with the bottoms for which it was made.

When traveling, you can easily wear the suit bottoms with different tops. Statement jackets, like the tweed blazer above, gives a suited look and complements the fabric of the pants.  You can also wear the pants with a blouse or knit for a business casual outfit.

But when you’re not traveling, try to keep the suit together so you don’t wear out the bottom faster than the jacket.

Creating a Capsule

In the image above I created an example of a travel work capsule using the suit as the bridge piece. For a capsule to work, keep it simple, and limit the use of colors. To add interest, focus on accessories and textures.

Anne Klein makes an affordable suit that will travel well and work for a variety of functions on your trip.

If you want to travel in jeans (these are my go-to), pair them with a separate blazer for a casual yet still professional look. If you needed something a little more formal, you could swap the jeans out for the suit pants.

For the day of your presentation, wear the full suit with a simple ivory shell (this is a similar but less expensive option) and classic but modern jewelry. This bracelet and these earrings are gorgeous and pack a lot of style.

Finally for walking the convention floor and attending seminars, wear your suit pants with the same shell, and add a lightweight cardigan.

I hope this helps!

Have a question? Leave them in the comments and we’ll answer them here!

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Wear to Work: Travel Friendly Capsule Wardrobe for Your Next Business Trip

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Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Friday 15th of February 2019

I had recently ordered from Nordstroms the Anne Klein jacket that you mentioned in this post and the "separates" pants that are advertised as part of the same collection. They are both called "Anne Klein Black" but the fabric and color do not match. Those are the separates that looked like I got dressed in the dark. Frustrating!

Mary Gulenchyn

Thursday 7th of February 2019

This was so helpful to me, Megan! And the funny thing is, I'm retired and never travel for business. But, what you answered for me was the question I've had for years: Why don't I ever wear the black blazer that I bought to wear as part of a suit and, I thought, to wear with jeans and more casual pants? Well, my casual lifestyle never requires a black suit but I'd often put the jacket on to top a jeans outfit and then I'd take it right off because it just looked wrong somehow. Now I know why! I'm going to get rid of the blazer and just keep the pants. (Or maybe the pants should go too since I don't often choose those either...). Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I love reading your blog and seeing the outfits you put together.

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Hi Mary! If the pants are flat front with clean lines def. keep them. Then, pick up a separate blazer to wear with jeans. I like this classic style by J crew, or this casual one by Vince Camuto.


Wednesday 6th of February 2019

I cannot see the post in Chrome, but am able to view it in Edge. Very strange - and I've never had this problem with your blog before today.

Patricia Hornbeck

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Dear Megan, I am doing a trip to Athens and also a small boat cruise to the Greek Islands in May. I’ve been looking at suggested packing lists but there seems to be conflicts from the destinations being dressy casual to laid back casual. I am a very young 75 years old and some of the suggestions aren’t very appropriate for my age. The small cruise ship does not allow shorts, jeans or tees in the dinning room and I don’t want to be changing clothes several times a day. Any suggestions on how to put this together? Space in the cabin is limited and I usually travel with a 22” suitcase & a small tote carry on. Patricia

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

What a fun trip! We're going to Greece next year for my birthday and I'm so excited! I would focus on dress that can be layered and then use accessories to dress up or down. Without knowing your specifications I would look for something like this Eileen Fisher tank dress. You can sightsee in it with a comfortable pair of flats, or a walking shoe, then add layers. She does a great linen cardigan you could wear to cover your shoulders, or dress it up with an interesting wrap for dinner in the dinning room with a pair of heels.

Start to look for pieces in March, stores will have full spring inventory. Eileen Fisher will have the most mix and match options, so will Chico's. Both lines are versatile and very packable. Hope that helps!

Missy Miedema

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Love the information, explanation, and rationale! Thank you!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Thanks Missy!

Kelly Beck

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

This is a fantastic post, thanks Meg!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Thanks Kelly!


Wednesday 6th of February 2019

I clicked thru from your email to read the post - nothing here!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

I'm not sure what you mean. You can't see the post? Maybe refresh your browser, I don't see an issue on our end.


Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Great tips! I love all of these looks - especially the jeans and blazer look.

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Thanks Tracey - glad it's helpful!