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A Fall/Winter Casual Travel Capsule Wardrobe for the Pacific Northwest

In a comment to my Thanksgiving post, Dame Eleanor set me a delightful challenge:

I wonder if you'd feel like putting together a capsule wardrobe based on your clothes but my upcoming trip to visit family (but no worries if you don't want to!). They live in the PNW, which is very casual to start with, and they live in an even more laid-back way, with limited, practical wardrobes in dull colors.
I know that jeans and sweats are what's appropriate, along with a raincoat. I don't need a lot: probably nine garments total (smaller than Janice's 13-packs). I'm not going to have any chances to go out anywhere interesting, and I will have laundry facilities if I need them. My time will divide between a brother's house, my father's nursing home, and maybe an exciting run to Walmart. My father likes bright colors; they're about all he can see anymore. The super-casual is so not my style that I always struggle to pack, just because it's boring to wear one pair of jeans with a T and a fleece or pullover, and pack another pair of jeans and some more shirts. I sort of want to pack the most fabulous gear I have, to demonstrate that I Am My Grown Up Self, but I know from past experience that I would regret that. I want to fit in well enough, but have a few sartorial gestures toward my real self. What Would Sally Do?

Let me start this out with a (probably not very surprising) confession: I am a terrible packer for travel! I have a strong tendency to overpack clothing because I find it hard to commit to a small number of items. But that's all the more reason to give this challenge a try, right?

In some ways, Dame Eleanor's travel situation is actually a good one for me because it is a combination of my two easiest type of trips to pack for: a very casual hiking/birding/zoo/aquarium/botanical garden trip (for which I pack mostly exercise/technical clothing with almost complete emphasis on practicality/comfort and no real consideration of style) + a casual trip to visit family (yay, laundry facilities).

Her vacation may be less than ideal for her taste because it involves only one level of refinement (casual), but it does simplify the packing in my mind because it means a vacation personal uniform / outfit formula can be adopted! This is much more straightforward than trying to pack a limited number of items that can be dressed up and down for a variety of different situations.

So what vacation uniform / outfit formula would work? When I saw "casual," "jeans," "PNW," and "family," I absolutely knew where I would start! This challenge was very well-timed because I just purchased two new flannel shirts from Kohls for my lounge/sleep wardrobe: this dark green one (plus / straight) and this berry one (plus / not available in straight) (not affiliate links). I got them during an early (pre Thanksgiving) holiday sale for $12.74 each. The last few years have been an odd time because I haven't owned any flannel shirts; since I was about 16, I have always had at least 1-2 flannel shirts in my closet because I often wear them as a robe or other top layer over pajamas or very casual lounge wear. So when I saw these two with such great colors and such a low price, I nabbed them. I think they will be perfect for the PNW. They are not exactly "dull" colors as Dame Eleanor indicated, but they are medium to dark in value rather than light and bright.

I then added two pairs of skinny jeans because the slim bottoms will help balance the loose shirts and because skinnies are just extremely practical in wet conditions. I love the wider leg silhouettes too but they are disastrous in rain, snow, or slush. These are my only pairs of blue denim skinny jeans so it wasn't difficult to choose: one ankle length with a medium wash and one longer with a dark wash.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

Now it's time to start building out our layers! I am 100% Team Layers for this kind of situation because it makes it easy to adjust for temperature variations indoors. I thought four tops that can be worn under the flannels made sense. Because I tend to run hot, I selected four relatively lightweight long-sleeved Ts, but any combination of Ts, turtlenecks, pullover sweaters, or fleece tops would work as long as they can layer under the flannel shirts.

As for colors, the two flannels set the palette. Navy and white were obvious first picks. Then I supplemented with grey (not in the flannels but a nice coordinating neutral) and dark teal (which coordinates with the teal in the dark green plaid and the aqua in the berry plaid). All four tops are neutrals or colored/semi-neutrals. So far all these pieces are entirely mix-and-match-able.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

Now for something to layer over the flannel shirts. I am up to 8 pieces, and Dame Eleanor stipulated 9...but I couldn't decide between the options of a hoodie or a quilted vest so I put in both! This light grey hoodie is somewhat oversized and is so ridiculously soft and cozy that you'd think it was expensive material when you wear it, but it's just a sweatshirt knit (a gift from my mom that's part of my lounge/sleep capsule). I pretty much live in quilted vests once the cold weather sets in, so adding this navy one was a natural choice. You could certainly just pick one or the other...or any other top layer that you like (e.g., a moto jacket, a denim jacket)...but I went with both for my own capsule. Our pieces are still fully mix-and-match-able.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

Next I thought about shoes that will work with the casual capsule and be practical for cool/cold and probably wet weather. I came up with 3 options from my closet (though you wouldn't necessarily need all 3).

First, I could not resist the navy hiking shoes with aqua detailing that matches both flannel shirts! I only have two pairs of hiking shoes (these and an all-black pair), and I am very picky about fit and only semi-concerned about style when I buy them, so it was dumb luck to have a pair that goes so well with this capsule.

Next I added the brown duck boots that are a new addition to my wardrobe last month because I had admired them on Jodie's recent Jambu blog post and they were on a special sale (around $40-45). They are very comfortable and will be a great addition to my outerwear capsule.

Finally I selected my flat taupe ankle boots that are comfortable and casual.

The brown duck shoes and taupe boots don't match the clothing but (1) they work very well with this neutral dominant capsule and (2) lighter browns relate well to my hair, which I wear every day. (Jodie posted just yesterday about 5 ways to wear taupe boots so great minds are thinking alike on the versatility of this color!)

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

So now our uniform is in place, but it's a very flexible one in which you can wear 1, 2, or 3 layers...or if you really wanted to, and included a hoodie and a vest, you could go up to 4 layers. (Plus any underlayers like camis or thermals.) Here are what the 1, 2, and 3 layer outfit options look like...and the number indicates how many of that combination you can make with the 4 Ts, 2 flannels, 1 hoodie, and 1 vest. It's a lot of combinations because it's a 10-piece "whatever's clean" capsule that is fully mix-and-match-able. To minimize laundry, you can wear the flannels first as outer layers, then as your innermost layer before you wash (if like me you always wash your innermost layer after one wear).

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

Cold weather = scarves for me, regardless of the dressiness level of the outfit. I picked some options from my wardrobe to demonstrate the various possibilities. How many a person would pack is up to them. The navy is a "dull" solid that reads very low-key and would match anything. The seafoam also works with everything but has some lightness/brightness for Dad's eyes. The dark plaid is a muted print that I would wear with anything but the berry plaid...for that one, I selected the pink scarf (another bright one for Dad). I also put in two thin silky scarves (one for each flannel, I chose prints to print mix but solids would work) that could be worn jauntily around the neck or as a headband. Then two brightly colored prints with funny motifs that Dad might enjoy seeing: giant fish and giant bugs! These would jazz up the solid neutral combinations that don't have a flannel shirt. I had to add my two DIY paperclip chain necklaces that have personally meaningful charms: a gold Zork lantern and a silver White Rabbit. Finally, two DIY paperboard pendants, one for each flannel shirt.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

I would definitely wear jewelry with at least some of my outfits as a place to add color and a sense of my personality to the overall low-key and casual wardrobe. I was quickly able to come up with a dozen bracelet stacks (10 DIY + 2 spacer bracelets from Amazon) to choose from...the left column for the dark green plaid, the right column for the berry plaid, and the center column that would work with anything. I also picked 10 pairs of earrings that go anywhere from small, discrete studs to colorful hoops. How many I'd end up packing depends on the space in my luggage (luckily jewelry packs up so small) and the length of my trip.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40

I've added accessories to the 9 outfits from the outfit combination image above, just to show a range of looks I could create from my capsule.

Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #1
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #2
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #3
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #4
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #5
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #6
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #7
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #8
Plus size fall/winter outfit idea for women over 40
Outfit #9

I like how this travel capsule wardrobe turned out! I was a bit inspired when I saw my husband dressed perfectly for this capsule challenge over the weekend. He was wearing a grey plaid flannel shirt, olive pullover sweatshirt, navy fleece jacket, blue jeans, and brown sneakers. I thought his layers and free mix of neutrals would serve him well for a casual PNW fall/winter trip.

How would you approach developing a 9 (or 10, haha) piece travel capsule in Dame Eleanor's situation? Do you like to wear layers? Do you ever wear a "uniform" for your outfits? Do you dread packing for a trip (as I always do!)?

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