How to Build a Summer Capsule Wardrobe for Travel

Laura Lopuch

Imagine: a wardrobe handmade for a carry on bag. One that is perfect in its minimalist-loving size and crafted with every situation in mind. One with pieces that flatter each other and you. A wardrobe that was made for summer adventures, days under the sun, and memories for a lifetime.

That, my friend, is a summer capsule wardrobe.  

What is a Capsule Wardrobe? 

Before we get started, when you’re planning your summer capsule wardrobe essentials, make sure your clothes play well with each other. They should compliment each other in style, fabric, and color.

Don’t go mixing classic white and blue stripes with hot pink, y’all.

Instead, pick one color to act as your base color (or canvas) and add in one brighter color for accents. For example, black is your base color and rose pink as your accent color. Or go with navy as your base color and royal purple as your accent color.

Remember to pick items that pull double or triple duty. In other words: they dress up or down, depending if you’re dancing at a salsa club in Germany or sipping mai-tais on the Hawaiian beach.

How to Build a Summer Capsule Wardrobe

What your summer capsule wardrobe should include:

  • 5-7 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras: one to wear and one to wash
  • 1 workout bra
  • 1 dress
  • 2 workout outfits
  • 2-3 everyday shirts for layering
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 shorter bottom-half pieces (i.e. shorts, maxi skirt, knee-length skirt)
  • Accessories galore: TBD by your personal style

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials

Need to build your summer capsule wardrobe, but aren’t sure where to start? I’ve got you covered. Whether you’re starting from scratch or have some gaps in your existing capsule wardrobe that need filling.

Tank Tops, T-Shirts, & Blouses

Eddie Bauer Women’s Tissue Long Layering Tank ($25)

Cue the fangirl freakout over a seemingly simple tank top. Sorry about that, but… I adore this tank top. With a longer-than-normal length and super soft fabric, you will too.

Made out of cotton, this tank streamlines those body parts you’re not-so-very-proud-of into one sleek vision of travel adventure. The scoop neck isn’t too low, it layers beautifully, even as the base layer in 3 or more layers. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that on the coldest days.

Adea’s Bra Friendly Camisole ($59)

You’ll love this soft, light tank top for three big reasons:

  1. Wide straps for a bra friendly fit
  2. Offers 50+ UV protection
  3. Fabric won’t wrinkle and is resistant to pilling 

Oh, and it’s also quick-drying, so you can wash it at night, hang to dry, and it’s ready to go in the morning.

As one reviewer raved, “Bought the white color for a summer trip and wore it for most of my travel. Washed easily, dries fast, packs small. So comfortable. I’d ended up buying the off white one when I got back. If wearing alone, recommend going up one size for a close fit.“

J.Crew Women’s Slim Perfect T-shirt ($30)

I adore J.Crew’s t-shirts. Soft, flattering, and always comfy, they’re my go-to shirt for travel. Heck, for any warm summer day promising adventure (even if it’s just sipping an iced tea on the deck).

Dress this shirt up with a pencil skirt or go casual with shorts and jeans for a night of bar-hopping.

J.Crew calls this t-shirt perfect. Since it’s available in 10 different colors, use this shirt to inject a pop of color into a leaning-towards monochrome summer capsule wardrobe.

“It is great for work with trousers or a pencil skirt, under a cardigan, or a blazer,” reports one reviewer. “The material is fine enough that it dresses up well. Perfect for more casual days and meetings. It washes well. They do show your figure so if you don’t like that look, I would go up a size for a more casual fit.”

Alternative Apparel’s Slinky Jersey Tank Top ($28)

This feminine tank was made for your summer capsule wardrobe. It’s available in black, grey, and white, aka plays-well-with-other-clothes. Crafted from more than 80% of sustainable materials and processes, it is wrinkle-resistant and lightweight.

This reviewer says it best:

“I bought this tank top from somewhere over a year ago and absolutely loved it. It is so soft, comfortable, not tight, not too loose. I will be getting another color!”


Uniqlo Women’s Drape Crewneck Short-Sleeve T-Shirt ($15)

Hankering for a t-shirt with a slightly looser fit? Look no further.

This clean, minimalist shirt rates 4.8 out of 5 stars. Thanks to its “I go with anything” vibe, dress this shirt up with a chunky necklace or colorful scarf, or dress it down with jean shorts.

Your call.

Uniqlo Women’s Rayon Open Collar Long-Sleeve Blouse ($30)

Let me count the ways this shirt is perfect for your summer capsule wardrobe:

  1. Wrinkle-resistant material for easy care
  2. Soft, comfy fabric that caresses your skin
  3. Plays well with any look: dress it up or down
  4. Roll the sleeves when you get warm (or unroll them for chilly indoor A/C)
  5. A fantastic price
  6. Fits well (i.e. not oversized)
  7. Available in 5 rich, jeweled colors that compliment the rest of your summer capsule wardrobe

Best Dress & Skirt

Encircled Chrysalis Cardi ($128)

One garment, 8 different ways to wear it — this dress is a must-have for a cute, summer capsule wardrobe. It rates 4.5 out of 5 stars, according to 120+ reviews.

And it’s perfect for traveling as this reviewer raves, “I am loving my Chrysalis Cardi! It has come in handy many times when traveling. I wear it as a scarf during the day and convert it to a cape or wrap at night when it is cold. It dresses up and down very nicely. The material is soft and breathable. I have tried out the dresses at home and they look very flattering – I’m looking forward to warmer weather so I can wear those styles!”

Another reviewer said, “Very easy to use after some practice. I used it as a scarf, jacket, dress and skirt in my two weeks trip.”

Helene Clarkson’s Tulita “Maxi” Reversible Skirt ($136)

Snag a spandex jersey knit skirt that is reversible. So, you get two skirts for the price of one. Thanks to its quick-drying capabilities, this skirt keeps you cool.

Oh — and perhaps the best part — this store is based in Canada, so if you’re American, you get an automatic (roughly) 30% discount thanks to the exchange rate.

Don’t forget to allow extra time for shipping for items coming from Canada.

Best Shorts & Pants

Gap Women’s 5″ Girlfriend Chino Shorts ($40)

Ok, confession time. I’m like Goldilocks when it comes to buying shorts: too long or too short. Which is why this pair is fantastic: you adjust the length to suit your preference. Roll them up for a beach stroll or roll them down in a more formal (ahem — modest) situation. Plus, they come in petite, regular, and tall sizes.

Anatomie Women’s Skyler Travel Pant ($225)

A sexy pant that’s easy to wash in sink and dries quickly? Naw, an urban legend you say. But wait. Every legend has a foundation in truth.

These pants live up to the legend. From the mouths of the ladies who wear these pants:

Ideal for anyone who travels a lot: easy to wash in sink, quick to dry. Very comfortable fit. Would love a similar style without the back pockets.”

“Sexy and comfy. Hard to find both in the same pant. All Anatomie pants are amazing, especially for travel.”

Have an hourglass figure or Marilyn Monroe curves? Check out Anatomie’s Women’s Kate Skinny Cargo Pant ($225).

Athleta Women’s Brooklyn Ankle Pant ($89)

With a top-notch 4.7 out of 5 stars rating according to 615 reviews, you know these pants won’t let you down. They’re practically crowd-tested and approved. And they’re perfect for your summer capsule wardrobe.

Lightweight, anti-wrinkle fabric, and crafted from post-consumer plastic bottles, they not only look good — they’re good for the planet. And they’ll protect you from the sun, thanks to their UPF 50+ rating.

As one reviewer says,

“I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve worn these 6 or 7 times in 6 or 7 days and haven’t put them in the wash yet because I’m always wearing them. They look just as good as the first day. No bagging or sagging. Planning to wear these on the plane & for our whole upcoming vacation. The dark onyx grey is a little more summery than black, but still slimming and neutral.”



A summer capsule wardrobe’s must-have basics:


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