What Clothes Should I Pack for a Work Trip?

I’m preparing to present at my first in-person conference since before the pandemic, and I have no idea what to wear. What would be stylish, travel easily, be warm enough to withstand hotel air-conditioning, and stand out in a sea of black? — Yael, Bronx.

Ah, work travel. After two years of mostly Zoom events, packing for professional trips has become as unfamiliar as getting dressed to go back to the office. The first time I had to get on a plane again for fashion shows, I ended up with twice as much stuff as I needed because I couldn’t make a decision about what to take. Once upon a time I had it down to a science (kind of like a go bag but for work instead of birth or an emergency).

But that was then. Work looks kind of different now. We need different clothes. And yet when it comes to packing, some exigencies and the wardrobe remain reliably the same.

For example: Life is easier when you don’t have to iron. (Unless you are one of those people who find ironing meditative; they do exist.) Weather is unpredictable, and shivering in a meeting is not part of the agenda; nor is sweating. And given the seemingly endless issues with airlines and airports, a carry-on bag is almost always preferable to one you have to check. Which means packing clothes that don’t take up a lot of space.

What does that mean?

I asked Patrick Robinson, a former designer for Armani Exchange and the Gap, who left the establishment fashion world to start Paskho, a direct-to-consumer travel-focused brand, what he would recommend.

He had one word: popover. A popover dress, for those who don’t know, is a style invented by Claire McCardell, the patron saint of practical fashion and godmother of American sportswear, as a sort of do-everything garment. It was a runaway hit and later became the basis for all sorts of wrap dresses. It is, in other words, a garment that is eminently flexible and easy to wear.

Then, Mr. Robinson said: “Choose travel-friendly stretch fabrics that are made from extremely sustainable fibers and are easy to care for, like modal, Tencel, lyocell and mulesing-free merino. They are all wrinkle-resistant and breathable.” They can also be folded up into very small packages that fit nicely into an overnight bag. Finally, he recommended looking for “rich colors like navy, red, ginger, charcoal,” all of which, he said, “are easy to mix and match with the right accessories.”

Diane von Furstenberg, a.k.a. the queen of the wrap, is the obvious place to start. While DVF dresses are expensive, different iterations can be found on end-of-season sites like the Outnet and Yoox at more affordable prices. Also check out this Lauren by Ralph Lauren crimson wrap dress, a Tencel jersey version from Quince and this merino number from Wool&.

Then practice your packing technique. And, Mr. Robinson added, don’t forget the traveler’s secret weapon: a cardigan.

Your Style Questions, Answered

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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