If you’re going to be wearing the same three shirts in all your vacation photos, you want them to be nice shirts. Enter: the eternal quest for the best travel clothes.
Rule number one is to stay within your personal style range. If your travel outfits don’t feel as good as the clothes you wear at home, you aren’t going to wear them. You want to feel like yourself on the road. If you weren’t already into the geometric prints that seem to reappear in travel clothing regardless of season, you’re not going to magically start being into them on your trip. Realistically, you may only need one or two new pieces for a trip rather than a whole new wardrobe.
Once you’ve decided to shop, start off with a unified, simple color scheme so that you can mix and match across your items. Stick to a few basics that you can liven up with accessories, either packed or purchased along the way. “I love to pack clothes in neutral colors, because I know I don’t have to pack as many items and can always swap things around for a completely different outfit,” said designer Katie Schmidt. “Think of it like creating a capsule wardrobe, so you don’t end up with a bunch of clothes that can’t even make a single outfit, let alone several.”
After you’ve figured out fashion, it’s time to examine function. Choose fabrics that are machine washable, wrinkle-resistant, lightweight, and either stretchy or loose enough to maintain their shape even when shoved in a packing cube and unwashed for long periods of time. Steer away from 100 percent cotton; it takes too long to dry and will wick heat away from your body if it gets wet. You also don’t want anything too bulky. The rolling strategy will help keep your clothes both compact and less wrinkled, so make sure your clothes can actually roll up.
“At the end of the day, the highest functionality a piece of everyday clothing can offer me is flexibility within the wardrobe,” said Patricia Davis, senior vice president, marketing & communications of Davidson Hotels & Resorts. “I will do almost anything not to check a bag, so on long trips, repeats are a necessity. I often pack a number of items that go well with a number of other items but that can stand up to more than one wear to help expand my outfit possibilities.”
These are some of our favorite mainstream and niche clothing brands to help you craft your ideal travel — and who knows, maybe even everyday — wardrobe.
For Merino Wool: SmartWool
“Merino wool is a fantastic fabric for travel because it's stink-free, moisture-wicking, and lightweight. It's also very breathable, keeping me cozy in cold climates and cool in warm ones,” said travel blogger Kay Rodriguez. “My SmartWool gear has kept me warm and stink-free while hiking in Patagonia, horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan, and Northern Lights seeking in the Arctic Circle of Norway.”
For Merino Wool: Icebreaker
Icebreaker’s New Zealand merino frequently tops travelers’ lists, as well. I’ve toted an Icebreaker cardigan around the world and their ski base layers up multiple mountains without complaint. Their selection of tops is particularly impressive.
For Merino Wool: Unbound Merino
The perfect T-shirt can see you through almost any situation, and Unbound makes a strong bid for the title with their chic merino designs.
Unbound Merino is retailed at unboundmerino.com.
For Comfortable Denim: Aviator Jeans
Jeans are controversial as travel clothes. Some people just don’t feel comfortable without them and insist they help you blend in, but their bulky nature and slow drying time can make them clunky in the long-term. Enter: the travel jean, designed with extra spandex to avoid sagging between washes and quick-drying fabrics. And, in the case of Aviator’s denim, truly excellent deep pockets, including a back zipper pocket.
Aviator is retailed at aviatorusa.com.
For Comfortable Denim: Duer
Duer’s performance fabric and signature seat gusset keep their jeans fitting well across wears, even if you can’t always stop to refresh them with a wash.
Duer is retailed at Amazon.
For Technical Outdoor Gear: ExOfficio
ExOfficio is best known for their quick-drying, anti-microbial travel underwear, but their BugsAway and sun-protection clothing lines are also well worth investigating.
For Technical Everyday Wear: The North Face
Is there anything The North Face can’t do? The same construction that makes their gear excel is carried over into their clothing lines. Even better, they’re introducing a new FutureLight line for fall 2019 that provides an impressive combo of warmth, waterproofing, and breathability while still packing small enough to bundle your ski clothes into a carry-on.
For Technical Everyday Wear: L.L.Bean
Always a classic, L.L.Bean builds their products to last, particularly their outerwear. Even better, most of their clothes come in plus-size options up to 3X.
L.L.Bean is retailed at llbean.com.
For Packable Basics: Uniqlo
In addition to their excellent basics and packable jackets, Uniqlo’s HeatTech, Airism, and new UV Cut lines will keep you layered properly in any conditions. They run from underwear to jackets and scarves for maximum building potential. T+L editors are partial to their stretchy legging-pants.
Uniqlo is retailed at uniqlo.com.
For Packable Basics: Toad & Co.
This California-based company focuses on manufacturing all of their clothing using sustainable fabric and practices, nicely complementing their line of basics and prints.
For Business Travel: Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply makes professional apparel that’s comfortable enough to fly in and smart enough to take you straight into the boardroom or on stage to moderate a panel right after landing. Check out their wrinkle-resistant, unrestrictive Kinetic suiting line for men and women; it’s pretty revolutionary.
Ministry of Supply is retailed at ministryofsupply.com.
For Adventure Travel: Patagonia
“I've been shopping with this brand consistently for the past few years and have yet to be disappointed,” said travel blogger Jenny Smith. Patagonia’s extensive product range, quality gear, and ethical company policies continually convert new fans.
For Adventure Travel: Prana
Prana started out as a yoga clothing line, but has expanded into a full travel line with eco-friendly fabrics. “Prana is my favorite travel clothing brand,” said Rodriguez. “Their clothes are comfortable, lightweight, and stylish, perfect for the traveler on the go.”
For Plus-size Travel Clothes: Columbia
Blogger Charish Badzinski found her go-to travel piece at Columbia. “I recently found a simple, black, lightweight, sleeveless dress made with wicking fabric. It's so versatile, and flattering to many body types, so it's my favorite piece that I pack,” she said. Columbia also offers a nicely comprehensive plus-sized range.
Columbia is retailed at columbia.com.
For Function and Fashion: Ably Apparel
Messy eater planning a trip to Italy? Keep your clothing safe from staining with Ably’s stain-resistant Filium fabric technology. The same system that allows stains to slide off helps their clothes dry quickly, as well.
Ably is retailed at Amazon.
For Fashion and Function: Époque Évolution
This stylish, minimalist design duo makes merino wool dresses and other items that will take you from sightseeing straight through a night out.
Époque Évolution is retailed at epoqueevolution.com.
For Women’s Athleisure Travel Clothes: Athleta
Multiple travelers we spoke to raved about Athleta’s (appropriately) athleisure lines, particularly their pants, which are comfortable enough to work out or hike in but won’t look out of place at a post-hike happy hour.
Athleta is retailed at athleta.gap.com.
For Women’s Travel Clothes: Sarah Liller
California-based designer Sarah Liller makes simple, super-soft birch rayon designs for women looking to create an ideal capsule wardrobe. The collections are designed in complementary colors for maximum combination potential and, even better, most of the dresses and skirts have pockets.
Sarah Liller is retailed at sarahliller.com.
For Plus-size Women’s Travel Clothes: See Rose Go
Finding the perfect outfit gets even harder for plus-sized travelers. See Rose Go offers breathable travel basics that look just and feel as good as straight-size brands in sizes 14-24.
See Rose Go is retailed at seerosego.com.
For Men’s Travel Clothes: Rhone
Rhone combines cutting-edge fabric technology with fit-forward design for an impressive line-up of athleisure-meets-business clothing. Their Commuter Pants are particularly popular with travelers.
Rhone is retailed at rhone.com.