How to Stay Stylish While Living Out of a Bag, Part I

by Gigi Griffis

All photos by Daniel Wang.

When I came back to the states for a few months in late 2012, one of my goals was to re-pack my bags to better reflect my needs on the road. This meant adding a winter coat, subtracting certain toiletries, and re-assessing my wardrobe.

Let me rewind for a moment though…over ten years ago, when I first started traveling, my packing philosophy was this: if I take it, it’ll probably get stolen or destroyed, so I’ll only take things I don’t care about.

So that’s how I packed. Big t-shirts, old jeans, puke green ponchos, long skirts with bright patterns from the thrift store. Even though I wasn’t a huge “stuff” lover, I still prioritized taking care of my stuff over feeling comfortable and beautiful.

No longer, though.

As I started to travel as an adult, I began packing a little differently. And now that I travel full-time, I’ve shifted my priorities entirely. Instead of protecting my things, I plan on loving and using my things. And if they eventually wear out, well, that’s the point of things, right? To be used until they are so well loved that they can no longer be used.

My new goal, which fits well with this year’s theme, is to feel beautiful, sexy, and confident while on the road. Which means packing things that make me feel good.

Gigi Griffis, by Daniel Wang
Things that make me feel good: this pretty Denver Zoo hoodie. Also sunset lighting

I’ve been told that style on the road is a challenge. But it’s one I want to rise to this year. And just in case you do too, here’s how I packed for a stylish winter and beyond:

First, I chose one base color. When you’re living out of a closet, you can have blacks and khakis, grays and navies. But when you’re living out of a bag, you should really choose one base color. I chose black, mostly because it’s slimming, doesn’t show stains or dirt easily, and is really easy to find.

In my base color (black), I chose a pair of pants and two skirts, a sweater, two tank tops, a long-sleeved shirt, two small scarves (one in sequins), and a pair of sneakers. I don’t think you all have to be quite so committed to your base color (you could probably do one skirt in a complimentary color), but that’s where I landed.

Basic blacks on Gigi Griffis
Wearing the crap out of my base color right now.

Next, I added pops of color, all designed to compliment each other. I did this by committing to a color palette (pink, red, orange, gray, and yellow) in darkish shades that work well together.

For this phase, I bagged two gray zip-up tops (both with pops of orange and/or pink), two colored tank tops (pink and purple), a black and yellow zip-up, a pair of ruby red tieks, a sassy red dress for nights on the town, and a red scarf.

I also packed a pair of gray-brown boots that add interest to everything and a pair of dark jeans (which can obviously go with any of my tops).

Basic blacks on Gigi Griffis
Pop goes the yellow.

And then I chose my jewelry. I limited myself to one silver-colored pair of earrings and necklace and one gold-colored pair of earrings and necklace. Then I tossed in one tarnished bronze pair of earrings and an outrageously large sparkly pair of hoops for fun.

Finally, I added a couple outliers—things that didn’t have to perfectly match, because there’s a sort of beauty in the occasional mismatch, particularly when you’re bundled in winter things.

In my case, this meant a really warm blue sweatshirt for hanging around the house and staying cozy (which does match my pajama pants…the thing I’m mostly likely to wear with it), my beloved hand-embroidered coat in various shades of blue and white (for cold days, but not warm enough for snow), an actual ski jacket in white (for really cold days), a winter hat in black and tan, and a tennis skirt and sport top for running/hiking/etc.

Since travel does beg different criteria than day-to-day wear, I made sure that everything I packed was made from winkle-resistant, high quality, and, as much as possible, quick-drying materials. I also tried to pick things that I could wear both in the city and out in nature. And just about everything matches just about everything else (that part is key).

How do you pack for your stylish travels?

Jonesing for more? Read part II.

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Roommate #1 January 10, 2013 - 8:37 am

Super happy to see that necklace popping up in your photos (don’t forget that it’s not supposed to get wet, if wetness can be avoided). It looks great. YOU look great!

gigigriffis January 10, 2013 - 8:39 am

Thank you for the reminder. I don’t think it has gotten wet, but I’d totally forgotten! And thanks!

Suzy January 13, 2013 - 4:09 pm

My heart always skips a beat when I see packings posts. I am very similar to you in that I believe in looking good and feeling good while I travel. I think how you present yourself to the world can in turn influence how you are treated. Great ideas!

gigigriffis January 14, 2013 - 3:01 am

So true! And thanks!

How to Stay Stylish While Living Out of a Bag, Part II | the ramble January 14, 2013 - 8:16 am

[…] you read my style manifesto last week, you already know that my philosophy of style on the road starts with a couple tank tops […]

Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 14, 2013 - 8:54 am

Love it. Adult, Sexy and Stylish. I have also used black as a base. Tan for summer.

I love your line on how things are meant to be loved to the point that you can no longer wear them. It reminds me of folks that put plastic covers on their couches. Or the “real” jewellery in a safety deposit box. Or even, a case around an iPhone 5.

I do non of those things. Our white leather couch gets used to bits and is slowly getting that happy lived in look. Leather DOES age well. I wear my diamonds and platinum damn it … even to work. It’s not red carpet stuff after all but day-to-day stuff … you know the kind I can afford. My iPhone 5 was designed to take a serious beating … I will not hide the sleek sexiness that is the marvel of flat tiny technology with an ugly rubber case.

All that to say – you are on the right path for sure! I SAY YAY!!

gigigriffis January 14, 2013 - 9:07 am

So true! I too have taken that approach to jewelry (even when having a home base) and other gorgeous stuff. I don’t ever want to just hide all my stuff under the mattress…it was meant to be loved! :)

Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels January 14, 2013 - 2:43 pm

This is usually my approach to packing as well. I try to make my travel style similar to my every day style, while still being appropriate to the occasion. It’s an evolving thing. On my first trip to NYC I had comfort foremost in my mind and packed tshirts and a pair of Skecher sneakers. I felt frumpy walking around stylish NYC women. I know know that there’s a way to compromise between stiletto boots and sneakers. Thanks for laying it out in a straightforward manner.

gigigriffis January 15, 2013 - 3:43 am

I hear that! I lived in New York for a while and you could always tell the tourists by their comfortable shoes. :)

gigigriffis January 15, 2013 - 7:00 am

If it makes you feel better, those of us who were wearing heels around NYC all day were going home afterward and crying over our blisters.

How to Stay Stylish While Living Out of a Bag, Part III | the ramble January 15, 2013 - 6:58 am

[…] in the week, I did a little show and tell about how I stay stylish on the […]

alison February 17, 2013 - 8:03 pm

At the end of the week I’m going on a trip to visit the graduate schools I have applied to — so I found this post at the perfect time! I haven’t had much practice dressing like a “grown-up” (I’m 25), but I know I’ll have more confidence and make a better impression if I’m well put together on my visits. I needed a couple sweaters to wear to my visits in the freezing mid-West… and I kept your advice about sticking to one palette when I went shopping today!

ANYWAY, all that to say, thanks for the advice! I’ve already started taking it to heart. :)

gigigriffis February 18, 2013 - 3:44 am

Awesome! So glad to hear it.

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[…] En verder… – Altijd handig, deze tien tips om te fotograferen op reis. – Ik was al tweemaal in Zuid-Afrika, maar nog nooit in Cape Town omdat mijn overstap altijd in Johannesburg was. Ik moet dus zeker nog een keer terug om ook Kaapstad met een bezoek te vereren, want kijk eens naar deze foto’s… – Nog zo’n bucket list-bestemming: New York! De Travelettes blogden over gave street art bij 5 Pointz. – Nooit meer je bagage kwijt, handgemaakt en stylish verantwoord: deze bagagelabels op Etsy. – Voor alle backpackers on heels: How To Stay Stylish While Living Out Of A Bag. […]

Antoinette | love.antoinette March 3, 2013 - 10:57 pm

Wherever you go, one can never go wrong with a black base color. I hated black when I used to work as a hostess and waitress in college because growing up in a city like NYC, that was the “it” color everyone and their mama’s wore. But now I understand why. It looks sophisticated, no matter a person’s skin color or tone. I do love my bold, bright colors, and I can never seem to sacrifice my style even though I travel with a 55L backpack. I always say “I’ll make it work!”

gigigriffis March 4, 2013 - 3:10 am

True story. I fit in really well in cities like Paris, as black is the it color here too.

Elle March 18, 2013 - 9:21 am

I love this post and really wish I had read it before I packed!! I tried the base colour thing (somewhat successfully), but some how ended up with tanks that make no sense with sweaters and wayy not enough warm clothing! Oh, well, all part of the lessons learned along the way right?

gigigriffis March 18, 2013 - 9:52 am

Very true! No matter how long I travel, I always end up shifting my packing around constantly and picking up new tricks along the way. :)

Lauren Hesterman May 6, 2013 - 11:12 pm

Tricky indeed. And I think you nailed it. What we wear is a direct representation of who we are; the same should go while we’re on the road, thanks for the great post! New reader here.

gigigriffis May 7, 2013 - 6:30 am

Hello, welcome, and thanks!

How to Travel Long Term - Hecktic Travels October 14, 2013 - 6:02 am

[…] I love these tips from our friend Gigi on how to stay fashionable while living out of a […]

Anne from Viajar y Amar March 1, 2014 - 9:29 am

Well, I can certainly pack for my travels, but my stylishness is questionable! I’ve really never been very good at dressing myself. BUT I am rocking 2 base colors (black and purple — ooh that sounds like a bruise. It works better than it sounds) and I’m choosing simple clothing and fancier locally-made jewelry to bring the pop. Thanks for the post! It certainly helps us style-challenged traveling ladies!

gigigriffis March 1, 2014 - 9:43 am

I’ve been doing a lot of black and purple myself lately (this winter’s theme has become black + jewel tones). Loving the combo.

Glad the post was helpful!

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[…] stylish on the road is pretty important to me, as is feeling comfortable and never being held back by my clothes. […]


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