If you were to open my suitcase, you'd notice at once that 80% of my possessions consist of tech; my cameras, laptop, plug adaptors, chargers. I take my work wherever I roam, and the need for equipment leaves little room in my tiny carry on suitcase for clothes or toiletries. Therefore, I have over the years perfected the art of the capsule wardrobe system. And really, it can be an art form.
There are a few key rules involved in packing the perfect capsule wardrobe:
The most essential aspect of a capsule wardrobe is ensuring that every item of clothing can be worn with anything else in your wardrobe, to create countless different outfits. I advise packing more tops than bottoms, firstly because tops are typically more lightweight, and tend to require washing more often.
Even when it comes to layers designed to be worn over something else, such as jumpers and cardigans, check that they're comfortable and look good over every top and dress that you are packing; a snug jumper is not going to work well if all of your tops feature bishop-sleeves, for example.
The whole point of a capsule wardrobe is to remove bulk and weight from your suitcase/backpack, and so don't weigh your bag down with dense fabrics such as denim or wool-knits. Obviously this depends on the season and weather, but I always try to wear my heaviest, bulkiest items of clothing during travel days, if it's not possible to forgo them altogether.
Opt for lightweight fabrics such as cotton, satins, and silks. I recommend looking for crease-resist fabrics too, as ironing your clothes won't always be an option.
Looking back through my travel photos, I've inadvertently worn the same colours for years, including lots of neutral tones such as black, white, navy and cream, with pops of colour; I always seem to own a mustard yellow jumper/cardigan for colder days, I've bought several red blazers/jackets over the years, and I always prefer dark-wash blue jeans. Without realising it, I've reached a point where I tend to replace the same staple pieces again and again.
Take a look at your wardrobe and figure out what kind of colours you already tend to wear; dark or light? Neutral or bold? Rich jewel tones or pastel tones? As a general rule, stick to monochrome/neural basics, and a pop of colour for your jackets/bags/shoes/accessories/knitwear.
As an extension of your colour scheme, be careful when it comes to patterns. While mixing patterns can work, often it just doesn't, and so treat patterned fabrics either as your base, such as a dress or a skirt, or as equal to your 'pop of colour'; a jacket, or bags. Otherwise, opt for plain fabrics. If you do opt to pack something with a bold pattern, take some time to try on some outfits to ensure that it doesn't clash horribly with everything or even most of the items in your suitcase.
Classics - but have fun!
As I mentioned before, the same items of clothing appear again and again in my wardrobe, only replaced once they become too tatty. Personally, my staple wardrobe is skinny dark-wash jeans, a navy, striped Breton top and black ballet flats. These three items are all timeless, staple-pieces that never seem to go out of fashion. Other staple items include a few plain t-shirts (one white, one black), and a man's shirt (white or pale blue). In winter, I prefer Chelsea boots and my winter coats always seem to be navy.
Having some staple items as the basis of your capsule wardrobe allows you to have some fun with choosing the rest of your clothes; dresses especially are an opportunity to throw in a wild-card, as (outerwear and shoes aside), they're a stand-alone outfit.
When travelling long term, it can be easy to accumulate clothes while on the road. Personally, if I've settled down for a while, I've found an apartment and I'm officially living in a place, I ease up a little and allow myself to buy a few new outfits if I want them, but once I decide to hit the road again, I have to cull my wardrobe and get back down to a capsule wardrobe. As a general rule, for every new item, you have to trade out an existing item; this is a great way to keep your wardrobe fresh while not getting bogged down in more clothes than you need or have the packing space for.
Less is more
Finally, how many outfits do you really need? Packing for a weekend away is obviously going to be very different to packing for a gap year, and personally, even for long-term travel, I try to pack about one week's worth of clothes, but at least two, if not three weeks worth of outfits. How easily will you be able to access a washing machine? How versatile will the weather be? Do you need to pack for various scenarios, such as sports activities, a party, or a business meeting? These are all questions to ask yourself when compiling a capsule wardrobe, but by sticking to the basic rules, you can make the most of a small wardrobe with countless outfit options.
A great website featuring fashionable packing lists for all durations and occasions can be found here.