19 July 2017

Holiday capsule wardrobe for Italy in summer

If you have time before a trip, it can be an enjoyable part of the anticipation to plan a practical and effective capsule wardrobe to take. I find it very satisfying to have all my clothes hanging in a hotel wardrobe ready to wear, and know that they can all be combined to make appropriate outfits whatever my plans for the day. (I daydream about having a capsule wardrobe at home, but know I could never achieve this, so I just enjoy it on holiday).

Spring in Sorrento: blue and yellow capsule wardrobe
I travel alone, so my priority is to look relatively smart without drawing unwelcome attention to myself. In Italy the most important wardrobe consideration is appropriateness. Italians are extremely conventional - they will dress in the 'correct' clothing for the time of year (rather than for the temperature), for the time of day, location and activity they're undertaking. I try to conform to this up to a point, without sacrificing personal taste. I aim for amount of 'coverage' that is conventional in Italy, though when the Italians are in long sleeves and it's hot, I'll 'cheat' by going for three-quarter or half-length sleeves.

Looking moderately well-heeled when travelling alone is very helpful, but I wouldn't wear conspicuously valuable jewellery, especially in a city.

If you want to fit in, Italian holiday wear usually includes an elegant lightweight cover-up to wear over swimwear. Daytime wear will be suited to the activity. In general city life, women wear surprisingly dark and tight-fitting clothes despite the hot weather. Evening wear in one of the smarter holiday destinations is typically understated and classy: a billowy dress or a nice top, maybe linen, over linen trousers with smart sandals or moccasins. In most Italian destinations the 'party' type outfits worn by foreigners look over-the-top.

Other important considerations are
- Decency - short shorts and spaghetti straps are only really worn by foreign tourists, and are fairly out of place in Italy, especially away from the seaside or outside the hottest months of the year. (I've seen Italians coming out onto the street to stare at groups of foreign teenagers clad in microshorts in April. ) While I might wear shortish shorts in a resort-type destination, I'd  combine them with a loose blouse. If you want to visit churches or religious sites, you'll need to cover your shoulders, chest and legs above the knee. A large scarf or pashmina is invaluable for this and other purposes. Excesses of foreign flesh either white or sunburnt can attract unfavourable attention - though this is generally easy to ignore if you'd rather.
- Sun exposure - this is another reason for covering up a little.
- Temperature - in summer Italy is very hot indeed, and often humid. Choose unlined dresses, clothes which aren't tight-fitting, and natural fibres like cotton and linen. A bikini top under a loose shirt makes a comfortable combination if you're in a seaside location. Dresses are a good choice too, as long as they're not too short to be versatile. I tend not to take skirts as they can be bulky to pack, revealing in some situations, tend to crease, and can be sweaty around the waist.
- Mosquitoes - I generally wear long linen trousers and closed shoes in the evening and carry a light scarf over my shoulders to avoid being bitten. Looking elegant in a dress requires copious amounts of insect repellent.
- Activities - for hiking I take a pair of lightweight trekking shoes and some convertible trousers. For walking around archaeological sites like Pompeii you'll need comfortable flat shoes or sandals, which may get dusty.
- Care - it's usually possible to borrow an iron and ironing board, but who wants to do the ironing on holiday? Try to pick clothes which don't crease too badly, or be prepared to look a bit rumpled.
- Value - my suitcase has got lost two or three times. It's always turned up, but it's made me aware that there is a risk of losing anything you take on holiday. Also the combination of sunlotion, sweat and dust doesn't do any favours to precious items. I tend to take affordable high-street clothes which are easily replaced. The only luxury items I take are my sunglasses, which I carry in my cabin luggage.

Italy summer capsule wardrobe

This wardrobe was for a five-day combined city and beach break in Venice, but would work anywhere where you plan to do some sightseeing and spend time by the sea or a pool. It includes enough outfits to last  a week or more. The clothes fitted along with my toiletries and other stuff in a small cabin-size suitcase, split between packing cubes.

It's helpful to stick to one or two colours. For this trip I chose mostly blue - light and dark shades of blue, plus some grey-blue, a white blouse and a peach top. This meant everything went together, and maximised the number of combinations I could create. My handbag was dark blue and my beach bag was patterned blue.

Although I could have dressed from this wardrobe for couple of weeks, I found that on 'beach' days I simply wore a bikini and over-dress in the daytime, so some of the items didn't get worn. It is very  helpful to have access to a washing machine, as in a hot climate tops get very sweaty. Alternatively, do some laundry by hand and use a travel clothes line.

As it's an obvious requirement and a personal choice, I haven't bothered to include nightwear or underwear on the list; usually a small choice of the latter in dark and nude colours will be sufficient. Microfibre dries very quickly so is useful for a spot of midweek laundry. I tend to avoid holiday clothes which require packing extra items such as a strapless bra as space in my suitcase is at such a premium.

Three pairs of shoes

Flip-flops - my Havaianas which have lasted for years. For beach, hotel room, pool, short walks.
Flat nude sandals - these go with everything, are comfortable for walking miles and look smart enough for evening. Mine are an old pair from Ecco.
All-weather shoes or canvas shoes - depending on the weather forecast I'd take some closed-in leather/plastic shoes, or canvas shoes (this time I wore white shoes, pictured). These protect feet from mosquitoes at night, are good if it rains, and are practical for travelling.

New Look wide-fit shoes:
a sale bargain & very useful

Beach or pool

Two bikinis
A t-shirt dress cover-up - (or a fancier, floatier cover-up or sarong if it'll only be worn between hotel room and pool). Dark blue, thigh-length, from H&M years ago.
A multi-purpose beach towel like the ones from Hammamas, which fold up small.

Dickins & Jones bikini, House of Fraser

Two dresses

Shirt dress - simple navy blue shoulder-covering just-above-the-knee dress for day or night.
Sundress (pictured)
Uniqlo sun-dress: easy-care, easy to wear
& has a built-in bra

Approx six tops

Two loose t-shirts in navy and grey-blue to wear over bikini, with shorts, in hotel room, out walking. Primark sell nice slouchy fit t-shirts in 100% cottton.
Smarter t-shirt - a top that's still comfortable, but looks a bit dressier.
White short-sleeved blouse, ideally lightweight with ventilation
Smart-ish sleeveless top for evenings, peach-coloured.
Light long-sleeved white shirt, plus a slip which to wear under it. Good for evenings or when I want to cover up.
Yellow cardigan (only needed during the colder UK leg of my journey).
New Look blouse

Three bottoms

Blue linen shorts
Pale blue-grey linen-mix trousers
Navy linen-mix trousers
I bought two pairs of Uniqlo trousers to the same design, in different colours, pictured, which are light and cool to wear and have elasticated drawstring waists making them very comfortable for travelling.

Cotton-linen trousers, Uniqlo - not the
smartest but comfy & practical


A blue glass necklace
Dark blue pashmina.
Cream patterned lightweight scarf.
Neckerchief /headscarf in pinks and purples.
Hammamas beach towel/sarong.
Folding blue sun hat.
Dark blue cross-body handbag
Fabric bag for beach/daytime
A small rucksack for expeditions and for minimising back pain.

On the beach, Venice. Beach bag free from Barclays, years ago.


Outdoor gear - if I plan any hiking I take a pair of lightweight outdoor shoes, like North Face Hedgefrogs or Karrimor walking shoes, which are practical for walking and also for travelling, as well as a pair of quick-dry convertible trousers like these.
Rain - I always take either a very light folding cagoule or an umbrella (which can double as a parasol).

New Look yellow crew-neck cardigan

Uniqlo trousers in light blue
Zara bandana-type scarf/neckerchief
Hammamas beach towel

M&S scarf, useful year round as an extra layer, accessory, seat-cover, pashmina etc.

Lightweight scarf, M&S (no longer available)
Top for evening (packs small), worn with light draped scarf & linen trousers, H&M

Shirt dress for day and evening

Beach dress and bikini


Michelle said...

Great post, very informative! I'm off to Venice on Monday and so looking forward to 10 days of exploring. Just want to ensure I take enough but not too much. Shall be trying on things later and ensuring my capsule wardrobe is set. I have issues with finding comfy shoes so have my trusty karrimotes as well as a pair of skechers flip flops which are so comfy they are divine. Know that they ate generally frowned upon aside from the beach, but I'm limited on time, budget and what is comfy. Your packing list is perfect.

Italy Heaven said...

Good luck, have fun in Venice. Your shoes sound right -comfortable footwear is very important! Venice is a good place to buy attractive comfortable (flat) shoes if you're looking for more.