Fact: I’m terrible at packing; I have never not over-packed. Fact: I own a lot of clothing. These two facts made the thought of packing for Peace Corps service really daunting. Fact: A lot of my clothing is really bright and filled with pattern. Fact: I love blogs written by crafty, fashionable women. Fact: When I first learned about capsule wardrobes from one of my favorite bloggers, I was immediately obsessed.
Basically, capsule wardrobes simplify your closet each season (and minimize your shopping throughout the year) by reducing the pieces you have to ~35 (different people use different numbers; this isn’t a science). That’s 35 pieces total between tops, bottoms, layering pieces, and shoes.
Packing for Colombia provides the perfect opportunity to create a capsule wardrobe! I spent the last year accumulating clothing that is good for Peace Corps service in Colombia and would help build a capsule wardrobe. Colombian teachers typically wear nice jeans, fashionable blouses, and heels to work. I kept these things in mind as I shopped, and as I packed away all my Minnesota fall-winter-spring clothes. I pulled all of my stuff together and began pulling together my capsule. It currently consists of almost 50 pieces, rather than 35, but unlike most capsule wardrobers, I plan to keep mine consistent for 27 months, rather than just 3.
I needed to get more tops that were appropriate for hot weather. Peace Corps Colombia guidelines are generally that tank tops are permitted as long as they’re not too revealing. This was a great chance for me to invest in more versatile solid pieces, and I generally stuck with a white/pink/blue color palette since those are colors I feel comfortable in. Another thing I had to keep in mind is that tattoos are best left covered, and I recently got a tattoo on my shoulder. I feel pretty confident that once I’ve integrated myself in my community a bit, I can slowly start revealing it more (I have a tattoo on my foot that can’t be hidden anyway), but I still wanted to be sure I had several sleeved options for the first few weeks/months.
Bottoms were easy, although even here I had to eliminate some of my patterned favorites to make room for more versatile solids. Jeans are very common in Colombia, but I know that I tend to be more of a skirts/dresses gal in hot weather. Add in a couple pairs of shorts for weekends, and I’m good to go! If I need to eliminate anything due to space/weight constraints, a pair or 2 of jeans will be the first thing to go. And that blue skirt, which I admit I currently don’t love on my body, but I love it off my body and want to will it to look good on me.
While I don’t foresee needing a sweater or jacket much while I’m at my service, I figure it would be good to have an option or two for travelling purposes – not all parts of Colombia are oppressively hot & sweaty! Dresses are one of my favorite hot-weather items, because it’s just one piece to throw on and they always look a little less casual without any more effort. And I get to keep some print & pattern here! This is another area where if I run into luggage issues, I have room to eliminate. The blue sweater would get the boot first, followed by the crazy blue & white dress.
Now for all the miscellaneous items. For shoes, I wanted to be sure I had black and brown options. I love those leather Everlane flats, but they won’t be super practical for the wet weather. Teva offers a pro discount to Peace Corps Volunteers, so I got casual sandals and two pairs of wedge sandals from them. A couple of Crocs flats that are actually pretty cute and will be great for wet weather, my running shoes, and a pair of cross-trainers round me out for when I want to be active.
Necklaces are one of my favorite accessories, so I am bringing my favorites of those, plus a few bracelets. Belts are also great outfit finishers (I learned this when working at Banana Republic – if your belt loops can be seen, there really should be a belt behind them), so I am bringing a black, a brown, and a studded one that I like to wear with dresses.
Finally, a few items are going into my suitcases that I don’t consider a part of the capsule. These are items that will be used for exercise and sleeping – that adorable “loved in MN” shirt that Marty’s parents gave me, workout tops, and workout/leisure pants. If I need to leave things out, this group can lose at least 1 pair of capris and 1-2 tops.
Going through the exercise of laying out everything I was considering packing and trying to figure out how these items worked together really helped me to eliminate pieces that weren’t super versatile (that black & white striped skirt you don’t see) or that I didn’t love on my body/with my other pieces (that lace tank you don’t see). The solid tops and skirts are obviously the most versatile, but other pieces I kept in because I love them. Take for example the tee with the pink pattern on the front, or the raspberry colored lightweight sweater. Both really only work with jeans because of their shape, but I love the way they look with jeans, so they’re in. Or the collared tank with the bird print – it’s not as versatile as my solid white and solid blush pink tops, but it’s one of my very favorite clothing items.
The next step is to actually get these things into my luggage with all of my other items that I need to bring (socks, unmentionables, plus toiletries and other goodies) and adjust as needed based on space and weight. Wish me luck!