Leslie Willmott | Wardrobe Strategies for Career, Travel & Casual Lifestyles

Wardrobe Strategies for Career, Travel & Casual Lifestyles


6 Strategies for Packing Light

Posted by on 8:04 pm in Articles | 5 comments

How many times have you struggled with a large suitcase on a trip and returned home to exclaim, “I took way too much and didn’t need half of what I packed!” Do I now hear a vow that you will fine tune your packing skills . . . but you don’t know how?

“Pack light, pack smart” is my mantra and it can be yours, too.

My husband and I will be vacationing in Italy for 3 weeks in May, first in Umbria where we have rented a villa, then down to Puglia and the coast on the Adriatic Sea. I’ve already started planning my wardrobe, focused on day touring, dining out and entertaining friends. I’ll be packing it all into a 21-inch carry-on bag that will make plane, train and car travel easier.

How? Here are six wardrobe strategies to help you scale down to one light suitcase. I’ve also noted some of my favorite travel wardrobe pieces:

1. Limit your color palette. Keep it simple and plan around 2 or 3 neutral colors. For spring travel, my favorites are black and beige. Worn together they are a classic combination; independently both mix well with other colors. If you’re traveling to an urban destination any combination of black, white, navy and gray is good. For a beach or country trip, khaki and white are good choices for your basics. Scarves are lightweight additions to add pops of color.

2. Pack versatile pieces that can mix and match and plan to wear each item more than once. The knit jacket that I plan to wear on the plane with a t-shirt and leggings can also be worn with my jeans for touring or dressed up for a casual dinner. Consider items that can do double duty, such as a blouse that can also be worn jacket-style over a camisole, a long t-shirt that can serve as a pool cover-up, flip flops as slippers and poolside wear.

3. Take more tops than bottoms. Multiple tops will maximize the wear of a pant or skirt and tops weigh less, take less room, and are easier to launder. Unless you will be able to do machine laundry, pack tops that you can hand wash, drip-dry, and don’t require ironing. (A personal favorite for spring/summer travel is the striped tee with UV protection from Saint James.)

4. Pack lightweight items that can be layered for warmth. Two thin sweaters (turtleneck + merino wool cardigan or pullover) are as warm as one bulky sweater, are more versatile, and take less space.

How many pieces do you need? Two pairs of pants, plus 4 to 6 tops, plus one jacket can meet your needs for one week. For two or more weeks, I take 1 or 2 additional bottoms (pant and/or skirt) and more tops. You might choose to pack a dress instead (my go-to summer travel dress is also from Saint James). If a dressy event is on your schedule, don’t pack a “one-off” outfit. Consider a lace top to dress up your black pants.

Some of my favorite travel pieces are from J.Jill’s Wherever Collection (rayon knits that are comfortable, breathable and travel beautifully without bagging). I also love Chico’s no-iron shirts for a crisp look both day and evening. And to keep me warm on cool days, I love my Heattech t-shirts; if really chilly weather is possible in goes my down vest from Uniqlo that compresses into a little ball for packing.

5. Exercise shoe control. You really only need three pairs on most trips. For example: sneakers for exercise, a comfortable walking shoe for day, and ballet flats or heeled sandals for evening. (I don’t count flip flops as shoes since they pack flat.) Travel in one pair and pack the others. Make sure that all shoes have been broken in before your trip; cute shoes that kill your feet are a waste of space!  Note: I’m packing my new leather espadrilles for daytime walking.

6. Ignore the urge to add in “but what if . . . ” Plan what to pack based on the weather and your activities, packing for what is known as well as logical possibilities. Logical: rain, so I’m packing my lightweight hooded waterproof jacket (that does double-duty as a windbreaker on morning exercise walks). Not logical: an impromptu formal evening. (If that comes up I have an excuse to shop!)

Pack it up!

You can get more into your bag if you know how to pack it. The key is to make use of every inch of real estate in the bag. Fill shoes with rolled up socks, belts, jewelry in a soft pouch, or underwear. A combination of rolling and folding makes the best use of space for your clothing. For instructions on how to pack your suitcase, watch my packing videos. For trip-specific packing lists visit our Tips for Travelers newsletter page.

Note: Packing light requires careful planning far enough in advance. Don’t leave this website until you have also read my previous post on panic-free packing!


Wake Up Your Winter Wardrobe!

Posted by on 3:18 am in Articles | 10 comments


shutterstock_732533848The holidays are over and we’re into the New Year. How I would love to hit the “total refresh” button on my closet but it isn’t Spring yet!

If winter is starting to make you, too, feel drab, you might need to wake up your wardrobe. When it’s cold or gray or snowy outside, our closets need to cheer us up, make us feel good. Does your closet inspire you . . . or is it in a deep freeze with lots of black, gray or dark brown, craving some spring-like color?

With most stores offering deep discounts during clearance sales, it’s tempting to run out and buy something new. Maximize your time and money – shop for colors that mix with your winter basics but can also move into spring. And, if your budget is tight, you just might be able to perk up your wardrobe up by shopping in your own closet – I did!

Here’s a fun and easy four-step process to guide you whether you are shopping in your closet or the stores:

1. Get inspired – Flip through fashion magazines and store catalogs and peruse Pinterest for fashion looks that suit your style. Focus on how items similar to those you own are put together to create various looks. This week I went to a few fashion retail sites that feature “Look Books” – Halsbrook, Cabi, Carlisle and Worth – to find items similar to those in my closet and get ideas to perk them up (a scarf, jewelry, a different way to wear it). I “pinned” many photos and set up my own “Look Book” board in Pinterest so I wouldn’t forget. (I do this for all of my clients but had neglected myself!)  

2. Mix up your pieces – If you’ve been wearing your clothes in the same combinations over and over, now’s the time to look at each piece differently. Lay different tops and bottoms out on your bed and start putting together new combinations – dressy tops with tailored pants and a jacket for work, or with a sweater and a pair of jeans for the weekend.

Think out of the box: Combine different textures and colors than you’ve done in the past. Take a picture of your clothing “layout” so you don’t forget it (add it to your Pinterest board if you have one).

3. Add color – especially if you’ve been living in dark colors or black since last fall. If you’ve had a personal color analysis, know that nearly any two colors in your palette can be used together so don’t hold back. (For those unexpected color mixes, a scarf or a piece of jewelry with both colors in it will link them together, and provide comfort that it works!)

Personal note: I pulled out a jacket in dark purple from my corporate days, teamed it with a yellow tee shirt from summer and my basic black jeans, and it gave me an emotional lift. It also gave my jacket renewed purpose in my now much more casual lifestyle. (Purple + yellow = an attention-getting contrast color scheme.)

A word about white: In the dreary days of January, winter white feels fresh and makes a statement among the black coat/black leggings/black boot wearing crowds. Simple yet powerful, go head to toe in winter white for the ultimate closet refresh. The key? Combine tones and textures to add interest; and sculptural accessories will keep the look infinitely modern.

4. Scarves . . . tie them on! Great for adding a pop of color and/or a print or pattern, scarves multiply the way you can wear your basics.

Personal note: My dark colored pants and matching turtlenecks can be energized with a different scarf each day. Discovery: my dark orange scarf + teal blue sweater + brown pants = another contrast color scheme and is much more imaginative than brown + beige!

So . . . when you start to reach for those dark neutrals, take yourself out of the winter blahs – dig deeper into your closet, or shop wisely, and go from drab to fab without busting the bank!

Refreshing your closet is an evolution indeed, ongoing and ever-present. And spring is just around the corner!

Easy Wardrobe Strategies for the Holidays

Posted by on 2:39 am in Articles | 7 comments


shutterstock_526014424The holiday season has arrived and with it the fun and frenzy of parties and pageants, cocktails and dinners. What to wear to meet the multiple demands of the season?

If you streamline your wardrobe you won’t waste time and energy wondering. Don’t get stressed – keep it simple and follow these guidelines:

•  Make a list of what’s on your calendar, special events you’ll be attending, and when you’ll need to go from one venue to another (for example, from the office to a cocktail party; from a day of sightseeing right into dinner; or from your child’s school event to a holiday concert).

•  The good news is that “dressing up” is no longer the norm. But you do want to look polished and put together. Choose just a few go-to pieces that will meet your needs. These looks can be as subtle or overt as you like, but the goal is that these pieces be versatile, comfortable, and stylish and make you feel great!

•  If a party invitation specifies attire such as “cocktail” or “semi-formal”, or “festive” or “casual chic” read my previous holiday post for guidelines on how to interpret holiday dress codes.


Streamline Your Dressing

Office to Party

Start with one core item and build from there. Here are three strategies for three lifestyles:

1. Career – Your core might be a dress or a suit. Use accessories and fabrics to change your outfit from desk to dinner-appropriate: Switch to a silk or silky blouse and from your classic pumps to a strappy heel for the evening.

Note: If you have a holiday business event to attend, you’ll want to wear something business appropriate that also feels festive. No slinky or overly sexy dresses! Let your jewelry, or perhaps a satin blouse, add the holiday flare to your business suit, be it with a skirt or pant.

2. Casual – Think “casual chic”. Start with a pant, legging or dark wash skinny jean. Then choose a top for each event on your list. You might find a glittery sweater on sale! And you can get lots of mileage from one pair of dark solid-color pants – no one is going to remember you wore them at the previous party.

•  If leggings are your bottom choice, be sure your top is long enough to cover your backside! If choosing a jean or pant you can opt for a shorter, more fitted top.

Casual Holiday•  Pair a weekend staple with something glamorous — for example, a nice pair of dark jeans with a bow blouse or glittery top. 

•  Slip on a pair of embellished flats or heels, perhaps something in a glittery metallic.

3. Travel – Scarves, costume jewelry and glitter – in a top, a shawl or scarf – and an evening clutch are my favorites for dressing up basic black pants and a long-sleeved black tee that can take me from museum to shopping to dinner on a holiday city visit. I’ve also packed red flats, a red belt and sparkly earrings for festive Christmas evening accents on my basic black pieces. For New Year’s Eve, I switch to gold!

A note about “sparkle”: Don’t overdo it; moderation is key but you want it to have an impact. Stick to one or two pieces of jewelry and don’t forget a dressier bag or clutch – anything that has a little bit of sparkle. Accessories should relate but they don’t have to match.

With so much else going on, now is the time to stick to what you know, and most of all, what feels good. Just because it’s comfy doesn’t mean it’s not chic – when you choose the right pieces, your simple uniform can take you through your day and into your night without missing a beat! That’s being smart!


Do you have the pieces but lack the confidence to put it all together for this season’s parties? Or do you need a little guidance on exactly what to buy to fill your party wardrobe gaps? Don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me an email for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. It will be my pleasure to assist you!

Blazers for Fall – Trendy & Classic

Posted by on 12:45 am in Articles | 0 comments


20e32e756d2a18a16e1ce88940f16a73This season’s must-have item is not only “trendy,” it’s a twist on a classic – the menswear blazer in tweeds, plaids and flannels.

Seen in New York on the street during Fashion Week, oversized blazers are the subject of several seasonal trend reports. Versatile and practical, a classic blazer is a great foundation piece in your wardrobe. Depending on fabric and fit, it can be worn with a skirt or pants for work and with jeans and a tee on the weekend. The question for this season is:  “Is the trendy blazer the best style for you?”

The Classic Blazer

Blazers emerged into menswear as part of the English cricket club scene in the 1880s. In a variety of striped fabrics these jackets were “a blaze of color,” hence the name “blazer.” The style became subdued in the 1930s with the modern blazer looking very similar to the British Navy reefer or pea coat but the name blazer stuck. Today the classic navy blazer is a man’s most versatile tailored jacket.

The same can be said for a woman’s navy blazer. When I had to retire one last year due to longtime wear, I replaced it with Brooks Brothers’ classic two-button wool blazer. Instead of flannel or tweed (which can visually add pounds to our frame), I chose to invest in a lighter weight worsted wool. It’s ideal for cool spring and fall weather over a shirt or sweater and fits comfortably under a coat in colder weather. If I still had my corporate job in New York, this could be the jacket in my conservative navy blue suit, doing double-duty on the weekend with jeans!

How to Shop for a Blazer

Many of this season’s trendy blazers are intentionally oversized in cut and are long, stopping below the fullest part of the hip. What might look great on fashion influencers doesn’t always work for the rest of us. This longer length looks best on taller women and is most flattering on straighter bodies. So what should the rest of us do? Chose a jacket length and fit that is flattering to our body and pleasing in proportion.

Your Best Jacket Length


From Looking Good…Everyday (Palmer/Pletsch Publishing)

Jackets should be either long enough to hide the derriere or stop somewhere above the fullest part of the hip. Avoid a jacket whose hem falls at the fullest part of your hip, unless you need to look wider in that area. Consider overall proportions and how you want to wear the jacket:

– Short jackets are best with skirts or well-fitted pants in the same or a darker color. They are most flattering on curved body shapes (hourglass or triangle).

– Jackets that stop above the fullest part of the hip are best on shorter women and those whose shoulders and hips are balanced.

– A jacket that falls below the fullest part of the hip is the most versatile length to wear with both pants and skirts.

Single- vs Double-breasted

A double-breasted blazer is powerful and sophisticated but I find that it looks best buttoned up. When unbuttoned you have quite a bit of fabric moving around you. Also note that its widely spaced buttons are horizontal design details that create a widening effect so it looks best, buttoned or unbuttoned, on a relatively slender figure. The single-breasted jacket will always compliment your height, whether you are shorter or taller on the spectrum, and can be worn neatly unbuttoned for a casual look.

Proper Fit Makes a Difference

Be sure to have the sleeves of your blazer hemmed to the proper length. I prefer mine to be hemmed so a shirt sleeve peeks out just so, but they can fall at or just below the wristbone. (Note: If you have chosen the oversized look, it’s likely you can push the sleeves up for that chic casual look as seen on the model above so you may not need to add in the cost of an alteration.) For more fitting tips read my earlier post on fitting guidelines.


Note: Photo at top is courtesy of Halsbrook, an online fashion retailer offering several chic, classic and trendy jacket styles. Jacket fit illustration is from Looking Good . . . Everyday by Nancy Nix-Rice (Palmer/Pletsch Publishing).

Dressing Well at Any Age

Posted by on 12:32 am in Articles | 0 comments


shutterstock_136418018To women who are of a certain age (as I am), I say, “Don’t let age or lifestyle be an obstacle to dressing well!” When you put on an outfit that flatters you and speaks to your style, you’ll feel more confident to take on any challenge, especially since dressing well is said to boost self-esteem.

Putting together stylish outfits – for travel, volunteering or part-time work – takes a bit of effort. Sometimes it helps to seek out advice from others who easily express themselves through fashion to give life to what we find inspiring.

An easy way for us to find this inspiration and catch up on trends is to browse the pages of online senior fashion influencers. Age is no obstacle to being a fashion icon. SeniorAdvisor.com recently published a list of 20 Senior Fashion Influencers and Resources. Getting the latest tips from these seniors who have found their unique style can help you polish your look for the day, even if you are just meeting up with friends for a game of mahjong or bridge.

While the web is full of fashion influencers, there are a few I follow to help me transform my wardrobe – which is transitioning from a corporate career look to one better suited for active retirement — into a closet of trendy threads.

Style at a Certain Age

Beth Djalali is a blogger with a keen eye for knowing how to put timeless outfits together. Hailing from the Midwest, Beth has lived and traveled around the world. Blogging since 2014, with Style at a Certain Age, Beth offers style that is thoughtful and fashionable. Although Beth suggests a certain audience for her blog, any woman at any age can find ideas and inspiration in her understanding of how classic, chic style works. Her outfits of the day (ootd) feature versatile, affordable pieces that can be worn over and over again. I love getting Beth’s posts in my email each morning!

Advanced Style

Advanced Style is a blog run by photographer Ari Seth Cohen devoted to “capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” His first book, Advanced Style, has become a fabulous reference for me on a “strikingly fashionable segment of society . . . amazing older women.” His blog often takes me 180 degrees in wardrobe style from Beth Djalali! I love that Ari features pictures of seniors looking fabulous in styles all their own . . . and yes, many are a bit more avant-garde than I would be comfortable wearing now but they inspire me to try something different as I get older and become less guarded!


These are only two of many fashion influencers on the web today that can give you the inspiration you need to add style to your life. Remember, when you look great, you feel great . . .  and you step out the door with confidence!


Note: Many thanks to Sally Perkins, content manager for SeniorAdvisor.com for inspiring and contributing to this blog post.

How to Pack for a European River Cruise

Posted by on 10:13 pm in Articles | 16 comments


shutterstock_91851119European River cruises have become very popular and for good reason. They provide scenic, effortless sightseeing, transportation from one beautiful port city to another, and you don’t need to switch hotels every few days.

How should you pack to enjoy excursions, dinners and evening events while traveling by riverboat?

I just helped a client plan for her Rhine River cruise in August and my husband and I are getting ready to depart for a Danube River cruise this month, so the answer is top of mind right now!

Packing light is key

You’ve chosen to vacation via a riverboat, not an ocean cruise ship! There are distinct differences between the two that impact packing:

•  Riverboats are limited in size by the dimension of the river locks and the height of bridges. Individual cabins range from very compact to small unless you have a suite.
•  Storage space is minimal so even if you wanted to pack a different outfit for each day and evening, there is little room for it. Closets are quite small and drawer space is limited.
•  Luggage is stored under the bed so it’s not possible to live out of a suitcase (as I usually do in a hotel room).

This is the time to pack light. My client and her husband, as well as I and mine, are each packing one 21” rolling bag (that can be checked or carried onto the plane) and a smaller “personal item” to carry on the plane (a tote for the ladies, a canvas briefcase or duffel for the men, that will fit under the seat).

Wardrobe tips

River cruises tend to be more casual than ocean cruises. Cruise lines send out helpful packing lists with the cruise itinerary but you need to be the one to research weather forecasts. Dress for comfort and function. For cooler climates, layer; for warm, pack breathable fabrics. (See my post on How to Choose Smart Travel Fabrics.)

ŸŸ•  To avoid over packing, take a “less is more” approach to your wardrobe. Each piece should work in a variety of ways and be able to be worn more than once while still looking fresh. This is when a capsule wardrobe takes top billing! Pick a color palette that mixes and matches. I plan around 2 basic colors (neutrals are best) and 1 accent color.

ŸŸ•  Choose fabrics that are easy-care and won’t wrinkle. I love the rayon/spandex knit separates in the Wearever Collection by J.Jill that can go from day to evening and be worn comfortably even in very warm weather. And the no-iron shirts from Chico’s always look crisp.

ŸŸ•  For shore excursions sporty, casual separates (pants, shorts, skirts, tops) in lightweight knits or woven microfibers are ideal. And many of the new hi-tech fabrics have sweat-wicking qualities and don’t absorb odors so you can wear them more than once. Note: Some riverboats offer laundry service but be prepared to hand wash and drip dry items you want to wear frequently.

ŸŸ•  For evenings aboard, “resort casual” attire is appropriate. Yes, you may see some fellow travelers go right from touring to dinner with only a simple “tidy up”, but I prefer to freshen up with a change of clothing: my no-iron shirt will top a black pant for dining onboard; the look changes with accessories (costume jewelry or a scarf).

ŸŸ•  For special occasion dinners when dressier attire is suggested, consider packing 1 pair black pants plus 2 or 3 dressy tops; or 2 or 3 pieces of “statement” jewelry to wear with the same black knit shift dress. Pack a colorful shawl or scarf to create even more looks with simple basics. Fellow passengers will admire your creativity while envying your smart packing.

ŸŸ•  Plan for changeable weather. Pack things to span temperature swings and enable you to be outside regardless of weather. You’re in a town for only a few hours and you need to make the most of it! Choosing lightweight pieces that pack into small spaces is key:

            – A lightweight waterproof hooded jacket. This can also serve as a windbreaker if you choose to take a bicycle tour. Note: Many riverboats provide umbrellas but I always pack a small collapsible one that’s easier to manage.
            – A down vest that stuffs itself into a tiny pouch (Uniqlo’s are great and well priced). It can be worn over your clothing or as a base layer under a windbreaker.
            – Leggings are a fabulous space-saver. Add a pair to a summer tunic dress for cooler destinations on your trip.
            – I always pack a short-sleeve tee in the fall or winter in case of a heat wave and a long sleeve Uniqlo Heattech top in case of a cold snap in the spring or summer.
            – And don’t forget a hat to protect you from hot sun.  Wallaroo has a nice selection of packable styles with a UPF 50+ rating. I roll mine up to tuck it into my carry-on tote.


Take no more than 3 pair of shoes – travel in one, pack two. You’ll want a comfortable walking shoe with good ankle support for day excursions, as the terrain is likely to be uneven. A rubber sole is recommended for onboard. For evening, simple dress shoes or sandals that will also work with everything. I often favor ballet flats with formed rubber soles that support my feet and make walking easy (check out the ones featured in our recent Tips for Travelers newsletter). Be sure to change your day shoes for another pair at night to give your touring feet a rest.

Packing tips

ŸŸ•  Roll your knit pieces to fit them tightly into your suitcase; use compression bags to fit bulkier items into smaller spaces.

ŸŸ•  I prefer to pack non-knits via the interfolding method (view my video for the how-to).

ŸŸ•  Separate your shoes and tuck small items, such as socks, inside each to create more space in your suitcase.

ŸŸ•  Ditch your pretty cosmetic and toiletry bags – they are much too bulky! Divide your items between 2 or 3 clear zipper lock bags and pack them into the crevices in your suitcase. The new Ziploc© slider quart-size bags have a gusset that enables you to stand them up on your sink.

Bottom line on packing for a river cruise: Pack light, pack smart . . . and bon voyage!


Note: For a personal testimony on light packing for a European river cruise, plus a detailed packing list for a fall trip, see Susan Foster’s article in our Tips for Travelers newsletter.

Update: I just shared details of my summer river cruise in our August 2017 newsletter