biz casualI was really stumped about what to pack for a ten-day trip that was half-business and half-play in two different climates.

I was going to Hong Kong first for business where it is winter but 60 degrees didn’t sound so cold. predicted rain every day but I never really believe them. The second part of the trip was to Cambodia for fun where it would be a hot, humid 90 degrees.

My friend told me she was going to “carry on” but that thought totally stressed me out. I gave myself permission to take two bags.

I wish I was a better packer and could come up with easy go-to outfits that would feel just right at whatever destination – but no matter how much I travel – I find this an impossible task. It’s not that I didn’t have packing role models.

My Nana was a brilliant packer, using special tissue paper and dry cleaning bags to keep her clothes wrinkle-free. She always looked totally put together. My Mom lays out her clothes a week in advance of her trip and knows exactly what she will be wearing for each dinner.  No amount of preparation seems to help me – I just can’t manage to put together outfits ahead of time.

As I was sorting my play clothes and business clothes options — I spied a little treasure at the bottom of a drawer. I discovered an 8×10 black and white glossy of my stylish Nana seated at a café table with Gramps in what appeared to be a piazza in Rome or Venice.

(I’m writing this from Hong Kong so I will add this photo next week when I return.)

Wearing a tight skirt and tailored sweater (surely a “set” from Dior or Lanvin), Nana looked positively royal. She must have been in her mid-50’s. She could have passed for a Greek or Italian duchess. Her shoulder length jet-black hair was swept up and pinned back looking neat and feminine.

How elegant, stylish and sexy she was. Surely she had pulled this outfit from her steamer trunk that morning. She could have waltzed into any business meeting or dinner party and been a stand out.

I loved to play in that steamer as a kid but I learned little about how to pack one properly. Lined in silk with compartments for jewelry, scarves and lacy hankies, I imagined packing it up with beautiful clothes and traveling with her to faraway lands.

At 50-plus years, and a lifetime of running my own business, I’ve yet to come up with a “business travel look” that is easy to pull from my closet. I do know that after the 5th decade of life, casually winging it doesn’t produce results that work.

Business attire is not something I wear – I actually don’t even know what it means, so I was honestly out of my element with the packing challenge.

I could not make the clothing work for the two parts of this trip– so I decided to throw in what I loved – what gave me joy –and trusted that once I got to my destination it would all come together. I was mistaken.

I packed two pairs of “trousers”: slim black and slim gray and a skirt byTransit that never wrinkles for evening with a fancy belt. Two silk blouses and a funky, short suit jacket, a navy blue cardigan, flat suede shoes and open-toe sandals I thought would give me the “look” of business sophistication for the dinners. I prayed these pieces could be effortlessly mixed and matched. I brought a clutch purse for the evenings and an oversized zippered silver large shoulderbag for the days (that looked summer not winter but I thought I would only use it for Cambodia).

It was snowing the morning we left Boston so I threw on my ski jacket from The North Face. I thought I would pull it out on my return. But in fact I wore it every day in Hong Kong and was coveting the trench coats the other ladies were wearing there.

Let’s just say — My “look” was a mishmash – barely a look. Hong Kong was wearing wet winter and I was saddled with summer and my improv free-stylin’ outfits weren’t cutting it.

I wore my Down ski parka over my Transit skirt by night. (It was 10 degrees below’s prediction) and I had forgotten to pack the proper shoes for the rain– I should have brought my black boots. Also, I was cold in my silk blouses.

I had to wear my Cambodian hiking shoe/boot from Eastern Mountain Sports by day for the Hong Kong business meetings, which were a tad clunky, but my sandals were not an option. The Hong Kong streets were soaked so I was stuck with clunk. My slim black pants were not enhanced by my chunky treads. I pulled the “jungle green” poncho from the bag and added that to the “look.”

Wish I'd packed my low-rise boots for rain.

Wish I’d packed my low-rise boots for rain.

I would like to add that Hong Kong is a very sophisticated city. The women dress impeccably – all ages. Their rain wardrobes are chic. They wear little handsome low-rise boots or cool platform sneakers with feminine trench coats and all versions of Boy George stylin hats. Hong Kong women look like Parisians – amazing!

I loved everything Holly Go Lightly had on.

I loved everything Holly Go Lightly had on.

At dinner the first night I fell in love with the woman’s outfit who was sitting opposite me. She reminded me of an Asian Holly Golightly and her ensemble was easy and elegant. She wore a soft pink scarf, simple matching sweater, and cool jewelry. Hey — I could have packed that type of outfit but I didn’t own it – YET! She had Nana’s style. I wanted to trade clothes with her.

I really think that next time I can do the packing thing better. Here’s what I’m going to try to remember to do for starters:

  1. Pay attention to the weather when packing and believe it. Rain means rain – winter means winter. It turns out 60 degrees and rain on an island (Hong Kong) is chilling.
  2.  Boots are essential to dress up an outfit and if it’s “winter” even at 60 degrees – bring them.
  3. Try on the whole outfit before packing it and layer with stuff for wet and cold weather and air conditioned meeting rooms.
  4. Bring stylish accessories like “Holly Golightly” was wearing. It pulls together an outfit.
  5. Bring a handsome daytime pocketbook for business or a leather backpack –there’s room in the suitcase for this.  Beach bags don’t double as daytime pocketbooks.

I’m hopeful that maybe I’ll have a business travel wardrobe figured out by the time I really grow up.









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