Minimal Capsule Wardrobe for Van Life

Vanlife - Hanging clothes in a van
Van Life Clothes Storage
December 20, 2020
Vanlife - Hanging clothes in a van
Van Life Clothes Storage
December 20, 2020
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Minimal Capsule Wardrobe for Van Life

Ethnic top
Black Tee Shirt
khaki pants

The Joys Of Packing

Packing is always both exciting and stressful for me. Every trip leads me through this field of what feels like landmines. I’m usually a one-bagger when I travel. I don’t like having to keep up with too much stuff. I want to be sure I have everything I need, but nothing I don’t deem essential. Traditionally, there’s a lot of list-making involved. In the last couple of years, I have created a standing weekend trip packing list, an overnight packing list and a week-long packing list. If I’m going for two weeks, I just use the week long one and either pack some extra undies or plan to do laundry once. Having “standing lists” makes travel easier.

I do not have a month-long list, because I don’t normally take trips that last a month. And, when taking the van, I have more room, which of course means I can bring more stuff. It does NOT, however, mean that I should… especially when it comes to clothes, shoes and accessories.

The Initial Approach

When I started out my one month journey in September, I thought I needed a variety and did lots of mixing and matching to make that possible. Even so, I took far less clothing than I usually select from at home (even with my minimal home wardrobe). I even took nearly twice as many hangers as I thought I’d need, since I was having my cousin join me in the middle of October for a couple weeks and I wanted her to have plenty of space for her clothes. I took a couple things I could dress up in case we hit a nice restaurant, I packed for potential museum visits, for walking miles and miles in the city, should we decide to do so, beach gear, several more changes than I needed in case I got hot and sweaty in the van and need to change clothes more often than I had access to laundry facilities.

Total Number of Clothing Items: 16

I had 14 items of clothing hanging on hangers. I was wearing two. I had reserved 12 hangers for my cousin. I had undies, tank tops, bras, and socks in the overhead bin. Of those potential outfits (and everything was mix and match). I wore exactly 9 items off the hangers (The black scrub pants and a printed t-shirt worn when I left home should be added to the 9 hanging items to get a full idea of the clothes actually worn on my 1 month van-journey: 11 articles of clothing):

The Items I Wore From Hangers: 9

  • Ethnic Print Cotton Top (see photo above)
  • Black Yoga Pants from Scottevest
  • A maxi dress (see photo above)
  • A pair of jeans
  • A pair of khakis (see photo above)
  • A white button up shirt with long sleeves
  • Patterned dress shirt (button up)
  • One black t-shirt (see photo above)
  • One patterned sleeveless shell

The Items I Took, But Never Wore: 5

I took the following items that I never wore, and brought back home just like I left with them. What a waste of space!

  • a suit jacket/blazer
  • a couple thin cardigans (one long sleeved, one short)
  • a solid colored sleeveless shell
  • a blue dressy shirt

If the weather had turned cool, they probably would have been appreciated, but in October on the southeastern coast of the USA, it wasn’t something I needed. I was more concerned with staying cool, not staying warm. However, if I take a cool weather trip soon, I’ll focus on choosing thin layers for more flexibility with less bulk and more season and weather spanning options in just a few pieces.

The Pants

Of the nine hanging items that were worn, the jeans should have been left at home since they were not favorites and therefore only got worn twice. (and I really didn’t want to wear them the second time, but I felt guilty that I’d only worn them once.) The yoga pants (straight leg, stretchy, flattering and comfortable even though they LOOK like dress slacks for work) worked overtime, as did the khakis because they were lightweight and cool. I don’t wear shorts in public — my legs are both too fat and too old — so slacks are my go-to. The scrub pants I wore when I started the journey were worn several times during the trip.


The printed ethnic top, with 3/4 sleeves, also got a serious workout. It was thin and cool to wear, and it looked great with the yoga slacks and the khakis. It was easy to wash and dried quickly and it always looked “put together” without any accessories and without any mussing or fussing. It could also be worn several times between washes without a problem. When I travel again, I’ll have two of these, one patterned, one solid and both tunic length.

My favorite top was a black, a-line extra long t-shirt with sleeves that hit just above the elbow. It was a rayon fabric that would dress up or down easily, and although I never really dressed it up, it was nice knowing that I could. The printed T-shirt was also a favorite pick.

It was nice having the white shirt and the dress shirt, but I didn’t wear them much. I think I only wore the white shirt once the whole month… and I could easily have worn something else and been happy with it. I only wore it because it was hanging there untouched. Like the jeans, not wearing it made me feel guilty. The patterned dress shirt got more wear than the white. It would hide dirt and such easier, so I would risk it more. A bright white blouse always screams for me to drip, dribble or splash something on it. In the future, I will keep a nice, crisp white shirt at home, but there’s no reason to bring one on a trip.

The Dress

I haven’t worn dresses of any kind in years. I had just purchased it and wasn’t sure if I’d wear it much, but on this trip I practically lived in the thing! The constant reaching for this new maxi dress was a surprise. It was nice enough to wear out and comfortable enough to lounge in — in the van, while visiting my cousin at her house and in the one hotel we booked to have a long shower and a full size bed in the middle of our week-long adventure in the van (which was in the middle of my month-long trip). I HIGHLY recommend a slip over the head, flattering cut dress — of whatever length makes you comfy — for vanlife. To love it as much as I love mine, be sure it washes easy and dries quickly, but has enough weight to hang and drape well and is flattering.

I’ve heard other women say they travel in dresses — to which I thought, “Yeah, whatever, not this girl!” But, I’ve changed my tune. It’s now on my “must” list for travel and home. It also serves as a cover-up for the beach (a modest one) and it’s a super-fast way to get dressed in the van or in a campground shower house. I may even get a shorter one for travel to add in my next long trip!


I had a pair of flip flops for beach and showering and general knocking around. I had a pair of athletic sandals (you could even run in these things if you wanted, or climbed rocks, and they were still cute enough for city wear.) I had a pair of black leather flats with a cushy sole (photo at the top of this blog) that could be worn with slacks, jeans, or dresses. Easy on and easy off, they got almost as much wear as my flip-flops. I also had a pair of ankle boots — in case I needed them for long walks with a cushion sole, or in case I went somewhere that it was a bit chilly. The boots stayed in the “garage” of the van. I thought I might regret not bringing tennis shoes or runners of some kind. I didn’t. I didn’t miss them even once. Of course, I’m not a runner, so your mileage may vary.

Other Items

I brought a puffer jacket which was stored in the garage — just in case I decided to head to the mountains on this trip. Since I started out with no firm plans, there was no telling where I’d end up. The puffer was never touched (and neither was the extra blanket, also stashed in the garage under the bed of the van.)

I also had a blanket-scarf, a silk scarf and a box of jewelry — none of which I ever unfolded or unzipped. This just goes to prove that you should wear what you love most when it comes to bling and leave the rest home. If you are full-timing, why would you have any kind of bling in your tiny van-home that wasn’t something you loved enough to wear all the time?

Keep it Under Control!

I’ve seen so many “vanlife” videos and blogs showing enormous spaces inside a van dedicated to (and stuffed with) clothing and shoes. I have to wonder why.

Vanlife, like in any other kind of mindful living situation, requires few special outfits (unless you are someone who has a great number of hobbies that require special clothing). Favorite clothing gets a starring role, and the rest shouldn’t even get a “call-back.” Streamlining the wardrobe in your van means the decisions required to get dressed every day should be minimal. It means life should be easier with less volume to juggle.

Vanning, IMHO, is about the adventure, about the experiences, about the sights and even about a few struggles to figure out how to make everything work in a teeny-tiny space. It’s NOT about fretting over fashion and maintaining excess space for clothing. But, I’m not a fashionista. I want simple, flattering, easy care, well-made clothing that lasts and that feel good on my body. I no longer care about the rest. You may feel differently, so you do you!

When I returned home, my closet there got a fierce downsizing. I will probably be doing it again soon, too. I’m losing weight right now (Just over 50 pounds since I left on the trip a little over three months ago) and I want to be sure that I don’t buy any more than absolutely necessary as I retire my too-big clothes. When I get down to my goal weight, I want to have a perfectly curated tiny wardrobe that could easily fit in a van or a backpack. I have always had too many clothes and I think a backpack full for the current season is more than enough — and it will take less than that if I can focus on the thinner layers that cross seasons easily.


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