28 August 2007

The practical/fashionable nexus

I'm leaving for a three month trip to Europe. I'm a graduate student going on exchange and will spend 3 weeks in Moscow, then 3 months in Hungary. Thus, I will be there for the duration of the fall and start of the winter. I want to look good, but I will also be limited by what I can fit into my suitcase and the fact that I'll be doing lots of walking/traveling makes me apprehensive about the shoes I should bring and what I can reasonably wear when cold weather hits. Could you do a list of say-- 5 or 10 (or however many) essentials I (or anyone) should have for an extended trip to Eastern/Central Europe? Thoughts?

Having done a good deal of long-term, luggage-restricted travel myself, this is a question for which I am well-suited.

Like mine was, your experience sounds like it will be a predominately casual one. You're not there to impress wealthy expats at exclusive dinner parties or to tink-tink your glass at museum galas, you're there to study, explore the sights on-foot, travel overnight on trains and indulge in dressed-down late night debauchery in whatever local watering hole you and your friends happens to stumble across.

As such, you need to bring along pieces that can easily intermingle with one another - both in terms of ease of layering and color/style coordination - to create as many unique outfits as possible. You also need to think about sticking as strictly as you can to practical, non-dry-clean, non-iron, non-high-maintenance, high-quality materials like jersey, denim, washable wools and non-wrinkle cottons. For those few items you can't leave behind but on which you can't compromise treatment, be prepared to hand-wash or to entrust these to a local (read: likely unreliable) cleaning service. Anything unnecessarily impractical (e.g., a pair of bright, funky flats, a satin-trimmed peasant blouse) must out of deference to your limited suitcase space fall to the bottom of your to-pack priority list. Never fear, though, for some of my all-time favorite wardrobe components were those I serendipitously - and cheaply - picked up in-country while finding my way from the bootleg DVD district back to my apartment.

While it sounds like your trip will be for the most part an informal one, a woman always likes to have in her back pocket the option to dress for the different gradations of formal, whether it be first-date formal, school reception formal or just feel-like-looking-prettier-than-normal formal. Rest assured, I have taken these occasions into consideration when selecting the items I did.

Lastly, we need to think about temperature. I checked the weather for your two destinations - Moscow and Budapest - between September and December, and the range you should expect to experience is between 65 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit -- a Fall-to-Winter transition similar to that which most of us in this country are accustomed.

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for those essential items* a fashionable woman should pack for an extended Fall/Winter trip:

Tall flat boots

*remember, these recommendations are for the type of items I believe to be travel essentials -- I am not necessarily endorsing the specific items pictured above.

20 comments:

dara said...

I love seeing American Apparel up there! I couldn't agree more. They layer really well and come in so many fun colors. Take at least 3 or 4!

Anonymous said...

That BR sweater also comes in black, which might be more practical for the traveler than the beautiful raspberry color. I love that for the most part your choices are all affordable!

Anonymous said...

It's a miracle! I actually agree with you 100% for the first time!

the flat boots are great.

Teresa said...

One good thing about Eastern Europe is that buying replacement clothing will be affordable (though I could not speak to quality.)

A few other pieces I pretty much lived in while exchange studenting:
- Flat mary janes with an extremely thick sole (I think they were British nursing shoes, honestly, but they were cute. Wore these *everywhere*. Class? Mary janes. Clubbing with a three mile walk after? Mary Janes. Four day weekend with no shower facilities? eh, Mary Janes.)
- knee high socks
- black and/or grey pants - something washable, wrinkle-free and not entirely made of man-made fibres is your best choice.
-high neck sweaters (if they suit you)
- scarves and a pair of light gloves
- a reasonably water proof purse with pockets that securely fasten
- a reasonably warm and waterproof hat

Alisha said...

Thanks Johanna! This is really great advice--I appreciate the time and effort you put into this post!

Brooke said...

I like the flat boots too. I will be looking for a more affordable version for this fall.

brown bear '02 said...

You recommended a sneaker??? Babe, I'm so proud of you :)

jessica said...

Tights are key!

Anonymous said...

buying clothes in Russia is more expensive than buying the same clothes in the U.S. we are talking 3-5 times more expensive.

AND, women dress up with high heels, sexy dresses and tons of makeup even if they are just going to take the trash out. So you will feel very dowdy if you go for the "casual" look. That's how Europeans spot American tourists.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, Johanna, your "extended travel" experience includes touring hotel rooms and going to "tough" countries like England, Italy and Australia? Yeah...you're *exactly* the person I'd turn to for advice on how to travel practically.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:00 you are so rude and completely off the mark. i don't even know jo personally, just as a fan of her blog, and i happen to know her travel experiences include an extended stay in china. not exactly a **posh** european vacation. what's with the readers who love to hate on johanna?

Alisha said...

To anon 10:00--In Johanna's defense, I would like to say that as a specialist in Asia, it is probably safe to say that she has done some extensive traveling there, which is why I asked her for advice.

And in reference to anon 9:51, I lived in Russia for a while and I know how they dress, but in the bigger cities, which is where I'll be, the fashion has become decidedly more western in its slant, and there's the fact that I don't really care if I'm pegged as an American because that is, after all, who I am.

Teek said...

Ah, I retract my statement about affordable clothing, then. Poor assumption on my part.

Anon 10:00 is an idiot, Johanna's blogged about living in rural China (And I kind of love her for her candor about how crummy it was.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone mentioned one important thing, and that is to only bring items that you really love. I spent a summer in North Dakota (no places to shop whatsoever) with only a kid-sized suitcase, so I could only bring a week's worth of clothes with a sweater and an extra pair of shoes thrown in. Everyone thought I was crazy for packing so light, but I didn't mind having such a minimal wardrobe because I brought things I could never get sick of. Unfortunately, the things were so worn by the end of the summer that I had to toss most of them, but at least they were put to good use.

not a fashion queen said...

I like to pack lots of basics in black and gray for travel. I love navy and brown (not together) but find they aren't as universal for travel. I love to look for different and unique jewelry, handbags and scarves while travelling. Picking a new unique piece of jewelry can make you feel like you have a new outfit.

I like the style of the "trainer" but I think I would go with something that is black on black tones. My black Sketchers have been my saving grace when my feet are killing me from a day of sightseeing. They might not be super fashionable but because they are rather innocuous paired with good makeup and a flirty top nobody seems to notice the shoes.

Kiki said...

JEWELRY! And lots of it! It's lightweight, small, doesn't wrinkle, and it can make an outfit look completely different. It's also a great thing to buy while you're abroad.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I second the recommendation for clothes that don't require dry cleaning or ironing. I also recommend a good waterproof rain shell.

Johanna said...

I suppose I should've prefaced this advice with the qualifier that I'm just so *not* an accessories girl. Handbags, jewelery, hats -- I could easily go without any of them. But Kiki's right, the coolest pieces I've seen have been those people have randomly come across at street markets or local shops.

And yes, of course, gloves are a necessity. You should pack those, too.

dc girl said...

That Delia's coat is actually pretty cute. Who knew what was such a trashy throwaway store when we were growing up could turn such a corner toward the sophisticated?

Anonymous said...

I would definitely NOT bring an oxfort shirt in white, even if it's iron-free. White can be a real hassle if you're traveling. Plus the red dress shoes seem like kind of an impractical choice, since the weather is going to be pretty chilly most of the time. I think a closed-toe shoe would be better. Other than that, great!