Travel: I Want to Pack Like Patti Smith

Photo: Rebecca Miller for the Washington Post
Years ago, when I worked regularly in Boston, I became accustomed to hearing store sales staff  call jeans "dungarees"; it's a regional term used throughout the Northeastern US. Patti Smith (from New Jersey) also uses it, and is devoted to her black Ralph Laurens.

She is famous for being the lightest-packed person on her tour; for months on the road, she takes multiples of very similar clothes, which always include black dungarees.

This is not for everyone; a friend takes three hair appliances, and enough cosmetics to stock Sephora and can't imagine otherwise.

I am a Patti packer. For a trip of a few weeks, you only need one long weekend's worth of clothes, given laundry facilities, no formal appearances and only minor temperature fluctuation. That fits into a carry-on bag and a smallish backpack that's your "personal item".

The key is to begin with one Launchpad Look. If you've never done it, here's how:

1. Think of what you will do on a typical day. Dress for that in something you enjoy wearing—you would wear it every day if you could. Neutrals serve well, but if you prefer "hot mustard" trousers, that's it!

Put on the coat or jacket, shoes and day bag you will carry.

Check that in your mirror. When you feel an inner chime of contentment, this is your Launchpad Look.

2. Build off that, and only off that. Keep the bottom, add a few tops.

Flex to some warmer or cooler tops, but riff on the Launchpad Look, choosing only variants, or multiples of the same item. If away for weeks, make at least one a pattern or interesting colour. (Shown, J. Crew Tippi sweater in brown/pink leopard leopard).

Patti takes multiple Ann Demeulemeester and Electric Ladyland tees.

3. Choose two more bottoms that work with all the tops. A dress counts as a top+a bottom. Don't add other outerwear.

4. Accessories: Add several scarves or shawls, and the jewellery you will wear every day. Optional: hat, gloves; a day bag that packs flat, like Baggalini's Zipper Crossbody or Everyday Crossbody.

5. Pack two pairs of shoes; usually one pair is boots or booties. Even in summer, fly in closed shoes and socks. Planes often leak frigid air at foot level, and covered shoes are important to safety.

6. The one area for extras: what Patti charmingly calls "underwears", and socks—because even though these can be washed in a sink, sometimes you don't feel like it. A few camisoles add warmth without bulk; I like Uniqlo's HeatTech.

I don't take workout gear; walking supplies exercise and I can do yoga in the room, in my underwears and a tee. I take minimal, multi-use cosmetics like Eight Hour Cream, a few 1ml perfume decants and only essential medication.

At this point, one might be tempted to throw in extra tops and then, another jacket. In the back of the mind is the fear, I'll look like a dumb tourist.

Take succor from Patti, who in a recent New York Times  interview said, "I feel like at my age I can do whatever I want, pretty much as long as I don't hurt anybody and that includes dressing the way I want, everywhere I go."

Pattis rocker aesthetic is not every woman's cup of loquat tea, so here are a few other Launchpad looks, fall choices for a trip to Europe or much of North America.

1. Pantsuit: Lafayette148. A suit is a travel staple for my friend Roz, who wears hers with a tee or no-iron shirt. Her coat is a classic trench in forgiving navy.
2. Tunic and slim-legged pants: J. Jill. Sonya loves colour; her coat is a surprising pinky-red wool.
3. Long cardigan, velvet pants, tee: Eileen Fisher. The velvet pants are easy-care and chic for urban locales. She sticks with EF, a nylon quilted coat.

A last detail: Sunglasses, as demo'd by Patti with longtime bandmate Tony Shanahan, in the Baltimore train station. Good for your eyes.

Photo: Patti Smith on Instagram

I shivered with envy when Frugal Scholar told me she had spoken to her in an railway station in Italy last summer; Frugal thanked her for her books.

Since I'm not going to have that luck soon, I'm following Patti Smith's tour to promote her latest book, "Year of the Monkey" on her Instagram account.

Now that the bag's packed, I'm away for awhile; I have left posts but may not comment.


A woman I know told me she packed 9 bathing suits for a week at a resort!!! Plus various sundresses and I can only imagine how many shoes/sandals.
I make a game of how little I can actually travel with. A carry-on only for 2 weeks in Barbados and I still bring home at least 1 thing that I never wore. I recently purchased an under-seat carry-on - the smallest I could find - that is all I will bring for my next 2 week sojourn in Barbados. Lest you think I am some sort of travel magician I will disclose that I use compression packing cubes and hand-wash my things while down there.

Laura J said…
Enjoyed this post! Have a good time on your travels. May there be silks and pearls and if chilly cashmere,!
Roberta said…
I've gotten the clothes part down to a true minimum. One short trips I sleep in the t-shirt I wore that day, for example, but I can't seem to do the same with skin and hair care! Sunblock, face wash, moisturizers (face and body), deodorant, eyedrops, hair care, Chapstick, etc. Even with wee bottles and sample sizes and using the hotel products, I'm sure my cosmetics weigh more than my clothes. And I always forget something and end up buying it wherever I am. This is actually kind of fun sometimes, I can look back on the Danish shampoo, and the Montreal hairbrush. But boo to having a carry-on bag mostly full of product.
royleen said…
I am with you and Patti. No one notices what you are wearing anyway, as long as you are true to yourself.
sensitive poet said…
Joseph Ribkoff (a Canadian designer) rocks for travel! He uses a polyester fabric that drapes like liquid silk, but washes like...polyester. It even has give (useful when you are feasting on special meals while travelling) and if you want to dress speedily, there are pull-on pants and skirts that are both elegant and comfortable. His clothes can be either rolled (my preference) or folded (the folds steam out very quickly), and they range from casual to formal. You'll feel appropriately dressed, whatever the occasion.
Sensitive, unfortunately I don't personally like Ribkoff. It is practical and well-made, but I find the prints garish. And no longer see any reason for pull-on trousers now that jeans incorporate a quite a bit of lycra. But that is just my taste; I tend to favour natural fibres when possible (I do have poly gym shorts and leggings to wear under skirts when cycling, and obviously undergarments that incorporate synthetics) and prefer rather plain clothing. À chacun son goût...

They have a dedicated shop on rue St-Hubert in Montréal, between métros Beaubien and Jean-Talon:
sensitive poet said…
Dear Lagatta,
I suddenly realized after reading your comment, that Ribkoff designs have a split personality! One side belongs more to the mistresses of Russian oligarchs or perhaps even the secret mistress(es) of an American president with orange hair, who espouses antediluvian views on women. The patterns, colours and cuts are, as you pointed out correctly, garish.
The other side belongs to the rest of us working stiffs who need clothing that is professional-looking and well-cut - perhaps even with a bit of swing and drape and fluidity. But not in garish colours or designs...sensible blues and blacks and ivories, perhaps with a conservative design or two.
I do stand by my comment that they travel, wash and wear like a dream.
While I'm on the subject of Canadian designers, does anyone else like Robert Kitchen?
materfamilias said…
This style of packing resonates strongly with me, and I've never thought of it as Launchpad or of starting with the single outfit and building outwards to maintain that "bien dans ma peau" vibe.. . Very useful to have it conceptualized this way. For me, it's always helpful to remember that variety of dress is not an obligation (so many of our cultural messages say otherwise) -- particularly when travelling such that repetition isn't so subversive ;-) That's amplified by Patti Smith's observation about dressing the way we want at our age.
Bon voyage!

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