One carry-on suitcase.
That's all I take, regardless of destination or length of trip.
You can do it, really you can. Don't be tempted to take a larger suitcase... you'll have to stand in line to check it, and then you'll risk it being lost in transit. If your flight is delayed due to weather (which is not uncommon around the holidays), it will be on the plane and you'll be in the airport, suitcase-less.
Trust me, it's just more manageable to have one small suitcase, on wheels, with a carry-on tote that sits on top.
So how do I do it? It's simple, as long as you stick to basics that can mix and match. (This is for the girls... guys, as far as I'm concerned you have it easy, so you're on your own.)
Here's my tried-and-true list.
Jeans. One pair boot-cut jeans and one pair of skinny jeans that can be tucked into boots or rolled up ankle length.
Black pants. One pair. Fold all pants in half lengthwise, so the legs are together. Lay the top of the pants in the bottom of the suitcase, with the legs draped over the side. (The legs will later be folded over the top of other clothing, and thereby prevent pants from being creased.)
Skirt. It's always nice to have a pants-alternative. It should be one that is lightweight and can be dressed up or down. Fold in half top to bottom.
Black leggings. I know, there's a controversy on whether or not they are acceptable. Nonetheless, as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing more comfortable to wear when traveling than leggings, as long as you have a sweater or tunic that covers your behind. (That last part is mandatory.)
A word about black clothes: You just can't go wrong with basic pieces in black. They can be combined with anything else, and you'll always look put-together. Add pops of color with a shirt, sweater or accessories.
Black dress. Something you can dress up or dress down. The style is to be determined by the temperature of your destination. To pack, lay it flat and fold it in half, top to bottom. Lay folded dress in suitcase on top of pants.
Button-down shirts. A white one, and a print of choice. Preferably, bring shirts that don't wrinkle too badly, are meant to be wrinkled or don't look lousy if they're wrinkled. (Hint: a printed shirt tends to show less creases.) Fold as above and lay into suitcase. If you haven't figured it out by now, the basic premise is to fold everything as flat as possible, for space-saving purposes.
One silk top. It doesn't take up much space, and it is worthwhile to have along for an alternate, more formal look. It can be worn under a sweater in cold weather or with pants or a skirt in warm climates. Fold in half and lay on top of the other shirts.
Striped nautical shirt. Chanel made this cotton knit shirt (aka la marinière) a classic, and it never goes out of style. It's comfortable and can be worn in any weather. Fold in same way as the shirts. Lay on top.
Cardigan and V-neck sweaters. One of each. Bring wool for cold weather, cotton for warm in any color. Fold arms in, and fold in half. Place on top of folded clothes and wrap pants legs over the stack. There will be plenty of room around the edges for rolled up t-shirts and extra shoes.
T-shirts, long and short sleeve. A versatile essential, either for layering or wearing on their own. These can be rolled up and tucked into the sides of your suitcase around your folded clothes... so you can bring several of each, in different colors. You can leave the long sleeves at home if you're going somewhere warm.)
Tank tops. I wear them under just about everything. Ditto on the rolling up tip.
Blazer. Can be worn over all of the above. Wear on plane, or fold as small as possible and place in an outside pocket of suitcase.
Pajamas, underwear, socks and tights. Just pack the bare minimum. Pack pajamas that are comfortable (and appropriate if you're staying with people) to hang around in. Lay panties flat in a gallon ziploc bag. Everything else can be rolled up and tucked into small spaces around the inside edge of your suitcase.
Coat. If you're going somewhere cold, squeeze a lightweight down coat into the outside pocket of the suitcase, along with a pair of gloves and a hat. If you're going somewhere warm, pack a raincoat, just in case. You never know.
Shoes. In winter, wear a pair of boots on the plane. (They'll take up too much room in the suitcase.) In addition, pack a pair of rubber-soled ballet flats in a cloth shoe bag.
Ballet flats are classic and look good with everything.
If you're going somewhere warm, wear the ballet flats on the plane and pack sandals. (The theory is to pack whichever is the smallest shoe type.) If you can't live without heels, go ahead and pack a pair. There's still room.
Scarf. Not only is a scarf useful for keeping your neck warm, it just looks good. There's not a woman in Paris without a scarf around her neck. Even if it's warm weather, bring a silk or cotton scarf and throw it around your neck. It will make you look, and feel, chic.
A belt or two. Roll up and tuck into corners of suitcase.
Jewelry. I wear a pendant necklace, and bring other pendants that can alternate on the same chain. Otherwise, just bring a few simple pieces that go with everything. Take in a small pouch in your carry-on tote bag.
If everything on this list is in the suitcase, and there's still space, resist the urge to keep adding.
Hopefully you're going to get gifts, and you'll be glad for the extra space. Trust me.
Want more? Take a peek at the photos below for some A-list airport style.