A “business casual” trip to France

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 13

Every year there is a conference in the South of France for the property industry. Even though I have worked about 26 years in this industry I have never attended the event. It just seemed a little inappropriate to go on what could be seen as a luxury event.

However sometimes business demands that one goes to events like this and I booked to go with my colleague. We plan to fly to Marseilles (with only hand luggage) and then drive, and we are spending three nights in an Airbnb to keep costs down. We have organised a couple of lunches for our local authority partners and there will be many meetings, breakfasts, events, drinks parties, one to one meetings (including one on a yacht), gala dinners, speeches, etc. As you can imagine my mind turned to my wardrobe.

If I was a man this would be an easy-peasy decision. I would travel in a dark suit and take three or four white shirts and a perhaps couple of ties. Maybe include some jeans and a T-shirt for travelling home, plus trainers and shorts so I could run along the beach.

For me it was a lot more challenging as I want business casual but I also want thoroughly professional and convincing.

I thought I would share with you what I have packed as it is an interesting exercise in putting together a capsule wardrobe. I have to admit that this selection is mainly RTW but that is just how it is this time. Most of what I am taking with me could have been hand-made.

Firstly for a short trip I would always choose separates as this gives maximum flexibility. The fabrics include wool, cotton, linen, and jersey.

The clothes are mainly red/deep pink, petrol and beige, but this is not a strict palette. My blue jacket and navy shoes mean I have three shades of blue going on here, plus brown one day for a change. I have to wear some of the tops twice, but because I feel the need to change for the evening they will not be worn for more than about 16 hours. At a push I could launder the tops because we are staying in a flat not an hotel. I have used hotel laundry services before.

The “wildcard” is the pleated, calf length green skirt that I only added at the end as an after thought. I don’t really need it but it gives a little glamour. I will pack some silver jewellery to make a bit more of the outfits, but other than underwear, wash bag, Kindle and phone this is all I will take.

I have chosen clothes which are

Day 1 Travel day 

Get up early to catch a 7am flight, arrive in Marseilles and drive for 2.5 hours to Cannes, straight to lunch. Outfit worn with petrol tights.

Day 1 Evening (white blouse (worn over beige T if cold), calf length full green skirt, navy tights and navy shoes)

Day 2 Day (white shirt, beige culottes, blue jacket, navy tights, navy shoes)

Day 2 Evening (Petrol blue skirt, red top, red tights and shoes)

Day 3 Day (Brown polo neck jersey, beige culottes, brown belt, brown tights, navy shoes)

Day 3 Evening (white shirt with red T over the top, beige culottes, bare legs and red shoes

Day 4 Travel Day (deep pink T shirt, green skirt, petrol tights, blue jacket and blue shoes – or whatever looks cleanest)

Looking professional but also comfortable in another country, when the weather could be very warm or pretty chilly is challenging. I am assuming I will be inside for most events but I will have to walk (quickly) from one event and venue to the other. Having comfortable, flat shoes is must. My evening shoes do have a very slight heel but are comfortable. I will probably take a coat or warm jacket too, but will decide on which one closer to the date depending on the weather forecast. I would be interested in any feedback on my choices or what you would do about a coat/raincoat/warm jacket.

Maybe I just need a nice elegant sweater. Shall I make this one? Heavenly by Ankestrick in DK petrol blue cashmere? If I drop the SWAP I could make it by 14 March. Difficult decision!


13 Responses

  1. Karen

    Hubby and I travel quite frequently (every 6 weeks) so I’ve come up with a wardrobe that works for me but it’s been a challenge. I find that after I’ve made my selections I remove at least 2 items and don’t miss them. I also take scarves which can dramatically change an outfit taking up very little space. My only concern with your proposed wardrobe is that many items require ironing which can be a pain unless you have ready access to an iron. Most of my travels involve cruising and many lines don’t have client washing/ironing rooms. I commend your selection of shoes – comfort is most important! Enjoy your trip as meetings won’t take up all your time.

    • fabrickated

      I fear the meetings will be constant on this trip – breakfast, lunch, meetings, dinner, talks, 7am until 10pm probably! Still there will be sea and boats to look at. I apologise for the creased culottes. I believe an iron will be available otherwise I will be forced to try that old steam-it-in-the-shower trick Karen! And a scarf or two – good plan…

  2. Catherine

    I love your combination of colours, and your selection is impressive in its forward planning! I’m sure you will be pleased with your decisions, so my suggestions here are only meant to be helpful. Firstly, I agree about the need to think about the ironing issue. Secondly, my own (fairly extensive) experience of spring temperatures in the south of France is that it can be quite startlingly chilly; I also personally find travelling chilly more often than not, so in your position I would include at least one reassuringly warm and snuggly item – the jumper looks lovely, by the way. Thirdly, and I always fly only with hand luggage, for up to a week – scarfs often of the pashmina variety can help to ring the changes, and perhaps solve the chill factor in plane cabins and evening engagements. Hope that you have a stimulating and enjoyable time.

  3. Annie

    You’ve put a lot of thought into your packing and everything works together, I like the touches of colour, red and petrol, swapping those colours out creates a different look and is a good trick to fool the eye.

    I nearly choked at 14 days to knit a sweater, it only took me four years to do one pair of socks, however, once I got my head around circular knitting and continental style, I’ve almost finished the second pair now. My Christmas alpaca wool is beside me in the basket and I think I ought to bite that bullet soon, I love the Ankestrick patterns although I’m going to do the Purl Solo raglan, it’s a similar look.

  4. Su

    I’m guessing the conference is in a hotel or conference. Having been at plenty of conferences in this type of venue you need to be prepared with layers. They are usually kept quite cool in anticipation of all those bodies providing additional heat, until enough people complain and the temperature is turned up; the reverse happens less often.

    Are you okay with ironing the linen culottes for three days – assuming the Airbnb host has an iron and ironing board?
    Any jewellry to offset the plain-ness of the solid colours, though I have to say it all coordinates very well.

  5. Naomi

    I always travel with a pashmina as has been mentioned above.

    Agree that scarves, especially something with a bit of glamour, can transform an outfit.

    The other thing I always include is a sparkly top of some sort. I find that a sparkly top can make any type of bottom half look dressed up and glam, but the same can’t be said of the reverse.

    Other than that, I’m a fan of a leather jacket for travelling as they are wind proof, water resistant, and always look chic.

  6. Stephanie

    Yes, agree about warmth. Even Italy in April and May is not that warm, so I find I’m wearing heavier things than I expect. The culottes and the cotton skirt therefore look optimistic to me!

    You know what strikes me when I see this wardrobe? (And please don’t take offense!). It’s that this is not a French wardrobe and not an Italian wardrobe. Whether this is an English wardrobe, I can’t say. It’s a fun and attractive wardrobe, and seems very you.

    When I travel for business, I’m usually trying to blend in, largely because I’m already standing out as one of the few women, other than the occasional academic, and I have the distinct impression that if I stand out the inferences drawn will not work to my advantage. When I go to Italy I dress like myself, because there is nothing at stake, but if I were going for a job in Italy I would almost certainly try to dress more like an Italian (i.e. very tailored, dark wool, neutral palette, classic). You are a pro so I am sure you know what will make the best impression on the people you want to impress or collaborate with (maybe you know most of them already?), so I doubt my comments have any relevance.

    Nothing against Gus’s SWAP but I’ve had the impression for a while that your motivation is split down the middle between that and knitting for yourself. Maybe ask him?

    • fabrickated

      What an interesting response (as usual) Stephanie. My outfits are, yes, totally English. I wouldn’t want to dress French in France, or Italian in Italy, although I must admit I did dress Indian in India. But variations on European themes are too close for copying. A friend who lives in Paris finds the French women’s approach to dress (and eating lunch) to be boring, predictable, rule-bound and conservative, eg mainly dressed in neutrals/always sitting down to a proper meal with colleagues. She only gets away with eating “a sandwich” because she is English. I would be flattered by a remark that I dress in an English style (English Eccentric possibly). The event is only taking place in France – I will be talking 90 per of the time – to London local authorities, developers, architects, builders etc.

      And on the SWAP you are completely correct with your insight. I actually want to knit more. It is my new obsession. The Gus project is challenging with lots of learning but not much personal reward (ie in terms of new clothes for me); whereas the knitting is a learning experience but with nice clothes for me to wear at the end. Many thanks my dear.

      • Stephanie

        Ha ha.. I shouldn’t really say this out loud, but I agree. I find French dress and even Italian dress to be too restrictive. I love the story about the sandwich. If I were looking for work in Italy though I am sure I would have to adapt. Dress is much more important to them than it is to us casual North Americans, and most importantly there is a kind of implicit dress code.

        I like making things for relatives around Christmas and from time to time, although I generally need the reward of making things for myself as well.

  7. Jenny (the lilac cat)

    I feel very nervous advising my fashion guru…. but I used to travel a lot for work, with the occasional conference as you described. For the latter I would plan out exactly what I would wear and when. Rather like Stephanie I wanted to blend in but to break the safe look I loved scarves. I tended to assume that as the majority of meetings/events would be indoors in air conditioned venues that the outside temperature was less relevant. In fact as a rule the hotter the country/time of year the more cool the buildings and the more layers I needed!. The thing I did have were clothes made of looser weaved material and lots of thin knits. I chose suits that had flex in the material so they could survive being packed tightly as I tried hard never to take hold baggage. So linen was out and most cottons. I tended to wear a lot on the plane partly to save space in the bags but mostly because I always freeze to death on them!! I never took a full length coat even when going to places like Minnesota in winter. Just a short coat/jacket. The only country /city where I felt I really had to step up my game was New York – I found the women there lovely but groomed to perfection…

    • fabrickated

      All useful suggestions Jenny, which I really appreciate. I used to be a big scarves person but as men discard their ties I am finding a simple shirt like blouse has more impact. I am experimenting with other accessories such as brooches and belts, but of course these are low on the warmness factor! I think I may need a cardigan or V neck jumper. And I think you are probably right about a warm jacket rather than a full length coat.

  8. Brenda

    I think this is a very useful wardrobe – well done!

    Two travel ideas- one is that I’ve found a way to reduce ironing. I take a small empty misting bottle and I mist my clothes when I take them off. The wrinkles often fall out. I also take lavedar essential oil and put a few drops in the water, which helps to freshen my clothes.

    Also, I find the bedding options are often limited (I get too hot with most duvets), and I take a 3m length of light/mid weight wool to use as a blanket. It doubles as a blanket on the plane if I need one. (I shudder to think how infrequently those are cleaned!)

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