The fashion industry is forever looking for essential pieces - versatile and functional, yet stylish - that no wardrobe can do without. If one’s wardrobe is severely restricted by space, a natural selection of the best and most useful pieces quickly becomes apparent. FashionUnited spoke with Elena, a globetrotter whose travels over the course of the last eight years have brought her to 25 countries and regions like Ladakh in India, Egypt, South America, US and Australia. In conversation, she sheds light on what pieces work, what does not and how much one really needs in terms of clothing.
When you set out eight years ago, what wardrobe did you start out with? Do you remember?
My clothes were very basic and very covered as India was the first stop I traveled to when I was 19. I wore sports bras to make my breasts look smaller, long pants and baggy shirts to lose my silhouette in - overall sporty clothes, pyjama-like and discreet. Definitely more functional than fashionable. I looked horrible. (laughs)
Over the years, how has your choice of clothes changed?
It really depends on where I am but in all continents, you have to cover your legs - that seems to be a thing - and not show too much cleavage. I go with a basic wardrobe - with whatever I wear plus one more outfit - and then I buy whatever I need wherever I am because it is cheaper and you mix better with the locals.
When traveling, be it in a plane, train, bus or other means of transport, baggy pants and a comfortable shirt have proven useful. I also always travel with a very big shawl - that is a must as you can cover yourself and even lie on it.
What sticks out as most unfamiliar that you had to wear?
Probably something to cover my hair as I am not used to it. It was uncomfortable but I understood it when I had to wear it. I am also not very much into flowery patterns in my clothing but when I was in Mexico, I played around with the local patterns. It is fun to get out of your comfort zone with different kind of clothes.
Has the amount or style of clothes that you travel with changed over the years, have you cut down?
The amount of chlothes has definitely reduced and there are some items that I can make do without - fancy bras for example or pyjamas. When I first started travelling, I liked to plan everything, even the clothes I packed, and now I just go with the flow and go with the moment.
Also, I would never take anything white as that gets dirty too fast. My clothes tend to be dark but other shades like green, brown and earthy colours are also always helpful - they don’t stand out too much and they don’t get dirty too fast.
What would you say are the five essential pieces that every traveller should have?
Definitely the big shawl that I mentioned earlier, black tank tops because they go with anything and even function as an underlayer, feathers to accessorise, a necklace with one or more crystals, and a money belt for your most important things like passport, wallet and phone, which should be worn on the body. A super useful accessory is a hammock - to rest and even sleep in as need be. A small backpack that also stays with you is also a must, for things like laptop, etc.
What would you say are the five essential pieces that every wardrobe should have?
A good-quality shawl always makes me feel like a princess - from cashmere or merino wool - in brown, which fits any outfit, also feathers, and skirts because they are more practical (when there is no bathroom around, for example), also dresses and flip flops are good.
What are some of the indulgences in terms of clothes and accessories that you allow yourself?
Good shoes are a must (especially for special needs like flat feet); comfort goes a long way. Also small towels that dry fast are important and a good backpack with lots of compartments and pockets. I also like to wear jewellery, especially something with crystals for good energy.
How important is sustainability for you?
Most of my clothes tend to be made of hemp, cotton or wool - I don’t like synthetic clothes. Over the past four years, I have been buying more of these materials. But I cannot buy anything too expensive because it may get lost or get holes.
When buying new items to add to your collection, what is the criteria you are looking for?
Well, as I said, comfort is important. I also like wavy things, not something that is tied, and something not too crazy in terms of patterns or colours. I buy a lot of monochromes.
Anything else that you would like to share?
My advice when you are travelling is to get to see how people dress when you visit a place. And then wear what the others wear to fit in. That is going to help you understand the country and be part of it.