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Tips and Tricks for a Versatile RVing Wardrobe

More than likely, your RV is going to have less storage space than you had in your more traditional home. Assembling a versatile wardrobe to take on the road is part of almost every nomad’s journey.

This was a tough one for me. Before I hit the road I had a huge dresser, a huge walk in closet and a spare closet. All at times overflowing.

I value variety in my wardrobe choices. I love wearing fun things, fun colors, fun textures and playing around with style. And I also love being comfortable – most of my clothing is soft & stretchy. And I love going to conventions and festivals where I can play dress-up with costuming.

This was my only dresser for my first 4 years on the road. (For size scale, that's Kiki at 9 weeks old.)

My entire wardrobe had to fit in this dresser for our first 4 years on the road. (For size scale, that’s Kiki at 10 weeks old.)

So after I met Chris and he proposed I move into his little rolling home on wheels – which was a 45 sq ft teardrop trailer – I had some serious work ahead of me. All the space I would have to myself was a plastic drawer that would be my dresser.

Over the years I’ve learned to thrive with having a wardrobe that fits in a small box, a wardrobe that I could fit in a backpack to now an abundant *4* drawers and half a hanging closet.

All without ever feeling like I was compromising my style.

So here’s some of the things I’ve learned to pass on:

Re-Think Clothing

There are several ways in which full time RVing can impact how clothing fits in your life.

Here are a few:

    • I wear this purple shirt a LOT, but mix it up with different skirts, shorts and jeans.

      I wear this purple shirt a LOT, but mix it up with different skirts, skorts, shorts and jeans.

      Limited audience – Not that what other people think really matters, but when you live a stationary life you encounter the same people over and over again. You’re more likely to feel self conscious about a small wardrobe. But when you’re on the move, you’re constantly interacting with new people who won’t notice that you’re wearing the same top as earlier in the week.  Well, that’s of course pressuming that top isn’t smelly because you’ve overworn it. 

    • Simple care rules – Because of the limited storage space, sorting your laundry into delicates, whites and colors can be challenging. Carrying an iron and ironing board is not all that practical. Finding a reliable dry cleaner on the go may be more logistics than is worthwhile. Assembling your wardrobe to be easy to care for can make life on the road a lot easier! Most of my wardrobe can be folded up into a drawer.
I love a chance to dress up and keep a few sparkly items on board to mix-n-match.

I love a chance to dress up and keep a few sparkly items on board to mix-n-match.

    • Variable climates – Dressing for the weather is a lot more challenging on the road than living in one place. You can have a complete climate zone change by driving a few dozen miles, regardless of the season. From hot arid weather on one side of a mountain range, to blustery cold weather on the other. Clothing that can be easily layered works well, and takes up less space than carrying around multiple bulky sweaters.
    • Variety of occasions – While full time RVing can enable pretty much non-stop comfy and casual clothing, there may still be times you need to change it up. Such as attending a wedding, reunion, funeral, business meeting, festival or a date on the town. Keep some room for dressier items.
I tend to have solid colored bottoms and vary my tops for variety.

I tend to have solid colored bottoms and vary my tops for variety.

  • Choose your staples wisely – The key to versatility on the road is to consider where that versatility should be.  I quickly found that I couldn’t keep both patterned bottoms (skirts, pants & shorts) AND patterned tops. That left too many items in my wardrobe of limited use without the right coordinating pieces. So I standardized – my bottoms are mostly solid colored staples, my tops are more interchangeable where I can play around with variety.
  • Consider laundry availability – Keep in mind how accessible doing laundry will be for you on the road. Will you be living away from hook-ups to run your onboard washer & dryer? Will you be dependent on laundromats? Make sure you have enough clothing to get you between laundry days, as well how your daily activities might change on the road (sweaty long hikes, hitching up the toad in the rain, muddy campgrounds and dump tank disasters.)

Downsizing – How to Pick What You Keep

The first challenge of assembling your mobile wardrobe starts with choosing what you keep from your existing dressers and closets and what gets donated, sold or gifted.

If you have the time in advance to prepare, start keeping track of what you actually wear on a routine basis. What are your tried and true stand-bys? Start organizing your dressers and closets by putting your laundry away into a dedicated section, and see what you actually wear most often.

These jean capris were a staple in my wardrobe before I hit the road - and remain so today.

My denim capris and purple shirt were a staple in my wardrobe before I hit the road – and remain so today.

The stuff that you hardly ever touch, the stuff that never makes it into the new dedicated fresh laundry section? That’s the stuff to start purging first.

You can start putting it away into boxes or hard to reach spots, and see if you even miss it. Start learning to live with a limited selection of clothing, and see how well you adapt. When you decide you’re ready, it’s now easy to take that box to your favorite donation center or consignment store.

Of course, if you’re working an office job right now that you won’t be taking on the road, adapt this for sorting your weekend clothes from your work clothes.

When you’re ready to start purging further,  our 7-step purge process might be helpful.

Thrift & Consignment Shopping

As you adapt to life on the road, you will probably find that you need to adjust your wardrobe to fit your changing locations and preferences.

Another bag of donations ready to be dropped off a thrift store. We're constantly rotating our wardrobe in and out.

Another bag of donations ready to be dropped off at a thrift store. We’re constantly rotating our wardrobe.

I’m not much on shopping myself, I’m more of a purchaser – I know what I want, I go into a store and buy it. But thrift shopping has turned out to be a fun and easy way to keep a varied wardrobe onboard.

Thrift stores are like having an unlimited sized closet with access portals all over the world for just a low per-item storage fee.

Since I love variety in my clothing and can quickly get bored of wearing the same selection  after a few months, we routinely stop in thrift stores and swap out our wardrobe.

Some of the benefits of thrifting:

      • Affordable clothing – Instead of paying new retail prices, we get gently used items for a fraction of the cost. What was once a $40 top is now just pennies on the dollar.
      • Go on a cruise?? Let's hit the consignment store!

        Go on a cruise? My $18 consignment store gown can be crumbled up and tossed in a backpack.

        Little commitment – Since we’re not paying top dollar for our wardrobe, we have little risk in trying out a piece of clothing to see if it works for us. If it doesn’t, it gets donated back. This makes it fun to integrate in colors or styles we might not otherwise.

      • More variety – Instead of just choosing from what the retail industry decides is in fashion today, we can find a variety of styles and colors to better suit how we like to dress. As our staples start to wear out, we keep an eye out for these discontinued items to replace our tried and true favorites.
      • How does it hold up? – Since thrift clothing has usually been through the wash a few times, we get to see how the fabric is holding up. It’s always a guessing game with brand new garments – sure it might look good today, but what about after that first wash?
      • Supporting a good cause – Most thrift stores are run by charities with the clothing donated to them.
Before heading to the Oregon Coast, we stocked up on warmer clothes. I got this awesome sweater for just a few bucks.

I picked up this awesome sweater for just a few bucks at a thrift store.

Thrifting allows us to maximize our limited storage space for what we forsee our upcoming months including. If we know we’re heading somewhere warm, we can concentrate on shorts, t-shirts, swim suits and sun dresses. If we’ll be attending a festival, or going on a cruise – we pick up fun items.

If we know we’re heading somewhere that we’re expecting chilly wet weather, like say hosting a lighthouse on the Oregon coast, we can hit the thrift stores and stock up on long pants, layerable items and wet-weather jackets. Stuff we don’t normally need onboard.

When we shift our routing, we do a round of purging and donate back what we no longer need.

Importance of Shoes

Carefully choose your nomadic shoes. These might be a bit too bulky for RV life?

These might be a bit too bulky for RV life?

I have a long held philosophy about the importance of comfortable shoes and how they contribute to my experience of the world.

Uncomfortable shoes can severely limit my time exploring.  A walking city exploration cut short because my feet are in pain is annoying. I hate having to take a break to let my feet rest. Or a hike ended too early because I can no longer comfortably traverse the terrain.

Take care of my feet, and I can go on and on exploring without thinking about my feet. I can soak in more of the world, and add to my collection of experiences.

Rub my feet the wrong way, and I’m less able to enjoy what is around me.. and what’s the point in that for the sake of cute shoes?

We had these awesome shoe racks custom made for our bus (thanks again Phil!)

Versatility in shoes on the road is vitally important if you plan to venture much beyond your RV’s door. But there’s not much space to store a large variety of shoes onboard. Heck, many RVs don’t even pre-think storage space for shoes at all.

As a nomad with limited space, having the one shoe to rule them all is important.

When I had less limited closet space, I could afford to have a variety of shoes more situationally geared and for matching different outfits. And I could also audition multiple pairs at once, and see what I found myself pulling out of the closet on a daily basis.

That’s not the case when living a mobile lifestyle. The limited shoes I carry with me must be even more versatile and perfect than ever before.

My current favorite shoes - versatile sandals for a night on the town, or a hike.

My current favorite sandals – versatile for a night on the town or a long hike.

Pay a lot of attention to the selection of shoes you bring on board. Versatility is key in style, colors, materials and purpose.

For me, I currently favor a high quality stable feeling sandal, that can look cute with a skirt for meeting up with friends, and keep me out hiking on the trails. And it’s no secret, we’re also fans of minimalist footwear, like the Vibram Five Fingers.

For shoe shopping on the road, we’ve fallen in love with Zappos.com. We can order up a bunch of candidates after reading reviews, have them delivered for free next business day. We try them on, and with the included easy free shipping back, we can send back the ones that didn’t work out.

 

So there you have it, that’s how I’ve been able to keep a versatile wardrobe on the road for many years – and why you see pictures of us in lots of outfits.

What are your tricks to assembling an ideal mobile wardrobe?

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33 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Cherie you are one classy woman! You have hit all the high notes for me, this has been a timely post. I just packed us up into or classic 1995 Roadtrek 190 V (19 ft van style) for our annual volunteer stint at a harvest fair. As RV short trippers, we unload and reload for every excursion. I too love to have outfit variety at my fingertips, and with a home base I have a plenty to choose from (most from resale shops). In the RV I’ve limited my wardrobe capacity to a full size carry on expandable roller, and 11 to 15 hangers in our 22 hanger closet. The carry on rides on the bed, then is moved to the passenger seat while we are stationary. This trip Im trying out a new suitcase organizer (a Sept. birthday present request) by “Pack Gear”. Its a has 5 compartments, made of supper light nylon, and can hang from a closet rod. I had fun packing it with my basic essentials from under clothes, to pants h tops. It definately made me limit my choices. I will report out on how its working, here after Ive used it a few times. Two tips from me: for hanging items I double and triple up on each hanger; on footwear I tuck soft shoes into my tall boots, or I invert one boot into the other to save space.

  2. For most my life I have lived by: “If it has to be ironed, don’t buy it”. I am into that mid-evil, goth look and have been referred to as classy E. Village. It was the fine boutiques there where I got all this. Lots of velvets and the like to toss into a bag. My colors are black and then gray, burgundy, forest green, blue and animal print. So easy to mix and match. It’s one of those wardrobes that would be hard to part with. I only bought the pieces I absolutely loved and that is my rule. Have to really love it. That meant a lot of cute things went back to the rack and only the perfect pieces came home. Still getting that into 216 square feet. I bought 4 under bed totes and 1/3 of it went into those. The other 1/3 went into drawers that are going with me for now. The other 1/3 is still hanging and will go into the RVs closets. I am starting to get into the habit of what it will be like accessing the totes and living w/ the clothes packed for tight quarters. Did not plan it that way. Moving into the RV had to be put off. I am glad as living the trial run makes it easier to make the transition and I can fine tune now. I had lots of like items, so I took the best of each group and kept it and the cheaper knock off versions went in the get rid of pile along with things I was bored of. Still it’s hard for a clothes horse on the road, but you verify here it can be done. I have been into vintage thrift stores in recent years, I just can not stand the cheaply made boring junk they sell today.

    Well said on the shoes.

  3. Agreed about the solid bottoms and solid or printed tops. Also, fewer colors in my wardrobe. White, black, and grey go with everything. It’s also surprising how many things go with navy blue and even army green. Since I shop at thrift stores, the “fewer colors” rule is harder, so I end up with solid bottoms in any of the above colors, and then pretty much any top that I like and that look good on me. White, black, grey, and navy blue aren’t actually the colors that look best on me. But they’re fine as bottoms and look good with “my” shades of reds, purples, and pinks. For the sake of laundry, one might try to avoid reds because they can run, but I just make sure to have mostly reds so that I can do a whole load of them. You can test them for color fastness in hot water just in the bathroom sink, and if they don’t run, then you can still have your one-washload-wardrobe.

  4. Great article! I’m on my fifth round of purging. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks and I’m still evaluating what I really need, what will I really wear, what do I really love and can’t live without. I bought a box of storage bags that you suck all the air out of so I can take some extra things. After reading your article, I’m going to go through my shoes one more time too. Thanks for the tips!

  5. A habit that I started in the bus, and am continuing on the boat, is buying used through eBay. I have particularly picky feet, so once I found a brand of shoes that worked for me, I started stalking them on eBay. I often buy them used, but have also seen previous season’s style “new in box” at vastly discounted prices.

    I keep things simple and mix-n-match by having almost no patterned tops or bottoms, just solid colors. And only my favorite colors! I indulge in wild patterns by wearing scarves almost every day. They take up almost no room and make great layering pieces. On a hot day, a scarf will soak up sweat. On a cool day, it will add warmth. I stick with natural fibers like silk, cotton, linen and cashmere, and toss them all in the washing machine. Since I buy ’em used for pennies, I’m not overly worried about ’em!

    I’ve made only a few logistical changes to my wardrobe since moving onto a boat.

    1. I’m getting rid of most of my sandals and replacing them with closed-toe slingback style summer shoes. A steel boat always wins against delicate toes. 1/2 inch anchor chain is not to be trifled with.

    2. I’m replacing lightweight, floaty skirts with heavier/longer/straighter ones. Nothing like climbing the outside ladder in a stiff breeze and finding your skirt around your neck. AHOY, CUTE UNDERWEAR! Yeah…no. Thick linen stays down where it belongs but still breathes nicely.

    3. I’m going to need more than 1 bathing suit when we get to the tropics…

  6. We are full timing with four kids, and have also found that REI is our best friend for clothes. We have quite a bit of the camping style clothes, and find them easy to clean and are long wearing (ideal for kids). We are also huge fans of the five fingers (and you can fit three pairs of five finger socks in the space of one pair of regular socks). I also recommend Chaco or keen sandals, as they seen to have the best wearing soles, as tested by our children :).

    Great thoughts about the thrift shops. We have not yet done any shopping there, but may have to check it out. Any recommendations in the Portland area you can share?

    • Great tips on clothing that are kid-approved for longevity! Maybe I can get Chris to try some Chaco or Keens, he can wear through soles in no time flat. We love our five fingers too 🙂 But honestly, we don’t wear them nearly as often anymore, mostly because we got tired of people asking about them all the time.

      We only hit one Goodwill while in Portland to get some wet weather clothes – we found it had everything we needed, and didn’t seek out others. I would imagine Portland has got to have some majorly trendy and fun shops around too. We just weren’t there long enough to find them.

      • I would definately recommend the chacos for him then. They have a boot type sole on them and are very sturdy. We draw a lot of comments on the five fingers also, especially when all six of us are wearing them :). I can’t really wear shoes anymore, as they are too confining. I forgot to mention that scour the clearance and outlet parts of the websites to try and keep cost down, as the camping clothes can get spendy.

  7. Loved your post!! Great information for anyone getting ready to embark on a RV life. I did chuckle at your remark about the iron and ironing board, as I did keep my iron and I bought a table top sized ironing board. I use it all the time…yes, I like my jeans and T-shirts wrinkle free :). Jeans are my staple bottom because most work camping jobs allow employees to wear jeans.

    Take care!!

  8. Thanks for this Cherie! Katya and I are having some debates about this very thing. If she has her way the entire rig will be her walk in closet. LOL

    Thank God we have about a year yet to prepare.

  9. Awesome article! Going full-time just 6 weeks ago, I knew that our wardrobe was going to be a challenge… super tips!!!

    • Glad the timing was right.. and wishing you calmness in the chaos of the weeks ahead. Remember to stop and appreciate the moment, and congratulate yourself along the way. It’ll all come together.

  10. Fabulous post! Although I’m not much of a wardrobe gal (having seen me in the same fleece for a month I don’t think I can hide that from you LOL), I do enjoy thrift shopping and I do change out my T-shirts for cheap alternatives 3-4 times per year. You have turned me onto Zappo’s now…what an awesome tip!
    Nina

  11. I came to Bussing from motorcycling, so I don’t know what to do with all the space! 🙂 But what has worked for me (and also my wife) in addition to the thrift store purchases, is to get our staples from the hiking/camping world. A pair of quality khaki-colored hiking pants roll up very small in the drawer and can be used for semi-formal wear in a pinch. So although they are more expensive, they are compact and multipurpose. Also, hiking/camping stuff is breathable and tends toward ripstop fabric, so it can actually be worn a bit longer until it starts to oderiferously emanate, and it will last longer, mitigating the initial investment.

    Also microfiber towels. My wife cannot live without about 20 giant towels on hand at all times. A large microfiber towel will fit in your back pocket.

    We also leave a box with people we know we are going to see regularly at certain times of the year. For example I have a box of ranchwear at my brother’s, because I know he will work me while I’m there. Some hoodies and cargo pants with my kids in Seattle, because, Seattle.

    • I hear ya on the space, we still have open storage space on the bus after our years of super tiny trailers. Nice problem to have 🙂

      Chris has some of those hiking pants and loves them. They never quite worked for me (the fit is always wrong), wish they did – that would make things easier.

      We’ve also done the ‘leave a box’ behind thing when we were living in the trailers. With the bus tho, no longer need to.

  12. My short-sleeve t-shirts have sweetheart necklines. My long-sleeve t-shirts have shawl collars. That makes it easy to layer them as well as each having an appropriate neckline for the weather in which they’d be worn alone.

    For coats I like a polar fleece jacket and a windbreaker; each can be worn solo. When layered they are as warm as a winter coat which comes in handy on desert nights.

    • Great idea on picking necklines for various sleeve lengths for maximum layering options! Thanks!

      And I too generally carry a fleece jacket and a windbreaker to make a combo winter coat – of course, I try to avoid winter when I can too.

  13. One of the reasons I like to keep my clothes in a hanging closet is that I actually use this to keep track of what I am not wearing, and to keep me from accumulating too much stuff.

    I always hang the clean clothes on the left side, and thus the stuff to the far right eventually becomes the things I have not worn in months.

    When I get something new, I limit myself to the hangers I have already in use so that I am not tempted to cram. If I need a new hanger for something new, something old falls off the right side and gets sent to the give-away-pile.

    – Chris

  14. Great post! I have been getting ‘tired’ of the clothes I have been wearing for the last 6 months and not wanting to buy new ones. I will start looking for thrift shops to incorporate. I agree with the idea of Goodwill in an upscale neighborhood. But look out because some cities have bed bug issues and they can join you in camp on those clothes. Plan a little prevention before you take them home. Thank you, you both put up great posts.

    • Ahhh.. fantastic warning about bed bugs. I believe most thrift stores run them through the wash before putting them out, but even that is no guarantee. Heck, buying new clothes off the rack probably isn’t either.

      Any tips on ‘a little prevention’ that might help reduce the odds?

  15. Great post! I’m only in the shopping phase for my small RV but I have already downsized my wardrobe. It didn’t happen over night. I went from building a huge collection over the years, to filling a small closet, to a car trunk full and now I’m down to about two duffle bags full.

    I now have a winter set and a summer set. Of course, I’m a guy and I really don’t care what people think but there are occasions when you want to look nice so you might have to stop off at a thrift shop to complete an outfit.

    Nice tips.

    Troy

    • Fantastic that you’re well on your way to getting your wardrobe downsized!

      My sweetie Chris is also a guy.. but the dude has more style than I do! 🙂 And it doesn’t help that his style tends more towards heavier items that have to be hung up.

  16. This post was timed perfectly! My family (husband and 2 young daughters) and I are currently packing for our first winter in the States as ‘snowbirds’. I have been eyeing my closet/dresser and the kids clothes with trepidation…
    Love the tip about having solid bottoms and patterned tops!

    • Glad the tips are helpful. I can only imagine the approach to preparing to hit the road with a family is more challenging to pair down the wardrobe choices for everyone. Hope it goes well!

      • Thanks! Your blog has had a lot of relevant advice, I hope we have it all figured out.
        Off to gather all the documents we need to cross the border now….

    • Great tip on focusing on higher end neighborhoods, especially if you’re wanting to score name brands.

      I also love focusing on thrift stores in cities that that have my more independent vibe – like Portland, San Francisco, Madison, Eugene, Austin. I usually score pretty well in cities like those in finding things that fit my style.

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