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Like many Her Packing List readers, one of my favorite ways to pack light is by bringing items that can be used in multiple ways. Reversible and convertible travel clothing in particular makes it easier for me to pack less without feeling like my options are limited.
These items work great for travel, but if used regularly they can also help create a more minimalist wardrobe at home.
The Chrysalis Cardi is an ever-popular choice at Her Packing List, and over time I have also added several other items to my collection. Using more than one multi-way clothing item at a time increases the outfit possibilities significantly.
I decided to challenge myself to use four multi-way garments to create as many outfits as I could without repeating a style for any item. The result is eight entirely unique outfits.
RULES FOR THE EXPERIMENT: Many of the items I chose can be worn in 8+ different ways on their own, meaning the actual look/outfit possibilities from a wardrobe with just these items is drastically higher than the 8 produced in this post. I wanted to keep it simple. I did not repeat any of the looks/styles for an item. For example, if I had an outfit with black pants, I didn’t create another outfit with black pants. If I had one outfit with the evolve top as a tank top, I didn’t use that same style in another outfit.
The 4 Multi-Way Items I Used
- Encircled Chrysalis Cardi. Pitched as a multiway travel dress, it is a circle scarf with snaps that allow it to be worn 8+ ways on its own. (See HPL Review)
- Encircled Evolve Top. Reversible back-to-front cowl neck shirt with 8+ ways to wear it using snaps to change sleeve length. (See HPL Review)
- Helene Clarkson Nadi Wrap. A rectangular piece of fabric with buttons that allow it to be styled 7+ ways.
- Helene Clarkson Aro Reversible Cigarette Pants. Pull-on pants that reverse inside-out from solid black to slightly patterned charcoal gray.
I consider all of these items to be on the expensive side, although because they can be used in multiple ways they are a good value. Nonetheless, I asked for and received the Cardi as a gift, and the other three I bought on sale.
As a reference, I am 5’4″ and wearing an XS in the top and pants, and petite in the Cardi. The wrap is one size.
The 8 Unique Outfits I Created
Again, each of the outfits I created didn’t repeat a style. Here they are in more detail:
- Cardi as cocoon cardi
- Top as boat neck with cap sleeves
- Wrap as short scarf
- Pants black side
- Cardi as Grecian tunic
- Top as cowl neck with cap sleeves
- Wrap as double looped circle scarf
- Cardi as long skirt
- Top as boat neck with the longest (dolman) sleeves
- Wrap as cardigan (called bolero jacket by Helene Clarkson)
- Cardi belt only
- Top as sleeveless cowl neck
- Wrap as skirt
- Cardi as one shoulder dress
- Wrap as one shoulder top
- Cardi as short skirt
- Top as sleeveless boat neck
- Wrap as long scarf
- Cardi as wrap dress
- Wrap as wrap (no buttons used)
- Cardi as a double looped scarf
- Top as dolman sleeve cowl neck
- Wrap as poncho with buttons on the shoulder
- Pants gray side
Because the pants can only be worn two ways, that was a limiting factor for my unique outfits. Above are three more possibilities for tops: x-back halter and cape with the Cardi, and poncho with buttons in the front with the Wrap (shown on the dress in outfit 7).
There are also additional options for some items, including different styles and lengths for scarves, tying the belt in other ways or adding it to more outfits, and using different lengths for each sleeve of the shirt.
What I Learned
This was a surprisingly fun exercise!
At first, I was even overwhelmed by all the possible combinations. Although I do not particularly care about fashion or consider myself fashionable—I generally prioritize looking presentable without sacrificing comfort—I find using multi-purpose items makes me feel more stylish and increases my confidence.
I also enjoy the challenge of thinking of new ways to use these items and making them work together.
I came up with outfits that are appropriate for many types of occasions, both casual and more formal.
Changing the shoes and adding jewelry are easy ways to dress the outfits up or down even more. Some (such as 1 and 8) would be great for travel days or when the weather is cooler, while others (especially 4) are ideal for hot weather.
Some looks work, and some looks don’t.
As Caroline mentioned in her review of the Chrysalis Cardi, most people will prefer certain looks for multi-use clothing, and may even have some styles that just don’t work for them. The Nadi Wrap can be worn as a strapless top, which looks cute but won’t stay up on me unless I pin it.
In general, I don’t really like off-the-shoulder or one-shoulder looks. This is the main reason I combined the two one shoulder looks in outfit 5. However, I actually think both one-shoulder styles look good on their own, too!
Having items that can be used in so many ways allows me to occasionally wear things I wouldn’t normally, without spending more money on a specific item I don’t think I would wear.
I don’t have to worry about temperature fluctuations throughout the day.
Another thing I love about wearing these multi-purpose items is I can easily change my outfit throughout the day. If I’m wearing the Wrap or Cardi as a scarf and I get chilly, I can easily change it into a poncho or cape to cover my shoulders. I do this type of quick-change very often while traveling!
Things to Consider
Despite the overall success of this project, there are several things to keep in mind:
There’s an essential (for me) feature missing from these items.
Perhaps the biggest consideration for me is there are NO pockets (often the downfall of travel dresses as well)! I often avoid bringing a handbag if I can fit my phone, wallet, and keys in my pockets. With these outfits, I would have to bring one.
I would absolutely bring both a small sewing kit and several small safety pins.
Because the Cardi has snaps that can become loose, and the Wrap relies on buttons, having a sewing needle and thread is a necessity. When I am wearing the Cardi as either type of skirt I don’t feel totally secure with just the belt holding it up, so I add a safety pin under the belt to secure the fabric.
Safety pins always come in handy.
This combination of items only works for certain kinds of trips.
It’s great for city breaks but would not work well for trips that involve any hiking, for instance. Although I brought my Chrysalis Cardi on my trip to North and West Africa and it was useful, this whole combination would not be a good choice for that trip or similar trips.
The fact that I bought a white Evolve Top also excludes it from some of my trips. Plus it and the Cardi take longer to dry. The Nadi Wrap is lighter weight and faster drying, so that may be a better choice for certain trips.
Once I feel safe traveling again, I think it would be fun to go on a trip with just these items and a purse or small bag, like Clara Bensen did in her book No Baggage: A Tale of Love and Wandering, and Brooke’s three week trip with just a handbag. Because I can wear all four items at the same time in multiple ways, I would not need to pack any of them on travel days.
But at the same time I wouldn’t have to wear the same outfit everyday like Clara did on her trips.
In the future, I will use this combination as a starting point for packing, then add or subtract other items to make the combination that works best for each trip. Even using three of the items instead of four would give me lots of outfits!
Although I like wearing skirts and dresses, I tend to wear pants more often. If I were traveling with only these four items I would likely wear the pants more than I did in these outfits. However, every outfit I came up with was both comfortable and, I think, looked nice.
For now, I will keep wearing these items in my everyday life at home!
*Thanks to Mark Gallardo for being my photographer.
About the author: Originally from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth has lived in several states, went to graduate school in Australia, and currently resides in Ithaca, New York. She and her partner run The Hat Off His Head: Stories of Kindness Across Cultures. Find it on Instagram or Facebook to read the stories and share your own.
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I get it – it’s important to travel as lightly as possible. However, two of those styles look a bit ridiculous. just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Throw in an extra blouse and you can make the same number of changes and look more stylish. But thanks for the effort and showing what can be done if you really try.
Yes, the point was to show what is possible without adding in any other clothes, or needing to pack anything besides the clothes on your back (or even repeating a style for an item). It was a fun exercise that we hope to recreate with different multi-way clothing items in the future 🙂
Elizabeth McCarthy says
Hi Maureen! Thanks for the feedback! I’d love to know which outfits you’re referring to, and how you’d personally modify/improve them 🙂 As I mentioned, I’m no fashion expert!