For a certain sector of clothing enthusiast, nowhere do principles of cloth selection, construction, versatility and coordination more perfectly culminate than when it comes time to contain their garments in a case for travel. Packing, is for those fringe elements, art. I can’t say I share the position; neither can I deny a certain pleasure in a properly packed case that produces barely wrinkled, easily unpacked garments a few moments after arriving at a destination. So in that spirit, I offer a few principles of packing well.
At the heart of the matter is a tension between efficiency and care—the need to use space wisely and the desire not to damage your things in the process. I firmly favor care, which means I’d rather pack less and make do then cram more and risk wrinkled lapels and shoulders unsalvageable with mere irons and shower steam. But I also believe the right case can allow some compromise between the two. A hard shell case might seem old fashioned, but cannot be beaten for interior space and exterior durability.
These also encourage the building of an interior architecture. For a short trip, that architecture might look as follows: two pairs of odd trousers, halved at the knee and laid flat; one pair of shoes, in shoe bags, one at either end of the case; socks and underwear folded or rolled along the long sides of the case; into the central cavity now created by shoes, socks and underwear place folded shirts, handkerchieves, ties, sweaters, polos, bathing suit and dopp kit in layers; buckle straps, if present; finally, lay tailored jackets, shoulders pushed through and folded in half, on top and gently close the lid.
What’s this business about pushing shoulders through? As techniques go, this one is better shown than described, but the basic principle is to reverse one shoulder into the cavity of the other and then fold the jacket in half, protecting the lapels and jacket fronts in the process. There are two things to keep in mind though. One, the interior straps of a hard case are terrific for securing your other items, but to cinch a gorgeous navy double breasted is criminal. Secondly, this is a technique most suited to active traveling shorter than three hours, after which time wrinkles are inevitable.
Enter the garment bag, by which I don’t mean the luggage variety meant to be checked. Instead I refer to the vinyl or cloth ones that come with suits. I despise having to keep these, but I do for precisely the following reason. Whether through magic or physics, a suit in a garment bag, folded in half and put into a case resists wrinkles. This ease and care comes at heavy cost though; plopping a garment bag full of suit in a case is a lavish waste of space. As I said, at the core of packing is a debate between efficiency and care.
Hats, of course, are impossible, and I always smile when I see those men so dedicated to their prize felt or straw that the thing doesn’t leave their head for fear of being mangled in an overhead bin. A valid fear, I would say, but with an unreasonable response. For me, travel is an ideal opportunity to use a soft cap. That’s a compromise I’m happy to make.