• Shona McCarthy

The Lands of Climate Control: Why Dressing In Layers Matters When You Travel

As I touch on in another post, there is a world of discomfort you can face when you don't bring the right clothing on your vacation. But how can you dress appropriately for the different climates without taking up too much luggage space? Here are two significant points to consider.

(A selfie I took in my kimono layers, plus a wool haori and a scarf, both of which really helped me stay warm on my journey. I was in the Kyoto Imperial Palace Grounds. 2019.)

1. Public Establishments Can be Completely Different From Outside! Each time I have travelled to Asia, whether it was Japan, China or Taiwan, I have noticed that buildings are often very hot or very cold. What I mean by this is that for one reason or another, malls, restaurants, theatres, airports and hotels are often heated to the point where you will sweat through your clothes during the colder months. During the warmer months, these same locations will be air conditioned to the point of shivering and goose pimples during the warmer months.

I don't really understand why this is the case. I think it would advantage these establishments to turn down the heat/cool since they could save on electricity. And I can tell you, there are many times I rushed to leave such establishments when I otherwise wanted to stay and spend, purely because I was too uncomfortable. I spent much of my last trip in Japan thinking that maybe I was the only one suffering this way. But then I saw a troupe of American tourists in Haneda Airport making the same complaint. So I knew I wasn't alone.

But this, amongst other reasons, is why I recommend dressing in layers when you travel to Asia, or really any unfamiliar place. While I faithfully looked at the weather forecast every time I chose my clothing, I still spent much of my trip mildly dehydrated from sweating so much. What I found worked was when I would deliberately wear the thinnest possible base layer and then to stack coats and jackets on top till I felt warm enough. For me, that meant thin kimono underwear, with a thin kimono on top, summer style accessories, etc and then various hanten and kimono coats on top. But for you, that might mean a t-shirt and thin pants, or a skirt. In this way, just having a hat, a scarf and gloves is remarkably helpful. I used to think of these as superfluous items, but the fact is that they take up very little space in your luggage. You can pick them up cheap at Daiso or thrift stores. Having them meant I always had items I could use to keep myself much warmer quickly, but then to feel cool again with equal ease.

(A picture taken of me by Josiah Sillavan. I was standing in the Osaka Castle grounds, 2019, wearing kimono, hanten and a kimono coat. I'm also wearing a hat and a bomber jacket as a shawl, with the help of a duck clip brooch. It was very cold and windy that day, but I was fine.)

2. Many Thin Layers Will Take Up Less Space Than A Few Thick Ones! And Save You Laundry Money!

Another reason dressing in layers is useful when you travel is how much luggage space and money you can save. When I went on my last trip, I often wore a simple base of Occidental clothing under my kimono outfits. But because they were a base layer, they were rarely if ever seen. So I could wear them once and I could wear them the next day inside out. There were times when I wore them alone, and since I like to sometimes dress grunge or punk, the inside out clothes looked deliberate.

This all meant that when it came time to do my laundry, I had halved the number of base layers I needed to wash. Outer layers don't need cleaning so often, since the base layers keep them from gathering so much sweat, dead skin, oils and bacteria. This means that you can wear them over and over without washing till they are conspicuously dirty. Worn smells can be managed by buying a bottle of fabric freshener from a Daiso, or bringing a small bottle of fragrant oil in your checked baggage.

I wish I could take personal credit for the above system, but actually, it's something I partly learned from my mother, and partly from how kimono dressing typically works. Since kimono are often delicate and difficult to clean, wearers do well to avoid cleaning them any more than is truly necessary, and to wear washable layers below. All in all, this means that providing you choose carefully, you might be able to do any trip of indefinite length with only three or four full sets of clothing, eight sets of underpants and socks, and a good access to a washer and dryer, and you should only need to do your laundry about once a week. You can even bridge seasons if you are willing to have summer clothes as your outer layers, and thermal wear as your inner layers. Some might say, "Why not simply re-wear your socks and underpants inside out? What about bras?" I don't recommend rewearing such intimate items. They gather an amount of bacteria in a day of standard use that is going to elevate your risk of smelling bad and/or contracting an infection, which is the last thing you want when you travel. I think that most women could get away with re-wearing bras inside out. Breast infections, while possible, are relatively rare. However, you would want to select a type of bra you can comfortably wear inside out. Crop tops work out to be easiest for me.


You will want to take an extra foldable bag with you at all times, particularly a large one. This is so that when you do need to remove a significant amount of clothing, you will have somewhere convenient to put it. Whenever I have gone overseas, I've always lost at least one item of clothing for want of another bag. And really, it's just nice to have your hands free for all the wonderful things you'll want to eat, feel or play with on your journey!

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