I find myself in a fashion conundrum, and I wonder if you might be able to help. I will be leaving in a month for a 2-month, 5- country South American backpacking extravaganza! The itinerary includes both urban and rural destinations, and I need to figure out how to look hip in Buenos Aires, while keeping warm on Lake Titicaca, and simultaneously looking hot in Rio (I also will probably do some volunteer work as well, so some of my clothes will inevitably get covered with paint or typhoid). This wardrobe has to fit into a backpack, and survive bus rides, rainy seasons and hostel laundry facilities.
I have an extremely small budget, but I might be able to splurge for one or two essential pieces. However, I am a pretty great seamstress, and can sew anything within reason....What should I buy/make/pack? Help a sister out!
In the Buff in Bolivia
Dear In the Buff,
First of all, I'm mega jealous! To make up for not inviting me, will you at least sew me a well-fitting dress? Thanks.
Ah, the South American backpacking extravaganza! A rite of passage! A chance to find yourself! And, most importantly, a supreme fashion challenge!
I haven't gone on a South American backpacking extravaganza (which is probably why I haven't found myself, although I still need to check under the couch), but if I were to go, I would pack a selection of simple pieces that, with minimal effort, can take you from the hiking trail to city and back. For short, we'll call this look, "What everyone wears in Portland, Oregon."
When I read your query, the first thing that popped into my mind was a recent post over at the Fashion-y Blog about Alternative Apparel. The clothes are edgy, cute, but very simple, and check it out, the models are even covered in paint (and possibly typhoid):
Now, of course I'm not saying that you need to buy an entire collection of slightly overpriced eco-friendly athletic wear. But take, as an example, the charcoal tanktop in the upper right hand corner--besides the eerie fact that the model looks EXACTLY like I would after a night or two in the South American jungles (my hair would probably look worse), a flattering tanktop like this would be great paired with some slouchy olive green cargo pants and hiking boots for schlepping around in the jungle ("plus a light long-sleeved layer on top!" screams my brother, "BOT FLIES!"), but then, you get into town, take off your long-sleeved layer, check for bot flies, throw on a comfy/cute blue jersey skirt, some smart flats, and boom, you'd look totally at home in a restaurant or salsa club.
Fine Jersey Drape Skirt (can be worn as skirt or dress, and I'm sure you could make this for, like, $3), $30, americanapparel.net
Continue this theme of easy versatility through the rest of your clothes too, and you'll be able to weave your trail wear into your city wear: a light, waterproof jacket looks great layered over a flowy cotton dress, for example.
I'd really like to hear from other readers on this one, though. Those of you who have gone on backpacking extravaganzas--What did you wear on the trail and in the city? What did you pack that you didn't end up wearing at all? And which was worse, the typhoid or the bot flies?