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Wondering what to pack for Washington D.C.? We’ve got year-round fashion advice from travel girls who’ve visited the capital city in every season for years! Read on to find out what to bring on your trip.
What to Pack for Washington D.C. Year-Round
Written By: Lola Méndez & Josie Reim
Washington D.C. has always been one of my favorite places to visit in the United States. There’s an abundance of history to be uncovered, an up-and-coming foodie scene, and gorgeous nature to discover.
In this post, we’ve compiled packing advice and style tips for those heading to the District of Columbia for a weekend of fun or for a weeklong business trip any time of year.
When you’re organizing your clothes for this trip, keep in mind that Washington D.C. is extremely sophisticated. You never know when you may run into a prominent politician or lawmaker! The style scene here is unique in that it is professional, preppy, but also just a bit edgy.
Overwhelmed at the idea of packing in just one bag? Intrigued by the idea of the freedom of traveling carry-on only? This 10-step packing guide is for you!
Many young adults head straight to happy hour in their suits and dresses. You’ll feel out of place if you enter an upscale bar in distressed denim and an old t-shirt. However, that same look would be totally acceptable in the city’s various collegiate districts like Adams Morgan and Foggy Bottom.
The capital city also has an abundance of malls and shopping areas, so be sure to leave some room in your suitcase to bring back some new clothes. All of the suggested items here can be purchased at shops in the D.C. area with most stores located on the beautiful M Street in the Georgetown area.
DC experiences all four seasons. Summer is normally hot and humid, especially in July and August. In the fall, the temperature cools down comfortably. In winter, there can be plenty of snow and even freezing rain. Springtime has great weather.
Before you go, make sure to check the forecast for when you’ll be visiting! Once you’ve researched the weather, you can focus on creating a travel capsule wardrobe, which should easily fit in a carryon suitcase with the help of packing cubes to compress your clothing.
What to Wear in Washington DC: Spring, Summer, and Fall
While distressed may not be the denim style of choice for the district, you’ll be happy that you packed a sleek dark pair of denim. Weather in D.C. fluctuates year-round, but you’ll find locals wearing jeans in all four seasons.
Here are a few key points to choose the best jeans for your trip!
Boyfriend Shirt | Classic Shirt
Preppy style rules in Washington D.C. A button-up can be worn so many different ways! In the winter, throw a patterned v-neck sweater over it for extra warmth. In the summer, unbutton the top and bottom buttons and cuff the sleeves short for an easy, breezy look.
Shirt dresses are versatile, comfortable, and easy-to-wear for travel. Find out why as I show you how to wear a shirtdress on vacation!
Small Crossbody Bag | Zipper Flap Shoulder Bag
To keep things close to your body, the best bag to bring while walking around DC is a small crossbody bag. I usually bring something with zippers that’s lightweight enough to carry a small water bottle and a few snacks.
A stylish and chic carryall bag is a must-have when visiting D.C. The perfect crossbody styles make it easy to find your phone, wallet, and metro card when you’re rushing to catch the train or waiting in line to purchase a delicious Georgetown Cupcake. A neutral color means it will pair well with any outfit and be timeless regardless of the season.
Let’s take a look at the best day bag options for every type of trip!
Leather Card Wallet | Zip Around Wallet
Small Zippered Wallet
If you’re planning to visit the National Mall or any of the other free attractions, you’re most likely to take the Metro, D.C.’s subway system. This is an interactive Metro map that helps you find hotels close to public transportation. You can purchase a SmartTrip pass to get a discount on each ride.
Once you have the SmartTrip card, you can place it inside of your wallet and just swipe your wallet over the SmartTrip sensor like the locals do. It’s a great way to keep from fumbling with your wallet every time you get on an off the subway.
One of the best experiences in Washington D.C. is walking around all the incredible monuments at night. No matter what time of year you’re visiting, you’ll need an extra layer to stay warm as you stroll the mall and admire the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial, and more. A cute and cozy sweatshirt is the perfect piece.
Find out why we love these lightweight jackets for travel!
A patterned dress is the perfect versatile item to bring to D.C. year-round. Pack a style that’s loose enough to be airy in the summer and easily layered in the winter. Darker styles transition well from season to season.
Choose one that can be worn with sandals in the summer or paired with thick tights and ankle boots in the winter.
Find out how to turn any of your dresses into a versatile dress!
Choose a side between collegiate rivals and make friends or enemies by wearing a George Washington University hat or Georgetown University one. The hat will provide protection from the sun in the spring and summer and warmth in the fall and winter.
You’ll blend right into the brunch crowd at Founding Farmers on the weekend, which offers an array of organic farm-to-table dishes. My favorite options are available in the fall during the local harvest. After brunch, head to locally-owned Captain Cookie to indulge your sweet tooth and eat raw cookie dough (don’t worry, it’s eggless!)
Use these cute summer hair ideas for fun and stylish ways to update your vacation hairdo!
A durable and comfortable pair of sneakers are a necessity year-round in D.C. In hotter weather, reliable walking sandals will keep your feet cool and comfortable.
While the metro system is fantastic, the best way to explore the city is on foot. You’ll spend hours walking around the monuments and the many Smithsonian museums so you need something extremely comfortable. If you have time, head over to nearby Great Falls, Virginia for a gorgeous hike where you can see many waterfalls!
If you’ll be going out, getting dressed up, and painting the town red–yet still want to be comfortable–we recommend wedges or a block heel.
From luxury to mainstream, casual sneakers are everywhere this season! We have 6 on-trend styles that you’ll want to shop now!
While D.C. may be all about classic American style, you’ll find many trendy girls throw on some edgy accessories to make their look more modern.
In the spring, D.C. has a tendency to be 70°F and sunny in the afternoon then 40°F and chilly in the evening, so you’ll be glad to have your go-to leather jacket on hand. If you’re in the market for a new one, this jacket from Banana Republic is a great motorcycle-style rendition.
Learn about layering for cold weather and some of our favorite jackets for travel!
What to Wear in DC: Winter
Mighty Lite | Chevron Down Coat
Quilted Down Coat
When you’re planning what to pack for Washington DC in winter, make sure to bring a good warm coat. The go-to coat of choice in the D.M.V. (short for D.C., Maryland, Virginia) is the quilted down coat. Get one with a hood to keep your head protected from the elements, whether it be rain or snow.
If you don’t want to carry everything in your crossbody bag, invest in a coat with zippered pockets.
Open Close Umbrella | Windproof Umbrella
The weather in the DC Metro area changes constantly. Be prepared by bringing a small, compact umbrella. Although you may have a hooded jacket, the rainfall level is unpredictable.
In the many times I’ve visited the National Mall throughout all the seasons, I’ve only been there once where it didn’t rain at all. An umbrella is the insurance you need to keep your visit to DC enjoyable.
Read more tips on what to wear on a rainy day!
High Rise Jeans | Skinny Ankle Jean
When you’re planning what to pack for Washington DC in winter – choose pants instead of skirts or dresses. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a dress or skirt paired with leggings when you’re sightseeing, but between the cold weather and the long walks you’ll be doing, you’ll be glad that you wore pants.
These are the best leggings for women that travel!
Mogul Leggings | Woolies 2 Bottom
Unless you plan on using Uber or taking taxicabs all over the city, you don’t need to wear a dress or skirt in the winter. A black pair of skinny jeans are perfect to tuck into a pair of boots; if you need additional warmth, layer a pair of tights underneath the jeans.
Thermals are the key to packing light in winter. Find out how to choose the warmest long underwear for women!
Waterproof Boots | Leather Boots
I recently took my mom to DC to visit the National Zoo. Unfortunately, she decided to wear a pair of shoes she had purchased the night before. Don’t make her mistake – wear shoes that you’ve already broken in. Not only did it cause blisters and other aches, it also cut short a nice visit to the zoo.
I like wearing short boots with traction because it feels a little more sophisticated than a pair of sneakers but doesn’t lack function and comfort. Search for a waterproof pair and you’re good to go!
Take a look at the best waterproof boots for travel this season!
What are your tips on what to pack year-round for Washington D.C? Share and comment below!
For more North America packing tips, please read:
- What to Wear in New York
- What to Pack for Boston
- What to Wear in Connecticut
- What to Wear in California
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Author Bio: Lola Méndez is a full-time traveler sharing her adventures on Miss Filatelista as she adds to her collection of passport stamps. She travels to develop her own worldview and has explored 46 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Author Bio: Josie Reim has been traveling the world with a carry-on luggage since 1995 and has visited 18 countries. She loves immersing herself in the local culture, including learning the language and seeking out local wildlife. Packing is a way of life for Josie as she and her husband move their home around the United States often.
I visit D.C for the first time this summer – mid-July- and I’m so glad I read this post and took my umbrella and my Adidas sneakers with me. I was planning on only taking sandals and doubted including any sneakers in my baggage. Thanks toThe Travel girl’s advice, I could enjoy my trip without any foot pain issues and stay dry! If I have any tip to add to this post, it would be to include linen clothes if you are planning to go in the middle of the summer!
I frequently travel to DC area when my boyfriend, an attorney, has business there. I am retired so I get to tag along. We drive there so I am able to throw different outerwear in the car.
When he is at meetings, I poke around DC. I am 64 and found that comfortable but stylish shoes are a mist if you walk a lot. I typically pack a very casual wrap dress, solid color with comfy gladiator sandals in summer. I have also packed polished trouser jeans with a stylish top and comfortable stylish loafers or small block heel open toe shoes. In the spring I bring a lightweight trenchcoat. A shawl, poncho or wrap is also perfect to bring.
The key is stylish, polished if you are older. Something appropriate for museums and a cafe, etc. Think Banana Republic, Ann Taylor type clothing. I am going again when the weather will be mid 70’s. Packing grey jeans, a pale pink short sleeve shirt with tie front, with a chunky necklace. Navy handbag, navy open toe block heel shoes that are comfy.
I would never dress like a tourist: shorts, tank top, etc. You want to look classy if you are older.
Hi Gail, thank you for taking the time to share your packing list for DC with us, sounds awesome. Safe and stylish travels!
My wife and I are going this weekend, February 16-19. It will rain and snow with temperatures in the 40’s. We’re staying at a fancy hotel, The Fairmont in Georgetown. We both ave expensive Fall Coats. I have a rain resistant performance jacket. Should we go for the technical clothes of the fancy coats that might get wet and cold?
Hi Khanh, thank you for reaching out! If the weather forecast is predicting rain and snow and you have a lot of outdoor activities planned then I think you would be best prepared taking your water resistant jacket. If you will be spending more time inside then you fall coat should be ok if you layered your clothes correctly against the cold and had an umbrella in your bag. Have a look at this article for some ideas for packing for the cold weather: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/how-to-pack-for-cold-weather/ Also have a read of this for tips on what to wear on a rainy day: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/what-to-wear-on-a-rainy-day/ Hope this helps. Have an amazing weekend! 🙂
If going out to dinner after a day of sightseeing, is a dress or skirt paired with a dressy jacket work., for early May
Hi Patti, sounds like a fantastic outfit. Remember to check the weather forecast nearer your departure dates to know if you will need a light jacket or coat. Also you may find this post helpful for ideas on how to create a day to night outfit: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/best-day-to-night-travel-outfits/ Have a wonderful trip!
Going to visit my older brother next week so I appreciate your advice about the compact umbrella! Great ideas!
Hi Erin, thank you so much for your feedback! Glad you like it. Have a great trip 🙂
I’m a native and this is perfect advice!
Yay 🙂 Glad you approve!
What about Spring Break?
My Daughter will be there, and we’re not sure what she will need pack for that time. Thanks!
If visiting government buildings & many museums, think minimalist. You’ll have to pass through security check points.
I would also suggest fleece lined tights! They’re a life-saver if you love skirts and dresses like I do, and don’t want to freeze in colder climates!
I read this post as I was on my way to the airport to fly to DC!
Hope it was spot on 😉
All of your suggestions are so spot on for DC area. Especially the umbrella. I always make sure to have a bright or funky pattern umbrella. The reason being I travel with my family and if we get separated I pop up the umbrella and they look for that and we get reconnected. This happened once with my young son he went to throw something away and got turned around and couldn’t see us. I realized I couldn’t see him and popped open my umbrella he spotted it and found us right away.
Great tip, thank you Tracy!