I Just Got Back From California—3 Lessons I Learned on Low-Key Dressing

I’ve been visiting California to see family my whole life, but for one of the first times I went as an adult (and newfound fashion girl), I felt like I had to go all out style-wise. I’m talking Paris Hilton–inspired graphic T-shirts, minidresses, and stilettos. However, that only made me look like a tourist. I realized quickly it didn’t quite match up with the laid-back style the people in the state have mastered, also know as California cool.

Having a low-key sense of style is the ultimate power move, and after ending 2023 in California, I felt inspired to adopt that mentality. For my most recent trip, I packed a simple capsule wardrobe that was easy to dress up or down. Below, discover three lessons I learned while I was in the Golden State.

Lesson #1: Always overestimate any signs of bad weather.

sierra mayhew fashion editor, California outfit ideas

(Image credit: @_sierramayhew)

California may be known as a sunny state, but the weather isn’t always as warm as people expect. I have heard of many friends packing as if they were going somewhere tropical only to quickly become disappointed. Keep in mind this is a state where people wear an enormous puffer jacket the second it drops below 70ºF. I’ve noticed that Californians overestimate any signs of bad weather. If the forecast indicates even a drop of rain, they’re in rain boots. If the temperature is 63º, they’re in coats. It’s not fashionable to be uncomfortable, so prepare for the worst so that you can look your best.

Lesson #2: You really only need the basics.

sierra mayhew fashion editor, california outfit ideas

(Image credit: @_sierramayhew)

I mentioned before that when I first started going to L.A. as an adult, I didn’t quite understand the dress code. When I pack for a trip to somewhere like Miami, my suitcase is filled with statement pieces and not much else. Now, as I’ve become more familiar with traveling to California, I pretty much stick to a capsule wardrobe. There’s always a blazer or two and lots of tanks, tees, and denim. The simpler, the better, and wow, does it make packing a bit easier. This is a trick I’d like to bring into my life in general.

Lesson #3: When in doubt, wear double denim or a matching set.

sierra mayhew fashion editor, california outfit ideas

(Image credit: @_sierramayhew)

When you’re in the wild, wild West, you might as well do as the cowboys do. If I’m lost on an outfit to wear (whether I’m in California or at home in New York), I find myself slipping into a Canadian tuxedo or matching set. If you’re packing for a trip out West or you’re simply trying to emulate the style at home, I highly suggest this move.

Shop my California wardrobe:

Associate Editor

Sierra Mayhew was always destined to work in fashion, but she didn't know it at first. Growing up with no choice but to wear a rotation of school uniforms and activewear, her love for fashion really blossomed when she moved away for college and was able to finally define her very own personal style. Shortly thereafter, she interned at Elle magazine and instantly knew that editorial was for her. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she worked for ShopBazaar, contributing regularly to Bazaar.com, and finally made her way to Who What Wear, where she is an associate editor. When she’s not working, you can catch her always trying to catch a flight, rollerblading through New York City traffic, or exploring the latest luxury vintage boutique.