Travel Essentials: Joan Didion’s 1979 Packing List Is Still The Best
Long before the packing list became a standard feature of beauty and fashion publications, writer Joan Didion put forth the penultimate packing list in her 1979 essay “The White Album.”
At 80, the acclaimed novelist, journalist, National Medal of Arts & Humanities recipient, one-time Vogue editor, and forever style icon, became the face of legendary French fashion house Céline. The year prior, Vogue published an article centering on her immortal packing list and underscored her status as the somewhat unwitting queen of female cool and confidence.
This being the time of year when the packing list features tend to appear, we were reminded of the first and best of this genre.
Didion’s original 1979 packing list was a study in essentials. Not just traveling essentials, but things essential to identity and anonymity, efficiency and indulgence, beauty and economy, comfort and decadence.
Here, (with a nod to Vogue) we reprint her original 1979 packing list as it appeared in her essay “The White Album.”
TO PACK AND WEAR:
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe, slippers
bag with: shampoo
toothbrush and paste
Basis soap, razor
2 legal pads and pens
“This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.”
—Joan Didion, “The White Album”
Because it’s not 1979 anymore, and because we are practitioners of what we preach, our own list would require a modification or two. Carrot sticks or almonds for the cigarettes. We’d keep the bourbon because we can all use a good belt now and again, but add plenty of water to the list. We prefer aloe to baby oil. And probably a laptop for the typewriter. But, we wouldn’t change a word of Joan’s original masterpiece of indispensability.
What are the top items on your packing list?