We just returned from a long weekend in Charleston for my birthday, and suffice it to say I’m already looking forward to going back! I’d been to Charleston a handful of times for bachelorettes and vacations, but this time felt different. I don’t know whether I’ve changed or Charleston has, but between the beautiful aesthetics, southern-meets-sea vibe, and incredible food and shopping, it finally clicked why Charleston is such a special destination.
Most of what I wore in Charleston looked like lightweight separates and dresses to keep me cool during the day, but I also packed a handful of dressy evening pieces and a swim look for a day at Sullivan’s Island (a must if you visit!).
See below for everything I wore in Charleston, a Charleston packing guide, and a shortlist of can’t-miss spots to bookmark for your next visit to the holy city.
We arrived at our hotel with a little daylight left to explore, so I threw on separates I could walk in and wear straight to dinner. I’ve had this floral top on rotation all summer (currently on sale, last seen here) and this Vince skirt (also on sale) is a newer favorite. We hit Rainbow Row and the battery before heading to Basic Kitchen. I always feel tired after road trips, so a healthy meal and tucking into bed early hit the spot!
The next night, we made a reservation at Chez Nous (maybe my favorite restaurant in the city). What I love about Charleston is that you can wear just about anything you want out. Want to dress up? Go for it. Tired from the day and want to keep it casual? That’s fine too. Since I had a few new pieces to give a spin, I wore the summer date night look below.
Our hotel delivered a continental-style breakfast in a picnic basket to our door each morning, so we picked at that most days. There are dozens of brunch spots in Charleston, so we did make a point to walk to breakfast at Miller’s All Day. I wore lightweight twill shorts and a floral camisole since I knew we’d be outside afterward and paired it with a linen blazer to keep comfortable in the A/C.
Shopping on King Street
The shopping in Charleston competes with larger metropolitan areas, thanks mostly to boutiques that have curated selections of designers you may not see elsewhere. Even if you don’t want to spend much, walking King Street is a fun activity in itself. There’s everything from antiques to jewelry, clothing, bars, and candle shops. I wore this simple dress (so good—I have it in two colors).
Dinner and Drinks
We did a proper drinks and dinner outing for my birthday (Little Palm bar followed by the best italian at La Farfelle). I’d gifted myself this Agua Bendita dress to celebrate a business-related achievement in July, and it felt like the perfect moment to wear it. A sweet dress with heels seems to be the Charleston uniform for date night or girls night out, and I’m on board with that. For low back pieces like this dress, I wear these covers underneath.
Day Trip to the Beach
There are a handful of beaches a short drive from Charleston, including Sullivan’s Island, Kiawah Island, and Folly Beach. We popped over the bridge to Sullivan’s for the day (our hotel had beach chairs and towels for rent). I wore a white swimsuit set and my favorite floral sarong of the season (last seen here). I brought my Naghedi tote which, while an investment, I can’t recommend enough. It’s huge, stretchy, holds a ton, and the material doesn’t pick up sand. I’ve used it as a work tote, on road trips, for air travel, and on vacation—perfect in every way for anyone who needs a large bag to carry all the things.
Charleston Travel Outfit
We packed up Monday morning to head home but wanted to get one last look at the water before hitting the road. I always get chilly in the car, so I wore a transitional sweater and comfortable chinos, both of which I picked up at J.Crew while in town. The Chloe bag and Janessa Leone hat are two favorites I’ve had on heavy rotation all summer, but sadly they are almost sold out, so I linked similar below.
What to Wear in Charleston, SC
What Do People Wear in Charleston
Charleston style is unique in that it seems to marry the best of both worlds from beach fashion and traditional southern fashion. Honestly, though, the main thing you’ll see is dresses, from casual day dresses and sundresses to flowy evening dresses. They’re the number one thing I recommend packing for Charleston, regardless of what time of year you visit.
In spring in summer, a great sundress will take you from shopping on King Street to brunch and even a dinner out, when paired with the right accessories. I also saw a lot of athleisure, including exercise dresses, tanks and shorts, and casual, breathable pieces on people exploring the city by foot.
In fall or winter, packing a variety of layers for Charleston is best as the weather can be unpredictable. Temperatures in the 80s can linger into early October but unexpectedly dip in the evenings. For a fall visit, I’d pack long sleeve mini and maxi dresses in fall tones, lightweight denim and fall blouses, and layers, like cardigans and light sweaters, for the evening.
Charleston Packing List
Here’s what I recommend packing for a 3-5 night trip to Charleston:
- Casual Outfits: If you’re staying downtown, you’ll likely be walking a good bit during the day. Comfortable separates or a casual dress is best. I packed shorts and simple tops to mix and match. If you want to prioritize comfort, athleisure is completely fine.
- Day to Evening Dresses: Breathable dresses that transition from day to night are a must in this city. They’ll keep you cool shopping, exploring, brunching, and lunching, and then you can throw on a cute heel and grab an evening clutch for dinner. My favorite brands for this style of dress are Xirena, Sundry, and J.Crew.
- Beach Day Essentials: If you plan to visit the beach, I recommend packing a bathing suit, coverup, and tote. Most of the beaches have cute strips of restaurants and bars, so wear a coverup you’ll feel comfortable grabbing a drink or meal in.
- Shoes: Must-have shoes for a Charleston trip include beach-friendly sandals, a walking shoe (white sneakers, birkenstocks, or comfortable sandals), and a dressier shoe for dinner (heeled sandals or booties). Downtown has a lot of cobblestone streets, so keep that in mind when picking your heel style.
Charleston Travel Guide
Charleston has so much to offer. I think you could visit 100 times and not see it all. I did research before our trip to build our itinerary (Grace Atwood’s Charleston Guide was awesome for this). I also found it hugely helpful to ask locals what their favorite spots were once we arrived. Here were our favorite eats, shopping spots, and activities:
- Coffee: The Rise coffee shop was attached to our hotel and serves the best cold brew I’ve ever had. Also loved the coffee and breakfast at Miller’s All Day (get it to go and walk to the water).
- Lunch: Basic Kitchen was a cute healthy lunch spot for salads, bowls, etc. Raw 167 had the best seafood, but I recommend getting a reservation for a proper table (we sat at the bar).
- Bars: Little Palm, The Watch, and Bin 152 were our favorite bars. The Watch has an amazing view of downtown.
- Dinner: Chez Nous, La Farfelle, and Sorgum & Salt are three restaurants I’m already dying to visit again. Seriously, every single thing we ate and drank at these places was to die for.
- Shopping: I loved browsing the designer selection at Hampden Clothing, and it was fun to see the Lake Pajamas store in person. Croghan’s Jewel Box is a must see.
- Activities: Rainbow Row and the Battery are musts if it’s your first visit. We did a sunset sail on Schooner Pride, which I loved because there’s no narration/tour, so you just sip and enjoy the views. We drove over to Sullivan’s Island and around the neighborhoods in Mt. Pleasant. Downtown offers plenty of art galleries, museums, and antique shops to explore.
- Stay: We stayed at The Restoration Hotel and, while I’d stay there again, I’m going to try Guesthouse on our next visit.
There you have it! That’s everything I wore in Charleston, a Charleston packing list, and a mini guide to the city. If you have any questions about our visit or what to wear in Charleston, SC, fire away in the comments.