The baggage carousel might parade accessories in front of an audience, but it can be more of an anti-catwalk than a fashionable showcase. Lumpen rucksacks, gym bags and boring black nylon cases offer further proof that the golden age of travel is about as "over" as a pair of kitten heels. However, while cheap functionality might still prevail when it comes to luggage, among style- conscious travellers there is a growing interest in finding cases and accessories that combine efficiency with aesthetics.

The chic globetrotter's primary strategy in fusing fashion and function is to switch to hand luggage. Fuelled by stories of travellers losing their bags at the newly opened Terminal 5, and keen not to replicate Naomi Campbell's forthcoming court appearance on charges of (baggage-loss induced) air rage, people are opting for carry-on. In April, Selfridges reported an increase of 23 per cent in sales of cabin-sized baggage, and other shops have noticed similar rises. Jon Crossick, the retail director of 51 Degrees North – the travel concession at Harrods – says that carry-on sales "have gone through the roof... our top-selling pieces are all carry-on, and people tend to choose the biggest case they can." He attributes the escalation to the relaxation of the hand-baggage rules – British Airways now allows a case and a handbag, though some other airlines still limit passengers to just one case – fears about lost belongings, and the fact that some budget airlines have introduced charges for checked-in luggage.

While entrusting a cream leather case by a luxury brand such as Valextra to the hold might seem about as sensible as putting a wedding dress in the washing machine along with a bright red T-shirt, keeping your case with you on board means that splashing out on something luxurious is less risky. Chic trolleys include Anya Hindmarch's grey croc-print and YSL's black Edition 24, while Orla Kiely's car-print leather case for Tripp is a more quirky retro style.

Good, affordable fabric trolleys include Puma's sleek Urban Mobility case, and Bric's turquoise version. However, Sebastian Manes, head of Selfridges women's accessories, says, if you can be bothered to carry them, holdalls are the cool option – they exude louche spontaneity – and many designers make holdall-sized versions of their handbags, such as the Mulberry Maxi Mabel and YSL's Travel Downtown.

Collaborations between fashion designers and luggage labels aren't entirely new – Alexander McQueen brought out a range for Samsonite last year, and in 2009 Viktor & Rolf will design a range for the company, but now that you can pick up a suitcase in most supermarkets, higher-end labels are pulling out the stops to differentiate themselves from the mass market, as well as producing items that acknowledge modern restrictions – YSL has a clear-plastic cosmetics wallet embossed with its initials.

Crossick has noticed two distinct trends in terms of look: lightweight cases in polycarbonate, and more retro shapes and materials. At Prada, there have been "brisk sales" in leather suitcases, a revival of traditional structured cases and a trend for matching luggage sets. Jenna Camus, a sales assistant at Beyond Retro, says that there has been "a big increase in people buying vintage cases – last week, a load of tapestry cases came in and we sold out of them almost straight away". Crossick agrees: "There is a definite trend for old-fashioned trunks by the likes of Globe-Trotter and Hartmann, and croc prints are also popular. Lots of people are taking retro shapes, inspired by the leather trunks of the 1930s and 1940s, and updating them with a 21st-century functionality. For example, Globetrotter Orient sells really well."

Even someone who would gladly fling their holiday kit into one of Dot Cotton's laundrette bags couldn't fail to find their pulse racing over one of Globe-Trotter's vintage-style trunks. The brand manager Gary Bott has noticed a general move towards something more refined and nostalgic. The design and manufacturing of their cases hasn't changed in around 100 years, other than to add wheels, and they are still handmade in England using original Victorian machinery. They use 12 layers of strengthened paper to create a fabric that ages in a similar way to denim, and is very light. Lightness is another key trend in luggage – and, as Bott points out, less weighty cases are more environmentally friendly, as is investing in a well-made one that will last for years.

Of course, it's not just a heavy case that can weigh you down. Packing as if you're moving house will too. Here's how to keep it light.

How to pack it all in

Victoria Abbott is fashion adviser at John Lewis, where the personal shopping service offers packing and holiday-wardrobe advice.

* Before you leave

Check the weather forecast; check the luggage-size regulations of the airline you are travelling on as they vary; and find out what facilities and products your hotel offers (hairdryers, shampoo etc).

* Streamlining

Think back to what you actually wore last time you travelled, then halve the number of clothes you have laid out on the bed. Pick a base colour and a base theme eg nautical or safari for this season, then everything will match. Choose a key item such as a maxidress that can be layered over a bikini or T-shirt, and worn during the day or in the evening. Folding Ray-Bans or Persol sunglasses, and folding Pretty Ballerinas pumps also save space.

* How to pack

Tailored clothes such as suit jackets, trousers and shirts should be folded along the creases. Place a suit jacket, button-side up, at the base of the case, place other items on top, then fold the top of the jacket over the other clothes again, like a sandwich, folding the arms back over the jacket. A long dress can also be packed in this way. T-shirts etc should be tightly rolled not folded, and shoes always go against the hard back of the case. A trolley or trunk-style case is best for keeping clothes neat. Handbag liners ( are good from moving keys, wallet etc from one bag to another in one go, and provide internal pockets.

* Beauty essentials

Squeeze the air out of tubes so they don't leak. John Lewis does clear plastic make-up bags that meet EU travel regulations for liquids, and miniature products. Decant everything into small bottles– Bobbi Brown does a good set with a funnel. For cosmetics junkies who can't streamline, will send products to your hotel.