As a frequent flyer and veteran of the trans-Atlantic red-eye, it is bizarre to think that people used to dress up to fly. Classic images of businessmen in suits flying economy do not…I repeat… DO NOT in any way match the modern reality of air-travel, where travelers [for better or worse] sometimes don pajamas and bunny slippers at security.
That being said, there are ways to maintain a stylish, dapper look while hurdling through space in a giant metal tube.
Note: My advice is geared towards individuals flying economy, with an emphasis on long flights (five hours or more). If you have any advice for business class outfits, let us know in the comments.
The best way to build your mile-high ensemble is finding the balance between practicality and style. Comfort is key, so wear pieces made of soft, breathable materials like cotton. From there, you can use fit, color, and patterns to add a finished, personal touch to your look.
Here is a breakdown of my ideal flying outfit:
Sweatpants: Especially on long flights, sweatpants are the way to go when flying. They are comfortable, warm, and you don’t need to wear a belt with them. Many people insist on wearing jeans, but personally denim can become uncomfortable after a few hours in economy.
However, wearing sweatpants does not mean you have to look like your wearing pajamas. To make your sweatpants look more like pant-pants, opt for a dark color like navy, dark grey, or black. You can also go for a slim-fit for a more tailored look. dapperQ has great guides to how to dress up your sweatpants here and here. Tapered joggers are the best option.
T-shirt: While this may be self-explanatory, a good cotton t-shirt can also add interest to your outfit through color, pattern, and graphics.
Sweatshirt or Sweater: I know summer is almost here and most of you are probably jetting off to the beach…but trust me when I say, “ALL AIRPLANES ARE FREEZING!” So, be sure to layer no matter what time of year it is.
Jacket: In addition to keeping you warm at 37,000 feet, wearing your bulkiest jacket on the plane can save you precious space in your suitcase.
Layering with hats, bomber jackets, sweaters, and hats is possible no matter what your personal style. Via GQ.
Socks: An overlooked but very important wardrobe piece, a nice pair of socks is a must for flying. Not only will they keep your feet warm, but you will probably be taking your shoes off at security and on the plane. So wear something fun and show them off!
Pro-tip: If you have a really long flight, look into getting flight socks, which help promote good circulation in your legs and lower the risk of getting deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Slip-on Walking Shoes: As I said before, you will probably be taking your shoes off at security, so make sure you can do that easily whether you are wearing sneakers or loafers. You will also be walking a lot, and (if you’re anything like me) frantically running to your gate, so make sure your shoes are up for it.
Not into loafers? Check out these slip-ons recommended for travel by GQ.
A Hat: Airplane-hair (a dry, yet sometimes greasy version of bed-head) is an almost guaranteed problem for long flights. People with long hair can wear it up, but for short hair a hat is a great fix for messy locks. Snap-backs and beanies are typically the hat of choice (though I’m partial to this cap from Atom Retro).
Personal Bag: Most airlines let you take a “personal bag” on the plane in addition to your carry-on. I recommend bringing a messenger bag or a small backpack, but check with the airline you’re flying with for bag allowances and size restrictions. (I love my Pan Am bag by the way…I got it on Amazon, but you can buy them through PanAm.com.)
What to avoid when planning an airport outfit:
- Metal accessories: These are a hassle at security, so leave them in your suitcase (a watch is the only possible exception, but make sure to take it off before you go through security).
- Belts: Again, a security hassle. Try to wear pants with drawstrings instead.
- Flip Flops/Sandals: Stick with socks and walking shoes…your feet will thank you.
- Contacts: The air in airplanes can be really dry, so wear your glasses to avoid irritation.
A note on undergarments: Make sure your underwear is also comfortable enough to last though the madness of economy seating. Avoid anything too constricting if you can and feel comfortable doing so.
For short flights:
For quick domestic flights and “air busses” (less than 2 hours), you can have a bit more freedom to “dress up” – meaning you can swap the sweater or jacket for a casual blazer, or switch the sweatpants with a pair of jeans (but avoid belts). Comfort is still the goal, but if the line to get through security is longer than the flight itself, you should be fine.
Nicole’s outfit (sans metal accessories) is perfect for a short flight. Just add metal watches, glasses, etc. from your carry-on upon landing, and you’re ready to hit the ground running! Via dapperQ.
Personally, if I’m flying in the US, I wear my standard comfy sweatpants for any flight, no matter the length. But, when I’m in Europe, I like to add a bit more style if I won’t be in the air that long. It’s really depends on where you’re going and what you consider “comfortable” clothing.
The biggest advice for flying that few people seem to share: Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on and pull a Clark Kent when you arrive at your destination (though I don’t recommend changing your outfit in a phone booth). This is particularly useful for long flights, business trips, and when you are flying to a warm climate.
Be sure to pack:
- A change of shirt.
- A change of underwear.
- If it’s a business trip, pack a set of wrinkle-resistant work attire.
- If you’re going somewhere warm, pack shorts and a pair of loafer sock or sandals.
Make sure this is all in your carry-on, in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed.
Other helpful items for freshening up at your final destination:
- Moisturizer and hand lotion
- Hand sanitizer
- Facial wipes
- Travel-size versions of your favorite skin-care products
- Travel-size deodorant
- Travel-size dry shampoo
- Toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste
Do you have any airport-style tips of your own? When flying, do you go for practicality, style, or both? Let us know in the comments!