Dressing appropriately for air travel means knowing what will keep you comfortable on the plane—and given the cramped seats and various temperature changes on flights, this isn’t always easy.
Always Wear These Things on the Plane
The following seven items, which provide plenty of comfort plus a touch of style, are essential for any jet-setting flyer’s wardrobe. Be the best dressed in the cabin with our guide to in-flight apparel.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Air travel is often an assemblage of various disparate micro-climates, from the sweat-inducing sunny tarmac to the arctic air-conditioned cabin during flight. So fight discomfort with plenty of layers. I like to wear a washable cotton scarf that’s a large enough to double as a wrap when it’s particularly chilly. Pashminas, shawls, wraps, cardigans, sweatshirts, vests, and light jackets are perfect. You can even fold or roll soft items, like cotton jackets, and use them as makeshift pillows during flight. Plus, the more layers you pile on your body, the less you need to pack in your luggage. Roll items and stuff them in your carry-on bag or under the seat in front of you if you’re too warm. A foldable, reusable bag like Baggu, which takes up almost no suitcase space and can even be scrunched up and stuffed into a pocket, is useful for toting extra apparel that you’ve taken off.
Layers that help you regulate temperature while flying also come in very handy when traveling through various (actual) climates. And for travelers hitting the road during shoulder season, when the weather is particularly unpredictable, layers are key for optimal comfort.
Maintain in-flight comfort and cleanliness by wearing breathable fabrics – materials like cotton, silk, or linen. Fabrics that don’t allow air to circulate will hold sweat on the skin, likely making you feel dirtier faster and probably necessitating a good spin in the washing machine upon landing. Natural fabrics are great, but moisture-wicking manmade fabrics are suitable options as well.
Support Or Compression Legwear
May doctors recommend taht pregant women wear support or compression stockings or socks in flight. But compression legwear is also a good choice for those with pre-existing medical conditions, travelers taking long-haul flights, and anyone who flies often. The socks or stockings, which promote blood circulation, help prevent swelling of the legs, and help guard against deep vein thrombosis (DVT), work by putting pressure on leg muscles and increasing blood flow. You can find them at many pharmacies and drug stores, and they’re often available from travel-supplies stores like Magellan’s.
Comfortable, Simple Shoes
It’s best to wear extremely comfortable, mostly flat shoes on the plane – think of your poor feet after hours or even days of sitting, standing, and walking en route to your destination. You’ll also want to select comfortable shoes that are easy to slip on and off when passing through airport security (as we advise in 10 Ways to Speed Through Airport Security.)
My favorite shoes to wear on a plane are Keds Skimmers for women, which offer sneaker-grade comfort but look more like cute ballet flats. Additionally, I recommend Toms (for men and women) and higher end Tieks (for women). Tieks also offers a line of vegan shoes.
Clothes with Lots of Pockets
With all kinds of airline baggage fees dropping like hot bricks, clothes that do double duty as wearable carry-on bags are de rigueur. We love the Scottevest Travel Vest (available for me or women), which is also one of our picks in 10 Best Travel Clothes to Wear on the Road. And there are myriad other travel jackets out there that feature an explosion of pockets, like the Around the World Jacket from Orvis, which appears to be exactly the same as a fishing vest. But it gets the job done, if you can pull off the angler look.
As we mentioned before, DVT is a danger on flights, where travelers stuck in cramped seats for long periods of time are at greater risk for developing blood clots. To reduce the risk of getting DVT, the University of Washington Medical Center recommends avoiding “tight clothing, nylons, or socks (especially the type that are too tight at the top and/or leave marks on your skin) that might restrict blood flow through veins.” So leave your skinny jeans at home and opt for less restrictive garments like A-line skirts, loose-fitting dresses, or more relaxed-or wide-leg pants.
Don’t throw fashion out the window. When it comes to dressing for a flight, much of our advice focuses on function. But dressing with a bit of style – while keeping conscious of comfort of course – could help you get a free upgrade. An anonymous source told Goop, “On a Virgin flight back to Heathrow, I spotted one of the staff’s monitors that read, ‘Look for well-dressed people to upgrade.’ The staff then began looking around for well-dressed people to upgrade. I’m not saying this will happen every time, but if you are looking to get upgraded, it helps to look smart.” Throw a flowy, fashion-forward dress on over your compression socks and flash the airline staff a smile.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Cold-Weather Travel Outfits You’ll Actually Want to Wear
- 10 Camping Gear Essentials That Are Easy to Pack
- 9 Travel Tips From Olympic Atheletes
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.