Knowing what to wear on a plane — and, more importantly, what not to wear — is crucial. Just ask Lady Gaga. In 2010, the pop star donned Alexander McQueen “armadillo shoes” and a wild outfit of black and yellow tape on a transatlantic flight. During the voyage, Gaga began to experience symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, a life-threatening condition commonly caused by a combo of in-flight risk factors like low cabin pressure, dehydration, immobility during a long trip and cramped seats (so says the American Council on Exercise); attempt to endure this environment in a confining getup of tape and 12-inch stilettos, and you’ve got trouble.
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when blood clots form in veins, elevating the potential for a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms include swollen or red limbs, but individuals suffering from deep vein thrombosis often exhibit no symptoms. Luckily for Gaga, the star knew something was wrong. When she complained that her legs were swelling up during the flight, the cabin crew convinced her to change into something a little more comfortable (and a little less likely to incite an artery blockage).
Chances are you don’t own a yellow and black tape outfit or 12-inch-high heels. But if similar things are lurking in your closet (you fashionable devil), I hope you’ve chosen to reserve such apparel for appropriate occasions, like directing traffic during a Mardi Gras parade — and certainly not air travel. Just as Gaga and other demigods of impractical couture should keep their costumes off the tarmac, those of us who fall into the jeans-and-sneakers category of fashion ought to also think carefully about what we wear on a plane.
Don’t: Tight clothing. Do: Natural, breathable fabrics.
We learned our lesson from Lady Gaga. Tight clothes can restrict blood flow in the already-confining space of an airplane seat. Is the reward of showing off your fantastically toned thighs worth the risk of deep vein thrombosis? Ditch the skinny jeans and don loose-fitting natural fiber garments (clothes made from cotton or linen are a great choice) to give your skin some breathing room.
Don’t: High heels. Do: Comfortable shoes.
Heels are restrictive, and they’ve been said to cause a long list of maladies, from chronic foot pain to hammer toe. Plus, unless you’re one of Charlie’s Angels, they don’t exactly facilitate a clean exit in case of emergency. Hiking boots are a good bet, as wearing the bulky shoes as opposed to packing them frees up some suitcase space — and you’ll be comfortable walking miles through endless airport terminals. Also consider slip-on shoes, which are wonderful for easing your way through security.
Don’t: Perfume or cologne. Do: Freshly washed clothes.
You’ve been in Europe for two weeks, you’ve only packed so much, and by your date of departure you’ve run out of clean pants and shirts. It may be tempting to throw on something that more or less passes the sniff test and head off to the airport. But remember: Odors are intensified on a plane, where passengers are cramped in close quarters and stale air is recycled throughout the cabin.
The perfect seatmate is one who doesn’t smell like anything. To achieve a zen-like lack of scent, be sure to reserve a clean outfit for the plane ride home. And go easy on the cologne. Better yet, don’t wear any. Scent is subjective. You may adore the delicate bouquet of CK One, but your seatmate could find its aroma noxious. In particular, folks with allergies or asthma could have a reaction to strong perfumes.
Don’t: Offensive clothing. Do: Anything you would wear to church.
In 2005, Southwest Airlines crewmembers booted passenger Lorrie Heasley from a flight because she was wearing a politically offensive T-shirt. The shirt depicted the faces of President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice above the caption “Meet the Fockers.” After the incident, a Southwest spokeswoman told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the airline has the right to deny boarding to anyone wearing “lewd, obscene or patently offensive” clothing.
Two years later, Southwest’s flight crew/fashion police threatened to remove a second female passenger from a flight for wearing clothes considered inappropriate for a family airline. Kyla Ebbert, who was wearing a tight shirt and mini-skirt, salvaged her seat by offering to pull her skirt down and pull up her top, thereby minimizing her cleavage (oh, the horror!).
Whether or not you agree with what Southwest deems “inappropriate,” you’ll want to avoid wearing potentially offensive clothing to minimize a disruptive travel experience. Steer clear of T-shirts splashed with curse words or controversial statements, and anything that tends to raise eyebrows in public.
Don’t: Warm-weather clothing. Do: Layers, layers, layers.
Fliers must brave a multitude of temperature changes throughout their journeys. There’s the sweat-inducing jog through the sunny airport terminal, the warm 20 minutes while the plane sits on the tarmac pre-take-off and that in-flight arctic chill (against which paper-thin airline blankets do nothing). Layers are a traveler’s best weapon against such varying conditions. Furthermore, the more apparel you tie around your waist or throw over your shoulders, the fewer clothing items you need to ball up and stuff into your suitcase.