Flying isn’t fun. It’s a hassle from the moment your alarm goes off at 4:45AM to the time TSA forcibly disrobes you to the moment you realize that hypothermia has set in due to the chilly airplane temperatures. But being comfortable and looking presentable are not mutually exclusive.
Over the years, my position on airplane attire has softened some. If you want to wear yoga pants and a nice t-shirt, I’m okay with it as long as you are showered and put together. But I will never understand why asking people to just wear their every day casual clothes on a domestic flight is such a big request. I want to look presentable enough that I can run into someone I know professionally or someone I might want to know personally and not feel self-conscious.
If you’re traveling for work, this should go without saying. A friend once demoted her assistant for showing up to the hotel post-flight in sweat pants, flip-flops and no makeup. Why? Because it was 1:30 in the afternoon and the assistant was standing in a lobby full of shareholders who fund the company looking like she just rolled out of bed after a bender. When you travel, you are the face of your office/business so dress like it.
Bag: Deux Lux Bowery Weekender ($99)
From Left, Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Aviators ($145) Earrings: Urban Beach Stud ($19) Bracelet: Chain Stack Bracelet ($34) Scarf: Linen Scarf ($50) Shoes: Kingg Flats ($50) Shirt: Liberty Popover ($150) Jeans: Paige Skyline Jeans ($189)
From Right, Earrings: Chloe Stud ($35) Necklace: Athena Pendant Necklace ($79) Shoes: Margerita Sandal ($99) Sweater: Textured Wrap Cardigan ($99) Belt: Classic Plaque Belt ($60) Dress: Saint Grace Maxi ($150)
For the Airplane. This is a nearly exact replica of what I wore on the plane this weekend. An early morning, plus seven hours from departure to transfer to arrival and I was perfectly comfortable the whole time.
This printed popover is a great blouse for casual or business casual wear. It has vibrant colors and would look lovely under a navy cardigan or a white blazer. It does run a bit big though (typically a four, I bought a zero). I also like it with the coordinating red shorts.
I prefer the oversized look of a LoveQuotes scarf, but this J.Crew linen scarf is a good option. I also added a set of stack bracelets, they’re an easy and stylish accessory. I also really like these grey-accented gold studs, though a pair of small hoops would be nice too.
While I sometimes wear sandals on the plane, my toes get a little chilly, so I usually opt for flats. These cognac ones are an easy slip on, but I also like these gold metallic shoes. Or you could go for something more comfortable and choose some TOMS or classic Keds.
For the hair, I was getting up early so I washed and curled the night before. Then, I just dry shampoo’ed it and pulled it into a lightly teased ponytail the next morning. For the makeup, I went to the basics with BB cream, a concealer stick, blush, a wash of neutral shadow and mascara. I usually apply it in the car on the way to the airport or if I’m really pressed for time, I’ll put it on in the airport bathroom before departure.
For the Airplane. If comfort is priority, a jersey maxi is like a nightgown that can be seen outside your home. It’s comfortable, it’s warm and it’s appropriate. No binding waistbands, no constricting seams, just silky, cotton comfort.
I added this wonderful chunky cardigan from Boden that I think I need to have. The open-knit, the shawl collar and the button-free design make it perfect for all seasons and ideal for belting. Need something cheaper? This cardigan-coat is a serviceable alternative.
When belting an extra chunky knit, a man’s belt works best. This plaque belt from J.Crew is a long time favorite. It’s adjustable to any length and a little wear and tear just gives the leather a weathered patina. I also like this braided leather belt for that rustic feel.
Since the plaque on the belt is silver, I went with silver jewelry. Simple studs and a textured, easy pendant necklace. You could also wear a ring if you like (I like this one and this one), but my hands swell when I fly, so I skip them. And I like these sandals because they mix the chocolate-brown with the grey, but if you’d prefer a flat, try these pewter ones.
For the makeup, same advice as above. For the hair, I would probably twist it into low bun or a braid. Ponytail just feels a bit too relaxed-preppy when I want more of a boho look.
Thanks, Belle. These are great options. Comfort while flying is important, but you don’t have to look like you just got out of bed.
On the sheer maxi, please stress the need for some sort of lining or slip. In two days I’ve seen two woman in beautiful, sheer maxis where I could see the definition of every single thing, down to the turquoise thong in one case…and that was at work.
In the airport/in the mall, I do a mental head-shake at the apparel I see. *Most* women shop-shop-shop, but for some reason choose to wear the schleppiest clothing (is schleppy really a word?!) in public. Its my belief, proven only to myself, that I get better service and respectful treatment if I’m dressed “smart city-casual” on the plane…
Hitha | Hitha On The Go says:
On behalf of frequent travelers everywhere, thank you for this post. I nearly got into a Twitter argument with someone (who works in life sciences and frequently travels for work) when she told me she travels in a Juicy Couture sweatsuit. Those, in my mind, should be burned and the ashes dumped in the ocean.
My travel outfit is honestly a uniform – I opt for Rag & Bone black legging jeans (the absolute best!), a silk blouse or crisp t-shirt with my DKNY cozy or a blazer, nice flats, and a great scarf. Delicate jewelry and a nice tote round out the look. The outfit is immensely comfortable but still professional enough that I can run to a drinks or dinner and not feel out of place – which is something to consider when traveling, especially for work!
Sorry for the novella of a comment 🙂
LOL I confess, I wore Juicy pants to travel- but in my defense, it was a 23-hour trip with two layovers on three continents!
I am planning to take an overseas trip so I bought those cotton Spanx pants that are made to look like trousers but are actually sweatpants. Even I’m willing to make an exception for lengthy international flights, but why is a 3 hour or 2 hour jaunt pajama worthy? You sit for longer than that at the office.
Would you mind posting a link to those pants? I’m looking for decent, non-yoga pant, options for a 10+ hour flight.
Do you bring socks to slip on when you walk through security so you don’t have to walk barefoot in an airport? Footwear is my main dilemma when dressing for the plane.
Rhianna Hoke says:
I bring socks in my handbag and slip them on. That way I can curl my legs under me for long flights and be more comfy.
Hitha | Hitha On The Go says:
Tory Burch makes a pair of travel socks that are comfortable and come in a convenient pouch – I use them all the time for getting through security and to keep my feet warm on the plane.
I bring a pair of socks and slip them on for security because walking barefoot in the airport grosses me out!
I’d be nervous about wearing a maxi dress while traipsing around an airport. With all the escalators and running around there seem to be a lot of opportunities to trip over the skirt, and you often don’t have a free hand to hold it up.
I normally do skinny jeans with a tank top and a long sleeve shirt and jacket to layer over it. The airport and plane tend to be on the freezing side, but sometimes it’s hot a stuffy so the tank top comes in handy. Often I’ll wear my heels because those are the shoes that take up the most space in my suitcase.
It’s never been a problem for me, but I hem mine just a touch short so they don’t drag on the ground and get dirty, so I don’t usually have to hold them.
As a medium-busted lady (30D), I humbly suggest those who can’t go braless but would prefer not to be groped by the TSA due to an underwire do what I do: a LuluLemon tank top with built-in bra and silicone nipple shields. Can be worn under a blazer or a nice sweater.
I can’t wear sandals on the plane, either- I always wear nice shoes, and stash big cozy socks in my handbag. It’s so cold, my feet never sweat (although I could put them in a ziploc).
Megan Kristel says:
I LOVE this!! I fly all the time and never understand why Hello Kitty pajamas are suppose to be acceptable. Flying can be miserable but there have been so many times when people have done nice things for me or accommodated me beyond what they had to and I think it’s because I was dressed well and had manners.
Great advice! I really like the maxi dress look, it’s simple and I can easily replicate it. Do you have any advice on airplane trips that are 8+ hours? I am taking an international trip next month and would love if you think this advice holds up for a trip where you will be on a plane for a long time. Thanks!
Longest flight I have ever been on was 6 hours. I think a nice pair of well cut sweatpants, I mentioned above I bought the Spanx ones, and a nice cotton Michael Stars or Rebecca Beeson tunic with a scarf and comfortable flats will be my go to.
Be aware that feet tend to swell on long flights, so make sure that you have footwear that will be comfortable at the other end.
I would think twice about a maxi on a long-haul flight because of trailing it on the floor in the bathroom. (I used to regularly to 12+hours and the restrooms can be pretty icky by the end ……)
For saving the skin from drying out too much I really like Clinique Moisture Surge. It absorbs like magic and is non-greasy. It is good to buy at the airport duty free shops, as they usually have a travel set that includes a miniature spray as well as the pot of gel/cream.
If you wear contact lenses, be aware that the air in planes is very drying, and if you are cooped up in it for the long haul it can dry out your contacts. You will probably want to take them out anyway to sleep, which can be a make-up issue. Also, if you need glasses in between (I do – blind as a bat without either lenses or glasses), make sure your glasses are readily to hand when you wake up.
If you plan on doing any writing (note-taking; crosswords; etc), get a pen or pencil on a chain â€“ keeps it to hand and saves the frustration of losing it down the side of the seat or somewhere when you need to stop for food/drinks…. (have you tried retrieveing something from your handbag when the tray is down and they ahvenâ€™t cleared away yet?!)
I usually work out what I need to have with me and put it all into a packing cube (I have Eagle Creek from when they first appeared, but there are now lots of other makes around) so that I can easily remove the lot from my carry-on in one go with the minimum of fuss and get put the case into the overhead bin quickly, so as not to hold people up.
Sorry for the Tolstoy-length opus…..
Don’t. Wear. A. Bra. Or at least, wear an underwire-free, comfortable stretchy one (Spanx Brallelujah). When you’re trying to sleep in a weird position on a plane, nothing is worse than an underwire poking you in the ribs.
Definitely go with the maxi dress, and stay warm!
Bonus: put an hour of white noise on your iPod/whatever. When you’re ready to sleep, put it on repeat. Cancels out the noisy passengers, lulls your brain. 🙂
Belle, what are your go-tos (products and outfits) for having to go straight from the plane to a meeting or conference? I always feel rumpled…not a professional look.
Giggling Gourmand says:
I’m glad to see you’ve softened your outlook – I particularly like that you’ve added domestic flights as a caveat. I think what used to infuriate me about these posts was the fact that you’d never had to spend 17+ hours in coach – because seriously at that point, makeup and jeans and boots just aren’t happening. I also think if flying wasn’t such a disgusting experience more people would follow your lead. As for me, I still prefer to travel without makeup (it just feels gross) and in comfy clothes and then just re-shower and change in the lounge after I land if I have to go someplace directly from the airport.
Also, on the sleepwear front, we have a trip planned later this year that involves a leg on Singapore Air first class (I seriously can’t wait for that flight) and I sure plan to wear my super comfy Givenchy PJs for that!
I agree about the international flights! My flights tend to be overseas to visit relatives, and when your total trip is 24+ hrs, including at least one 12 hour flight in coach, you’d much rather be comfortable than dressy. Oh, and did I mention having to go through security through three different countries? Definitely agree with you that jeans, boots, makeup definitely aren’t happening.
If I have to go somewhere (lunch with the in-laws or co-workers, etc.) immediately after landing, I find it’s better to wait to do my makeup until I get to the destination airport. If I put it on ahead of time, my face is greasy and I end up using a Say Yes to Tomatoes wipe to wipe it all off and start “fresh” anyway. I hate wasting makeup on a flight so if Im going to have to take it off after sleeping for 5 hours on a plane, I’d rather just not put it on to begin with and have a relatively clean face when I land.
On the clothes front, thank you for your posts on travel clothes. It has really helped me ramp up my travel style. I won’t say I don’t occasionally throw on yoga pants and a sweater, but it’s rarer 🙂
Ann E. says:
I agree with you about the makeup. I tend to fly without makeup with the exception of under eye concealer, I have terrible dark circles no matter how much water I drink and sleep I get (thanks, genetics). I find if I wear my full face of makeup it either ends up looking like an oil slick or dry and flaky.
Does anyone have tips for helping your makeup survive the flight?
For long-lasting makeup, I go with regular moisturizer and concealer, then I use Makeup Forever HD powder. It really sets everything well. I then use a little bronzer and blush. For real staying powder, I will use a cream blush (i use Stila). It’s easy to carry with you and refresh as the day goes on.
Like I posted below, I stay clear of the eyes and just carry mascara in my purse and put it on in the bathroom! That way there’s no smudging.
Mally makes a makeup setting gel that you apply with a sponge, it works in 110 degrees and humidity, it should work on a plane.
I always do a base – moisturizer, powder, light bronzer/blush, and leave the eyes until I land. When I’ve worn mascara before while traveling, I’ve found that it smudges and makes me feel messy by the time I get to my destination. This way, I can land, refresh on the blush, put on mascara in the airport bathroom, and I look like I just did my make up!
In terms of clothing, I always go with very stretchy skinny jeans, flats, a nice blouse that is also comfortable, and either a light jacket or comfy sweater. Paired with a scarf, sunglasses, or a nice bag, I’m almost always ready to go wherever I need to!
I think maybe people need to start buying comfier/better fitting jeans if they think putting jeans on before a flight is such a hassle/so uncomfortable. Amen, Belle, on all fronts.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put on makeup in an airport/train station bathroom at 5am! You really never know who you will run into on business OR personal flights.
Giggling Gourmand says:
I think it really depends on how long the flight is, whether it’s a red eye etc. No pair of jeans with a real waist band is going to be as comfortable as yoga pants if you need to sleep on a flight.
GG has a point, but I think there are a lot of women wearing jeans that are too small. If you can’t do 4 hours without feeling like you might die, you need to go up a size.
I’ve had three abdominal surgeries resulting in three abdominal incisions and I can tell you that I absolutely CANNOT sit in the airplane chairs with a jean waistband digging into my tummy. It is super painful. I usually have to wear either leggings or a skirt on planes.
I also want to add that I am usually in pain sitting in racing-style car seats and any types of chair that has a built in recline. I have an hourglass figure with curvature in my spine – my doctor says that this type of problem is extremely common for women with my body type. So be aware that body type – particularly the relationship between hips, organs, and spine – is going to make a huge difference in how comfortable someone is sitting in any given chair. I can also say that the jeans I ususally wear can be removed without unzipping the fly so its not a case of the wrong size – if anything, the jeans are too big- its just that I have a 30″ waist and 44″ hips and a curve in my lower spine. FWIW, I’m a size 8.
I agree with overnight/extremely long flights or if there is a mitigating circumstance like dancinglonghorn mentioned
Thanks for this. I have a long domestic flight next week, and I’ve been wondering what to wear. I was thinking of wearing a 3/4 sleeve kneelength black polyblend dress, but I’ve never worn a skirt on the plane before. Anything I should be warned about?
And yes, I may be over-thinking this.
Yes, I think you’re overthinking. I’ve never thought twice about wearing a skirt on the plane, let alone why that should make me concerned!
Giggling Gourmand says:
I get far too cold in a skirt. Plus if there’s an empty middle seat I like to curl my feet over on to it, which would be hard in some skirts.
Kneelength dresses are the best for long plane flights (in my opinion). If you are like me and get cold easily, I recommend leggings or tights underneath, a warm pair of socks in your carry-on, and/or 2 light jackets – one for your top and one to use as a blanket. Saves on packing space as well.
This is a timely post for me as I’ll be flying to Europe in a few weeks. Thanks to your past advice, the two plane outfits were super east to figure out.
I agree with you about this post. I actually had a similar post a few weeks ago. What some people don’t understand is that presentable does not equal fancy and uncomfortable. We’re not saying you need to wear heels and a dress, just not pajamas. I really admire you and your blog by the way.
Exactly right. It’s not even the yoga pants, per se, it’s the whole look that always accompanies it. Bed head, no makeup or smeared makeup, a sloppy tshirt with tweety bird on it, and shoes from hell. Jeans that aren’t tight, flats, and a nice tshirt or tank under a lightweight cardigan. Nothing uncomfortable about that. Hell even sub in yoga pants that aren’t 300 years old and you’re still reasonably presentable.
Totally agree. I don’t even think makeup is required. I frequently don’t wear makeup. I’m 17 though, but still.. makeup is not always necessary.
Belle-any recommendations for a petite maxi dress? Preferably not too low cut. Thank you!
I am also petite (5’2) and I just bought this in black. It works with flats and sandals! Looks more expensive than it is.
I’m very petite, 4’11, and I find maxi dresses at Forever 21. Just check the length online before you buy.
Completely agree that people should try and look at least moderately put-together on a plane (though yoga pants are completely understandable on an overnight flight). Love the two outfits, I travel on long-haul flights quite frequently and can definitely see myself turning to these two looks. The popover shirt is a brilliant choice!
Thanks for this post–so helpful! Is this how you would recommend dressing for a business trip with colleagues? I never know how to dress for business travel, especially when I know there will be a lot of walking involved.
Good post. Like many others I agree it is high time airplane passengers tried harder to look put together when flying. I do understand the comfort issues. I also remember flying in the 60s and early 70s, when we dressed to fly: on one trip to India my mother made me and my 2 sisters white lace sheath dresses-with linings, for the flight. We were expected to behave like ladies. It was so gracious. That said, flights were shorter because planes were smaller and needed to refuel often. We had to get off at in between airports for refuelling and could stretch our legs in the transit lounge for an hour-you didnt need to dress for 8+ hours sitting. From Heathrow to Delhi the plane stopped at: Zurich, Frankfurt, Beirut or Tel Aviv, sometimes Cairo, and a couple of other places Ive forgotten. It took longer but was much comfier and more interesting. Planes are tighter now, but PX would be doing everyone a favor if they were more presentable and, in some cases, remembered their manners. Business travel is much commoner than it was in the 60s, so looking put together and behaving well can be important. I prefer to fly in pants and have a good traveling “uniform” that includes wool dress pants, good quality flats or a low heeled boot, tee or a white shirt, my black leather jacket or a cashmere cardigan, wristwatch and stud earrings only, plus a cashmere shawl for the cabin and minimum hand luggage. I check my bag because that is what the hold is for and I dont like dragging luggage around. It works well, my pants look great when I get off the plane and are fine to sleep in, and I look pulled together and enjoy the flight. The flight crews and the pilots all work very hard: they deserve our respect.
Wow, that’s really interesting. I never thought about the fact that flights would have been shorter back then, but honestly I kind of wish they were that way now. I get really antsy being on a long flight. We once flew from Chicago to Seoul in one go, and that was pretty tough. I can’t imagine having worn nice clothes on such a long flight!
Style by Joules
I wish I could have done Cairo to the Cape in a flying boat – the passengers sat in wicker chairs in a lounge; and they landed on the lakes for the overnight stops ……….
I remember clearly the advent of the big Jumbo jets. They heralded the beginning of long haul flights where refuelling was no longer an issue. Everyone was very excited, but I dont think people were fully aware of how hard such long flights are on passengers. With hindsight it is obvious.
Flying used to be so elegant! I remember ladies wearing their furs and gloves!
A good case for bringing back the transit lounge, particularly for long haul flights. Not so much for fueling but for passenger sanity.
I fly transatlantic for business quite a lot, so I want to be comfortable yet put together (especially when travelling with boss and/or colleagues). I really like the maxi dress idea, thank you for that!
Personally, I can’t recommend chinos enough, unless of course it’s winter. With a nice t-shirt and a cardigan or a knitted sweater, you’re all set. You can even sleep in them if need be. Luckily as women, we have a bit more leeway on this front. I always pity the poor guys who are made to fly transatlantic over night in a suit jacket and shirt. Luckily also, my company’s policy is much less strict on that front 🙂
I would love to see you do a packing series of things you would take on trips I.e. business, vacation, etc.
Check out the Road Warriorette blog for packing ideas.
The Vivienne Files is also good if you are thinking of developing a packing list. Warrobe Oxygen also periodically suggests packing ideas. I now keep a basic list I use for all trips. It saves a lot of time.
Quick question–are either the OG or OMG bags suitable to take on the plane as a purse / carry-on? Heading to Europe in early Fall and they look like they might work.
Those will work.
Thanks! This was one of my favorite posts!
Regardless of whether my flight is 45 minutes or 6 hours I always feel really really dirty after being on a plane. I don’t look disheveled but I do wear yoga pants and a t-shirt and sweater. If i’m traveling for business, I never go directly to a business meeting in the clothes I’d worn on the flight. Once the flight lands I go into the bathroom, change from my yoga pants into business clothes, apply fresh deodorant and makeup, grab a coffee to energize myself, and then make my way to the rental car station. If I wore my business clothes on the plane i’d be self conscious that I was dirty for the rest of the day.
I advise against the maxi dress. Last time a wore a maxi skirt to the airplane, I got singled out for special groping by the Tsa. They said it was standard policy to pat down anyone in long skirts or dresses or similar clothing (ostensibly because something can be concealed, but considering they had full-body scanners probably just profiling in disguise)
I think even if you’re planning to change on arrival, looking sloppy on the plane is unacceptable. Often, I find myself saying a quick hello to other passengers in security, in the line for coffee, or when lining up at the gate, and I’d be embarrassed if someone I was doing business with had seen me a few hours earlier in yoga pants and sneakers.
I also have to agree that bringing socks in your purse is a must– think of all the grody people going barefoot before you- and you know they don’t wipe down the inside of the scanners!
I was travelling this weekend and with this post in mind found myself observing other passengers more acutely than normal. But acute observation was not necessary for probably the worst dress etiquette I have seen in more years travelling than I care to remember. 8am on Fruday morning in the Lufthansa Business lounge ….. a young (-ish – not a student) woman in a baggy grey sweatshirt with deep cobalt raglan sleeves and pale lime/yelow running shorts with a pinky peah insert and trainers with either no socks or trainer liners. And I do mean running shorts – the sort that you see on track … and that show a hint of cheek as you walk …. Truly gross ……
Nothing surprises me any more, sadly.
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