What not to wear in the air

We've all seen the old footage of travellers dressed to the nines, in what is these days often and always fondly referred to as 'the Pan-Am era'.

These days there are only two good reasons to dress up for a long-haul flight.

Slip-on shoes are the trick for breezing through airport security checkpoints and quickly slipping off once the flight begins.

First: because you're going straight to, or coming straight from, an important business meeting where casual – even business casual – won't cut it.

Second: because you like to dress up rather than down. You enjoy the way it feels and the way it looks.

You can forget the myth that dressing like a business traveller will get you an upgrade to business class. Almost all upgrades are automated, based on your frequent flyer status and booking class rather than your sense of style.

(And where there's any room for human intervention, which seems increasingly rare these days, smart casual will almost always be good enough to get you the nod.)

So what's good to wear in the air?

My own approach to in-flight wardrobe is basic and fuss-free, but designed not to look out of place in a first class lounge or at the pointy end of the plane.


Conventional business suit pants are okay for a few hours sitting in a meeting but not 8+ hours of flying.

I favour a pair of cotton chinos. They're light, breathe well and still look good even with some in-flight creasing.

'Dress chinos' in black, brown or a lightly patterned grey can be worn with a non-iron wrinkle-free shirt and you're almost good to go – although it helps if you have a jacket to cover unavoidable creases.

For a more relaxed look I grab chinos in a soft-to-medium colour from sand to taupe.

Jeans are fairly heavy and constricting compared to chinos unless you've got a pair of lighter-weight stretch jeans.

In the more casual mode I opt for a non-branded polo top, mostly short sleeve but sometimes a long sleeve if I'm headed into cooler climes.

Otherwise it's a long-sleeved dress shirt. I've picked up some excellent non-iron crease-resistant dress shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt.

One colleague wears a plain T-shirt under his button-down shirt and tends to take the button-down off during overnight flights. "Planes are often warmer than a home or hotel would be, and if I get cold there's always a blanket." he explains.

He also packs a second T-shirt into his carry-on. "Slipping on a fresh T when facing the world after a long flight – especially an overnight flight – always makes me feel more human, especially if I have a chance for a shower on arrival."

Slip-on shoes are the trick for breezing through airport security checkpoints and quickly slipping off once the flight begins.

But if they're too tight a fit you'll find them painfully pinching your feet when you try to squeeze them back on after 8+ hours in the air.

If you're travelling light, with just the one pair of shoes for the flight and your meetings – which may be the case for a day-and-night trip – choose dressy slip-ons with a little more give around the sides, or comfortable lace-ups.

My 'travel shoes' are typically soft slip-ons or lace-ups from Pikolinos or Ecco, or a favourite pair of boots from RM Williams. I also hear very good things about Geox.

Zippered ankle-high Chelsea boots are another great choice. They're can look as smart as any business shoe, can be dressed up or down, and they're very easy to take on and off at the security gate and on the plane.

Over the past month I've been trying Julius Marlow's O2 Motion range, available in both lace-up shoes and low cut slip-on boots. Their extended narrow tip isn't my personal style but they're proving very comfortable after many hours in the air and on the ground.

When it comes to your jacket, don't pack it – wear it.

It'll look sharp when you're in the lounge pre-flight, and once you're on the plane you can have it hung in the wardrobe or gently folded and stowed in an overhead locker if you're in economy

Just place it on top of your carry-on luggage, not beside it, to avoid other passengers shoving their bag in and scrunching your jacket up.

Even a casual jacket can be handy for keeping the chill at bay when you're moving between seasons, such as travelling from the warm Aussie spring to a crisp northern autumn.

Ready for action
If you're walking pretty much straight off the plane and into a business meeting, choose in-flight attire that could potentially be worn to the office. That's your insurance policy against your checked luggage being delayed.

In the case of overnight flights, wear your best clobber on the plane but pack some sleepwear in your carry-on.

This can be loose shorts and a T-shirt, cotton tracksuit pants or even a pair of airline PJs from your previous business class flight.

Slip into these as soon as you can – only not while you're at the lounge, please.

You'll sleep better during the flight, and once you change back into your fresh and wrinkle-free business clothes before the plane lands you'll be ready to hit the ground running.

What do you wear on the plane when travelling for business?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT