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What not to wear in the air

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Slip-on shoes are the trick for breezing through airport security checkpoints.

Slip-on shoes are the trick for breezing through airport security checkpoints.

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.

Pants

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.

Shirt
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."

Shoes
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.

Jacket
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

33 comments so far

  • There's so much pretentiousness at airports it's not even funny "ooo look at me look at me I'm so important". I work with my hands yet travel across the country for work at least 15 times a year. I dress according to the weather at my destination. I understand there'll be same day FIFO business types that need to be dressed for meetings but...airports are not fashion parades, folks

    Commenter
    cynic
    Date and time
    May 29, 2012, 2:55PM
    • Actually, many of us are flying straight to meetings, often held IN the airport (Qantas have very good meeting rooms in the terminals), or at a venue a short walk from the terminal. Or, flying in, taxi to meeting in CBD, taxi back to airport, fly home. So people will I'm afraid be obliged to dress up.

      Re the article, I always choose shoes that are easy to manage at security. Lace-ups etc will have you fumbling away and sprang upon by a predatory explosives tester.

      Commenter
      ant
      Location
      Rural NSW
      Date and time
      May 30, 2012, 3:03PM
  • I'm into "business casual" when I fly. Stretch jeans, casual button-down shirt and slip-on loafers.

    I add a lightweight pullover in case the cabin is extra chilly, the problem is that you really can never know what to expect, some flights seem super-chilled and others are so warm, seems to be no air circulation at all!

    Also a must-have or 'must-wear' in my book are compression socks, they're really effective!

    Commenter
    Son of Ryan Bingham
    Location
    This week, Hong Kong!
    Date and time
    May 29, 2012, 3:00PM
    • Pullover - no its a cardigan but thanks for noticing

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 29, 2012, 3:21PM
    • Actually a pullover is not the same as a cardigan - but thanks for commenting. :P

      Commenter
      T
      Date and time
      May 31, 2012, 12:45PM
  • When flying to Europe I make sure to wear clothes that wont set off airport scanners. No belt to take off (pack it), minimal zips studs etc especially when you have to pass through 4 airports to get to your destination and have children in tow. Also a light jacket / pullover, it always seems to get chilly (in economy anyway).

    Commenter
    Srecko
    Date and time
    May 29, 2012, 3:26PM
    • For long trips incl business trips, I like wearing shorts, dressy ones, no matter the weather at both ends, not boardies etc, nice top, polo maybe., no thongs, nice casual shoes or even good runners. Trust me, people at other end wont care

      Commenter
      Mikey
      Date and time
      May 29, 2012, 3:39PM
      • Yet another Executive Style travel article only relevant to men. The Age really doesn't think there are female business travellers. For me, footless tights, cardigan, light scarf and socks are always in the carryon for plane trips. Non-crease skirt, wool based top and jacket get you on and off the plane looking respectable.

        Commenter
        Female flyer
        Date and time
        May 29, 2012, 4:01PM
        • I suppose it's meant as a counter to the 'Life and Style' section of SMH, which only seems to publish articles aimed at women.

          Commenter
          DM
          Date and time
          May 30, 2012, 9:33AM
        • Yeah David, wher do you stand on footless tights and non-crease skirts? Elsewhere on Executive Styoe I saw an article on shaving focussing exclisively on men's faces. This rampant sexism has to stop!

          Commenter
          Couldn't Resist
          Date and time
          May 30, 2012, 5:19PM

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