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.
What to Wear While Flying: Always Wear These Things on the Plane
The following items provide plenty of comfort plus a touch of style, making them the best clothes for flying. Be the best dressed in the cabin with our guide to in-flight apparel.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Air travel is often an assemblage of disparate micro-climates, from the sweat-inducing sunny tarmac to the arctic air-conditioned cabin during flight. Fight that discomfort with plenty of layers like a washable travel scarf/wrap/blanket hybrid that’s a large enough snuggle underneath 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 personal item if you’re too warm.
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.
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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 in sweat, 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: Streelowe Leggings from REI Co-op are a polyester/spandex blend that’s incredibly quick-drying.
Merino wool is one of the best options for odor and moisture resistance; you can wear it straight off the plane without needing to wash it in between. Proof’s 72-Hour Merino Tee makes the perfect base layer, and can be worn for 72 hours without acquiring bad smells. For women, consider REI Co-op’s Merino Midweight Base Layer Top, which is made from ultra-fine merino wool that’s soft and cozy on cold planes.
Support or Compression Legwear
Many doctors recommend that pregnant women wear support or compression stockings in flight. But compression legwear is also a good choice for those with pre-existing medical conditions, any travelers taking long-haul flights, and anyone who flies often. Compression 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. These don’t have to look like medical wear either—there are plenty of stylish compression sock options available.
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Comfortable, Simple Shoes
It’s best to wear extremely comfortable, 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 shoes that are easy to slip on and off when passing through airport security. Cole Haan slip-ons offer sneaker-grade comfort in a stylish package, as do Toms (for men and women) and ECCO Footwear.
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Clothes with Lots of Pockets
With all kinds of airline baggage fees adding on to the price of a ticket these days, clothes that do double duty as a wearable carry-on bag are de rigueur. The SCOTTeVEST cotton hoodie is available for men and women, and one of our picks for great accessories and clothes with hidden pockets. And there are myriad other travel jackets out there that feature an explosion of pockets, like Everlane’s reversible puffer, which stuffs into its own comfortable travel pillow.
Leggings with pockets can be an essential part of a plane outfit for stashing a phone or passport while still keeping it easily accessible. Arc’teryx’s Oriel Leggings have pockets big enough to hold even the biggest smartphone, and the style is sleek enough to wear under dresses, or as pants during a hike at your destination.
For men, Public Rec’s Workday Pants can pass as business casual while hiding plenty of pockets. The pants also have a touch of spandex woven into the fabric to keep you comfortable on long-haul flights.
As mentioned before, deep vein thrombosis is a danger on flights, where travelers stuck in cramped seats for long periods of time are at greater risk for developing blood clots. Leave your skinny jeans at home and opt for less restrictive garments like Duluth Trading’s NoGA Reinforced Leggings, which aren’t skin-tight and have a unique fatigue-fighting fabric.
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Don’t throw fashion out the window. When it comes to dressing for a flight, a lot of 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 once 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.’” This won’t happen every time, but if you are hoping to get upgraded, it helps to look smart. Button-downs by Grayson are flowy but still look good once you disembark. For men, a classic, logo-free tee like this one from Everlane is comfortable without being restrictive and will let you blend in anywhere.
The Perfect Plane Outfit for Women
Look for a pair of breathable shoes that are easy to slip on and off. If you have TSA PreCheck, don’t worry about wearing socks. Wool Runners and the Wool Loungers from Allbirds are super comfortable and breathable so you can go sockless, and the neutral colors go with any outfit. These stylish sneakers are a SmarterTravel favorite for their clean look and comfortable wool material.
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A convertible shawl or scarf that can double as a blanket is a necessity for every female traveler. This bamboo shawl can be transformed into many things—a cardigan, shawl, infinity scarf, hood, plane blanket, and other customizable options. The fabric is breathable and sweat-wicking, so you won’t overheat on the plane with this layer.
Bamboo is a great material for travel, as it is thin and comfortable but still holds up to sweat and heat, making it a perfect layering piece for any climate (or airplane temperature). These bamboo tops from Amazon are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of colors to match the rest of your vacation wardrobe.
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A comfortable pair of pants completes a perfect plane outfit. The right pair allows you to step off the plane ready to go and looking professional. Find a pair with a touch of spandex for ultimate in-flight comfort. NYDJ’s Basic Legging Pants come in a stretchy ponte knit that’s not too tight but still holds you in and gives you a smooth silhouette.
Don’t forget the perfect bag for all your carry-on essentials. Look for a slim backpack to free up your hands while traveling and optimize your legroom while flying. The Kanken by Fjallraven fits perfectly under the seat in front of you and has a laptop compartment, two side pockets for items you’ll need easy access to, plus as an inner sleeve and a front zippered pocket. It completes your perfect plane outfit.
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Depending on the time of year and your destination, you’ll want to travel with a versatile outer layer. Look for something in a neutral color and a lightweight fabric. This drapey open-front cardigan can transition from day to night, and goes with almost every outfit in a pinch.
The Perfect Plane Outfit for Men
Look cool and comfortable with the Runner-up Mizzles from Allbirds. These shoes will keep you dry on your trek to and from the airport even in the worst of weather conditions, then keep you cozy in flight.
The Gramercy Blazer from Bluffworks doesn’t wrinkle, so it’s ideal for going straight from plane to boardroom. It also has 10 built-in pockets to hold your wallet, passport, headphones, and more on travel days.
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A basic and comfortable T-shirt is perhaps the most important part of your perfect plane outfit. I love Huckberry’s incredibly soft 72-Hour Merino Tee. The odor-resistant wool fabric will keep you feeling fresh after a long travel day.
A comfortable pair of jeans is a key component for a great travel outfit, and Bluffworks’ Departure Jeans really deliver. These jeans have a stylish fit and extra stretch for sitting for long hours on the plane.
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The SwissGear 1900 Scansmart TSA laptop Backpack will make you a more organized traveler. The compartmentalized backpack is an ideal carry-on bag with separate pockets for travel essentials and your tech gear, making it easy to find your stuff quickly during your flight.
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More from SmarterTravel:
- 6 Things Not to Wear on a Plane
- Ultralight Travel: How to Pack Light Every Time
- The Essential Carry-on Bag Packing List
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.