Your Signature Wardrobe Outfit for Air Travel is another one of those things that have changed over time.
In the early, heady days of flying, you would sit in an open compartment. You’d need a hat to keep your hair under control, goggles to protect your eyes, and you’d have your skirt tied to your legs to prevent it turning into a parachute and sucking you out of the plane (wonder how long it took them to work that out). Aviatrix quickly took to wearing the breeches, leather jackets, hats and boots their male colleagues wore.
After the cabins were closed, sportswear became the dress code for flying. When I say sportswear, I don’t mean sneakers, track pants and a t-shirt. Sportswear was originally a warm, durable, semi-formal dress for outdoor sports like horse riding, skiing, and golf.
So the formal aspect of it was a suit for both men and women (skirts for women), in the traditional sense of matching woven (not knitted) jacket and bottom, along with the usual hats, ties, gloves, shoes and other daytime jewellery and accessories. The semi-formal aspect of sportswear was more comfortable underwear that you could easily and energetically move in (i.e. going without your corsets).
And right through to the 1980s, this level of formality was expected in your outfit for flying, because airfare was expensive and only relatively well-to-do people could afford to travel by air (and the kind of stretchy clothes we take for granted today didn’t exist). And then came deregulation of the airways, technological advances leading to bigger planes, increased fuel efficiency and faster speeds, plus smaller seats that permitted more passengers and all of a sudden we could all fly!
Clearly, you will be mostly sitting, in a climate controlled cabin. Your seat will probably be 16 – 18 ” (40.6 – 45.7 cm) wide, with 29 – 34 ” (73.6 – 86.4 cm) between rows. Not enough space to do much more than watch the movie unless you want to climb over your neighbours and take a stroll down the aisle to the bathroom.
There are a lot of outfits you could put together, depending on your flight length:
- Short-haul: up to three hours
- Medium-haul: three to six hours
- Long-haul: six to twelve hours
- Ultra long-haul: more than twelve hours
And of course, you might be sandwiching two or more of these flights together with a short break in between. My Aunt always used to stop over for a night to give herself time to decompress between long-haul flights, and I think that’s a very sensible thing to do if you can bear to take two nights out of your vacation and afford the extra accommodation costs.
I can only assume that you would be very keen to secure an upgrade to Business Class for double the legroom and an extra 2 – 3 ” (5 – 7.6 cm) bum room. That being the case, your primary consideration is dressing to fit Business Class in a way that does not encourage paying passengers to choose another airline for their next flight. They did not pay twice as much as you did to sit with the hoi polloi. And that means at the very worst smart casual, which is more of a relaxed formal dress than casual, and excludes jeans and track pants.
Men: pants, blazer and a collared shirt. Our American cousins do this well with the “natural” coloured cotton twill pants they call Chinos, navy blue blazer, white button-down shirt. If you are not a Chino guy, you could wear a similar kind of pant to your business wear. You can swap the colours and fit around according to your preferences. You might get away with very dark jeans, but why take the risk?
Women: similar to men, though you could swap a skirt for the pants, a cardigan for the jacket, or a fine knit for the shirt. Choose the colours and fit you prefer, but not too clingy. You might like to try wearing a semi-fitted dress in a woven fabric. Today, most of us think women in dresses are “dressed up”, which is one of the reasons many women are resistant to wearing them. Why not use this to your advantage; just not one that shows a lot of skin.
Men: whatever is comfortable.
Women: whatever is comfortable, and invisible through your clothes. I mainly mention invisible for women because we tend to wear clothes that are more revealing and clingy.
Your shoes need to be comfortable, but as you may need to take them off for the security checks, something easy to get on and off.
Men: smooth leather shoes that match your clothes; a Chelsea boot goes with almost everything.
Women: your shoes need to match the weight and formality of your outfit. If you are wearing a pencil skirt and fitted cardigan, a closed toe pump. A linen dress then good quality sandals. For pants and a jacket the Chelsea boot works for you too.
Men: a leather belt that matches your outfit, and a watch with a face and hands (there’s not much point wearing your activity tracker on a plane). Perhaps a pocket square in your jacket pocket. And after all that, you need a carry-on bag that looks classy too; smallish leather-look that doesn’t have a lot of buckles or zips.
Women: quiet and elegant, one significant piece only. Necklace with the cardigan, cuff with the dress, or brooch with the jacket. Depending on your outfit, a good belt, watch with face and hands, or a scarf knotted jauntily at your throat. Like men, your carry-on should be smallish and look classy without excessive decoration.
Ironed clothes, polished shoes and neat, clean hair, will make you immediately stand out from the common herd. When you’re checking in, your good manners, clean fingernails, discreet fragrance and makeup will also set you apart.