Comfort among the clouds: what to wear on a flight

Professional and comfortable, these wardrobe staples will see you arrive at your destination in style.

By David Flynn, October 23 2023
Comfort among the clouds: what to wear on a flight

Dressing up for the flight in hope of securing an upgrade? Such an occurrence is unfortunately increasingly rare these days, with almost all upgrades automated based on frequent flyer status rather than a personal sense of style.

And where there is room for human intervention, smart casual will almost always be enough to get you the nod.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully consider what you’re wearing for the flight – particularly if you’re looking to hit the ground running on business or maybe spend a little time in the airport lounge, where dress codes are often still enforced.

So, what’s good to wear? Having taken numerous domestic and international flights over the years, these are some of the tips I’ve picked up on the road.

Clothing should first and foremost be comfortable, but also something you'd meet colleagues or clients in.
Clothing should first and foremost be comfortable, but also something you'd meet colleagues or clients in.

Firstly; shorts and a t-shirt are perfectly fine for leisure trips, but minimum standard attire should be smart casual if you’re travelling for work – and you needn’t sacrifice comfort.

By that same token, wearing smart casual in the air means you’re also covered should your luggage not make it your intended destination with you, eliminating the stress of having to immediately go shopping if you have an event lined up after the flight.

(Packing a non-creasing shirt and some staple toiletries in your carry-on is always a good back-up. This also allows you to freshen up as soon as you arrive, if needed).

Comfort is key, but you still want to look professional.
Comfort is key, but you still want to look professional.

It should of course be noted that these same general rules apply regardless of gender.

As for the clothing options themselves, these are some of my standards, plus a few recommendations I’ve received from fellow travellers over the years.

Capsule wardrobes: packing interchangeable clothing you can mix and match – commonly referred to as a capsule wardrobe – is not only a great way to travel lighter, but it’s efficient too.

The process is simple. Pack neutral pants or jackets (black, navy, or taupe are my go-tos), together with a variety of shirts in various colours or patterns that work well together.

Mixing and matching allows you to create multiple individual outfits from the same base, and no one will be the wiser. 

Pants: all-cotton chinos or slacks are a comfortable go-to option, particularly when compared to jeans, which can feel ‘heavy’ and restrictive with extended wearing. Chinos on the other hand are light and breathe well, and they still look good even with some in-flight creasing.

Shirts: either a non-branded polo/blouse (short or long sleeve depends mainly on your destination) or a long-sleeved casual shirt. Both all-cotton, and usually in black or navy – because they look good against the chinos and don’t show creases as much as lighter colours.

Shoes: slip-on shoes are made for breezing through airport security checkpoints and quickly slipping off once the flight begins, but if they’re too tight a fit you’ll have trouble slipping them onto your feet after 8+ hours in the air.

If you’re only travelling with one pair of shoes – 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.

Start with the basics and the rest of the outfit will fall into place.
Start with the basics and the rest of the outfit will fall into place.

Jackets: what about your suit jacket? Don’t pack it, wear it.

It’ll look sharp in the lounge (if you choose the right clothes to wear on board) and once you’re on the plane you can have it hung in the business class wardrobe, or gently folded and stowed in an overhead locker.

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

Have tips for your own go-to clothing options? Share them with other Executive Traveller readers in the comments.

great advice.

23 Oct 2023

Total posts 2

Good advice, if not a little male-centric. 

I find non-iron dresses with a belt and leggings, and a wrap are very comfortable and look good no matter how many hours you are in them. Layering is important to cope with the varying temperatures on and off the plane. A smart puffer jacket that packs away to nothing is a handy edition for all seasons and can make a good pillow if you end up in the back of the plane.

IMHO, when you have a tricky situation on your travels, which is inevitable, I believe looking like you have not just left the gym may give you better odds.


Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

17 Oct 2014

Total posts 7

My dress(and I am retired and conservative) is short sleeve shirt,chino style pants and comfortable shoes.It’s a mistake to take off your shoes in flight as feet swell and it is difficult to put them on again.In the carry on bag is a change of underwear,socks,fresh shirt,shorts,pajamas and a swimming costume plus toiletry bag.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Sep 2014

Total posts 6

My standard is a short sleeve and long sleeve all merino wool tshits and Traveller pants. All from Kathmandu.

They also dry quickly. So you can wash upon arrival and they are dry next day.

The pants are awesome because they have stretch material and heaps of pockets, but not like dad pants.

17 Apr 2017

Total posts 5

Thank you for including footwear.  On a recent Emirates Business Class flight to Dubai, the chap across the aisle thought he’d go barefoot from the moment he sat down.  My subtle advice that flight socks were provided at his seat yielded no response.  However, I had to make a more direct request when he crossed his legs as dinner was being served, hanging his bare foot in the aisle not far from my main course!  Seriously!!  Come on Australia, please realise beaches and your back yard are ok for bare feet; restaurants, shopping centres and flights are not!


28 Sep 2022

Total posts 16

I'm always hot in the airplane cabins (especially Singapore which seems to have 25 degrees or 26 even), so I always wear shorts and a thin shirt, and carry changes of clothes for any stops in hubs when I take a shower.

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