What to wear in the air: the "startup casual" business traveller

By John Walton, January 9 2012
What to wear in the air: the

Our recent article on What to wear in the air proved quite popular with readers and generated some good discussion and sharing of tips. And as this was aimed more at the 'business casual' business traveller, we felt a follow-up for those with even more casual leanings -- let's call it 'start-up casual' -- was in order.

That's my preferred style. A nice pair of jeans, t-shirt, button-down shirt and a casual jacket if it's chilly. So here are some wardrobe suggestions if you want to look 'put together' while speeding through security, relaxing on board and hitting the ground running on arrival.

Casual jacket

Since I don't tend to travel in a suit, I'll often wear a casual jacket -- a tweed or moleskin suits my personal style. A jacket is useful if it's a little chilly outside, and especially useful when travelling since it brings a number of extra pockets for wallets, passports and gadgets.

(At the security station, I empty my trouser pockets into the jacket pockets, fold up the jacket and pop it in its own x-ray machine tray.)

If your jacket doesn't have enough pockets for all your kit, any drycleaner or tailor should be able to pop an extra pocket in for you. I know one frequent flyer who had a Kindle-sized pocket sewn into a jacket.

Button-down shirt -- with a pocket

I always travel in a button-down shirt with a pocket.

The shirt can be dressed up or down as you fancy, and the pocket is very useful for your boarding pass (plus passport and assorted fast track/express path documents, lounge invitations, frequent flyer card and customs forms if you're on a longer trip), particularly as you walk through the security metal detector.

Extra t-shirt in the carry-on

I wear a t-shirt under the button-down and tend to take the button-down off during an overnight flight. Planes are often warmer than a home or hotel would be, and if I get cold there's always a blanket.

Putting a fresh t-shirt on 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.

Zip-up boots

My footwear of choice for a flight is the zip-up ankle boot: smart like a business shoe, can be dressed up or down, but very easy to take on and off for security and on the plane.

(Eagle-eyed readers will note that John's tan zip-up boots feature in the legroom pics in many of our flight reviews – Ed)

This type of boot is particularly useful on long flights, since I prefer to kick off my shoes on the plane when seated, but don't want to go socks-only when walking around. I very rarely get swollen ankles after a flight, but if I do then I can just clump around in the boots without zipping them up until the swelling goes down.

Aim to get a pair without a metallic structure in the sole, or have them resoled if they keep setting off the metal detector.

Well-chosen belt

If you can swing a non-metal belt buckle in your personal style, that's a great idea if you're a frequent flyer -- anything to reduce the amount of metal on your person when going through the detectors.

Canvas belts with non-metallic buckles are a good option (even if just for travel), but if leather is a must for you then pick one up with a small buckle.

Pair of shorts or pyjamas

For an overnight flight, it's hard to beat a pair of comfy shorts or pyjamas when sleeping. They also help to keep whatever trousers you're wearing fresh and wrinkle-free.

If you're up in the pointy end of the plane, then you may well be given a pair of PJs for the flight. But if not -- or if you'd rather wear your own -- pack them in your hand baggage.

What's your number one travel wardrobe item?

Of all those pieces of kit, I reckon zip-up boots make the biggest difference to speeding through security, remaining comfortable on board and looking "put together" when arriving.

What's your favourite travel clothing item, and what's your own twist on 'start-up casual' style for your flights? Share your thoughts with other AusBT readers in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


19 Dec 2011

Total posts 49

definitely travel in jeans (stretch), a button-down shirt & slip-on shoes for the scanners at security. also carry track pants & a polo to change into to sleep -  as you say keeps your travel clothes fresh & in good condition which I hang up whilst not wearing (business class). also carry a light-weight pullover as it can get chilly on some flights. I usually travel without a belt on, with shirt out to get through security. I've also discarded any shoes which trigger the alarm at security, as many airports allow you to wear your shoes through. Its all about speed & comfort!

My most valued 'what I wear in the air' item? A cashmere wrap / pashmina...in neutral, go with anything, eternally stylish, 'caramel'. Over my shoulders for warmth, as a extra blanket for comfort, rolls down to nothing in my carry-on so it's always at the ready. Thanks!

Skywards Gold

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 54

A pair of Bose QC15s are also a must to any business traveller's "wardrobe"!!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 244

Travel in shorts, a thin cotton T-shirt, if I can avoid shoes, I will... Understand this is a business traveller article but when you're stuck in cattle class, it's warm, tight and need all the free space you can get.

06 Sep 2011

Total posts 18

a converse shoe, a shirt with pocket, and jeans!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 416

always a shirt with a pocket for boarding passes etc, as for shoes, i wear slip-ons as these are even easier to remove at security. jeans and a blazer. always pack a t-shirt and PJ bottoms from previous QF flights, often fly 1st but if its just business class flight most airlines dont do PJs in business.

27 Jan 2012

Total posts 117

leg room is always great!! they've done a great job , and Im sure it makes the passenger more appeciative of the airline and plane. being able to stretch your legs makes your feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable!


Qantas P1

18 Jan 2012

Total posts 73

RM boots (easy for LAX/LHR screening), jeans and a black polo. Simple. Also a trusted belt that doesn't set off the detectors anywhere. 

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