What to Wear in the Air: Travelers' Fashion Tips

How to dress for cabin comfort and office panche -- and beat the wrinkles

February 09, 2009, 6:15 PM

Jan. 31, 2008 -- With airports and airlines constantly outdoing each other in wait times, more travelers are going directly from baggage claim to the conference rooms.

When you don't have time to change clothes, let alone check into your hotel and shower, what's best to wear?

When you have to wear your suit on the plane, here's what you should know before you pick one off the rack.

"Steer clear of fabrics that don't breathe well, like polyester, nylon and acetate blends," says Lucky magazine writer-editor Laurel Pinson. "Lots of suit separates now have a shot of Lycra which gives them a bit of stretch -- perfect for travel, where you can be sitting for long periods of time."

Stretch can also be quite forgiving, which is important, since "you always feel a bit bloated after a flight," as flight attendant Tara Panchaud points out. She's been working the business cabin on Virgin Atlantic for 14 years.

Like Pinson, who recommends labels like the well-cut lines of Theory and Rebecca Taylor for more feminine looks, Panchaud is noticing passengers wearing slim, classic cuts as well -- from designers like Austin Reed and Tracy Reese.

No matter who makes the suit, Panchaud says there's definitely an advantage in choosing light fabrics: "They travel much better. Even if it's a wool suit, the fabric is lighter," she says. "It's easier to look fresh when you're wearing a light fabric."

Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing agrees. "We're seeing designers address lighter-weight and transitional-weight fabrics, so that they're seasonless," he says, citing tropical wool and double-face cashmere. "Many men's collections -- like Georgio Armani and Zegna -- are using tropical wool."

"For women, there's a lot of jersey in the marketplace right now," Downing continues. "Knit is a traveler's best friend. It's so easy. A jersey dress packs well because it doesn't wrinkle. And with a change of accessories, you can go to dinner and be very polished."

Downing suggests trying jersey knits from designers like Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg and Stella McCartney.

"Also, stick with dark colors," adds Pinson, "since they tend not to show wrinkles and any other travel wear and tear."

Dark colors aren't your only line of defense against wrinkles.

Obviously, you should ask the flight attendant to hang your jacket for you -- whether you are actually seated in business class or not. (They will often hang sports coats for travelers in coach class upon request, though winter coats typically must settle for the overhead bin.)

But that's not all flight attendants will hang. "Most men bring a spare shirt, which we hang in the closet for them," says Pinchaud.

What if you don't have an extra shirt but need to freshen up the slightly coffee-dribbled one you're wearing? "Shout Wipes are fantastic for any on-the-go mishaps," offers Pinson.

When you're caught with no spare shirt or quick cleanup, well-heeled business travelers have some go-to spots.

"Target has saved me on more than one occasion. Merona -- their house brand -- makes a nice white shirt. No one knew the difference," says frequent traveler Robert Krex. The self-employed graphic designer flies at least twice a week.

Krex himself prefers the classic English cut -- specifically, Burberry. "It will always hold up better than a U.S. brand suit," he says.

And Krex, who typically eschews hotel dry cleaning, has a system for having it cleaned when he's on the go. "If I find out they do the dry cleaning in-house, I'll trust them," he says. "But I don't want my clothes going out. So I'll tip a bellman to give me some local places off the record."

Sometimes dry cleaning isn't even necessary. "With any lightweight fabric, you can just flip on the hotel shower and the wrinkles fall right out in a couple minutes," says Downing.

And then there's the shoe dilemma. Since security has become a barefoot-only passage, business travelers have added ease of removal to the mix of comfort and class they look for in a pair of kicks.

"I go for Cole Haan Dress Airs," says Krex, referring to Cole Haan's line of dress shoes with Nike Air soles. "I got them in December and have had 10 flights since then. They've held up better than any shoes."

Cole Haan makes the shoes for both men and women.

For her part, Paunchad sees most of her male passengers in classic Gucci loafers: "They're easy to slip on and off, and comfortable."

All road warriors need a tool belt. Or at least a functional, fabulous bag.

The trend for women, according to Downing, is a smaller clutch with an oversize tote. "The fashion-conscious business customer slips the clutch inside her tote, which easily holds her laptop, BlackBerry and written materials," he says. "But when she doesn't need that, the tiny clutch holds her essentials and gives her a polished, pulled-together look."

"Longchamp bags are really popular, because you can fold them up really tiny to fit in your pocket when they're empty," says Panchaud, referring to the French-made bags that open up to a classy messenger-size tote. "People use it like a briefcase."

"For men, I see an awful lot of them with Coach bags," she adds. "They fit laptops really well, look good and are well-wearing, which is important for anyone who spends a lot of time in airports."

As far as what travel essentials should go in your toolbelt, Panchaud picks Elizabeth Arden's eight-hour cream. "It's great for travel, since flying can really dry out your skin. You can use it as lip balm, on your face, your hands." And it's available in a security-friendly 1.7-oz bottle. Just don't forget your clear, plastic baggie.

And Pinson recommends "a soft, oversize scarf. It's an incredibly versatile travel accessory – it looks dramatic and glamorous wrapped around the neck over a crisp jacket, and then can expand over your shoulders for added warmth on the plane."

With a few fashion-forward choices, it's not hard to bring comfort into the main cabin and panache into the board room – all within the limits of those two precious carry-on items.

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