What to Wear to the Airport (and on the plane)

Heading off on vacation this summer? Lucky you! Vacation time is the best time of the year, as far as we’re concerned: the problem is you have to get their first, and travelling by air creates all kinds of sartorial issues. Read on for out tips on what to wear to the airport, and on the flight to your (hopefully) fabulous destination….


What to Wear to the Airport

Airports. They’re one of the best places in the world for people-watching, and you’ll see all kinds of outfits in them. Before we go any further here, though, the first thing you need to know is that this kind of thing?

What to Wear to the Airprort: Victoria Beckham

Doesn’t actually happen.

Well, not for the majority of us, anyway. It does happen for Victoria Beckham, obviously, but Victoria is fond of saying that the airport is her runway, and trust us, once Mrs B gets on that plane, even she slips into something more comfortable before climbing back into the stilettos to disembark on the other end.

What you’ll find is that most people at airports tend to look something like this:

What to Wear to the Airport: Britney Spears

And honestly, by the time you roll off the end of a long-haul flight? You really won’t care WHAT you look like.

Still, you’ll be happy to know that there IS a middle ground, somewhere between stilettos and Uggs. Here are our tips on what to wear to the airport:

1. Comfort comes first

Unless you’re going business class, flying isn’t particularly comfortable, so while it may be tempting to take tips from Victoria Beckham and make the airport your runway, you’ll soon come to regret that when you’re cruising at 30,000 feet, your feet are swollen in your stilettos and your tailored dress is crushed to pieces in your tiny airline seat.

Of course, comfort means different things to different people, so it’s really up to you to decide what you’ll be most comfortable in for a flight. Personally, we favour trousers over skirts and dresses because we tend to find that skirts will ride up, twist round and get creased much more easily than a pair of pants, but a knitted dress that won’t lose its shape could be just as comfortable: up to you.

Consider fit and fabric very carefully, too. Jeans are great, but if the denim is stiff it can start to chafe when you’re cramped up in the same position for hours, and a long flight definitely isn’t the time to break in a new pair of jeans, or try to squeeze yourself into your tightest pair. Tight waistbands are probably best avoided here.

2. Layer up

Most advice on what to wear to the airport revolves around layers, and for good reason. Airplanes are subject to random changes in temperature, and it could be either freezing cold, stifling hot, or anything in between. Most airlines will provide you with a blanket, especially if you’re flying overnight, but some kind of soft, pashmina-like scarf could come in very handy, and it’s also a good idea to dress in light layers, so you can easily adapt to the temperature of the aircraft.

3. Dress for the colder of the two climates you’re flying between

It’s all very well knowing what to wear to the airport itself, but you also have to consider what you’ll be doing once you reach your destination. Airport dressing can be particularly challenging if you’re flying to somewhere either much hotter or much colder than your starting point. In these cases, our advice is to first of all take heed of point 2, and layer up, but to base your outfit around the colder of the two temperatures. You just never know how long you could end up waiting at the airport, and it’s easier to remove a coat or a sweater in the heat than it is to stand shivering in shorts and sandals in the snow! Bear in mind, also, that most airports are temperature controlled, so even if you’re flying to or from the tropics, you won’t be dealing with hot temperatures until you leave the airport.

4. Wear shoes you can slip in and out of easily

You’re probably going to have to remove your shoes to go through airport security. Lines tend to be long, so you don’t want to be having to fiddle with lots of straps and buckles, especially if you’re rushing to catch a flight. Your feet may also swell during a long flight, so wear shoes you know will be comfortable, not ones you’ll have to squeeze yourself into and then hobble around in. If you really want to wear fancy shoes, it can be a good idea to pop a pair of flip flops of fold-up flats in your carry-on, just in case they start to hurt: you can always switch shoes before you go through security or once you get onto the plane. A pair of warm socks can also be a good addition to your carry-on luggage, in case you get cold mid-flight.

5. Keep accessories to a minimum

Belts, buckles, necklaces and other accessories are all just more things you may have to remove and then replace for the security checks, and they’re more things to get in your way or make you uncomfortable during the flight. Keep it simple, and keep the accessories for when you reach your destination.

6. Ditto with makeup and hairstyles

Short flights are fine, and if you’re only going to be in the air for an hour, the answer to the question “What to wear to the airport?” is often “Whatever you like.” A long flight, however, can leave you looking and feeling like… well, like you’ve just spent 10 hours in a cramped, enclosed space, breathing recycled air and having the back of your seat kicked repeatedly. You probably won’t be looking your freshest, and a thick coat of make-up can actually make you look worse. Your skin can get dehydrated anyway on a flight, and if you take a nap while wearing lots of eye make-up and lipstick, you won’t wake up looking the way you did when you fell asleep. Elaborate hairstyles, meanwhile, can be difficult to maintain mid-flight and are just one more thing to worry about.  Again, keep it simple and carry moisturiser and chap stick in your carry-on to keep your skin soft.

7. Put a change of underwear and any other essentials in your carry-on

Unfortunately, air travel these days isn’t always straightforward, and if you end up facing a long delay, it’s good to know you have some clean clothes, plus essential toiletries and medication in your carry-on. Be careful to check what you can and can’t take on board before you fly, however: regulations exist on things like liquids, and sharp items, and are strictly enforced, so check these carefully before you fly.

Did we miss anything?

What do YOU wear to the airport?

(P.S. If you’re still wondering what to wear to the airport, check out our Celebrity Airport Style Gallery some inspiration (or not) from the stars!)

Gallery: What to Wear to the Airport: Celebrity Style

[Celebrity images: Fame Pictures, top image: Ipolstock | Dreamstime.com]


  • June 28, 2011


    Great advice! I had my first plane trip (transatlantic!!) last year and really enjoyed it. Personally I’d REALLY stress the moisturizer – I thought bringing it was a just-in-case sort of thing, but my face got seriously dry on the flight and the only thing I had was scented body lotion, which, as I learned the hard way, was too strong to use on my face. :(

    Very light makeup is also important; I’d say no makeup but not everyone likes that.

    • June 28, 2011

      The Fashion Police

      Your comment about the dry air reminded me of another one, specifically for contact lens wearers: a spare case and cleaning solution (travel sized to get through security) so you can remove them during the flight if at all possible. My eyes always get really dry because of the air on the plane, so I always take my lenses out as soon as we take off and replace them right before landing. Also: eye drops!

      • June 29, 2011


        Both of these comments are super true. Generally if I’m flying it’s the twelve hour flight from Philadelphia to Israel (my sister lives there so I try to go as often as I can). Contact solution, case and glasses are a must. The worst was when my dad and I literally went from asleep, thinking we weren’t leaving for a few days to on the road to Newark in three hours because my sister went into early labor and we both wanted to be there. In my hurry I forgot to pack any contact solution, case or my glasses. Two days later I had scratched my cornea due to how irritated my eyes got and had to buy new glasses. And of course the only glasses the place had that would be available the next day were a pair of super expensive Prada glasses.

        Also: face wash. I know that I always break out after plane trips because of how dry the air is. Being able to kip into the bathroom to wash my face every few hours helps fend off the worst of it.

  • June 28, 2011


    Keep in mind if you are safety conscious, running shoes are safer in the event of an emergency landing…just saying.

  • June 28, 2011


    I second the pashmina. I find I get a sore throat if I breath plane air for too long, so being able to cover my mouth with something subtly is really usefull. It also helps if you get stuck sitting next to someone who didn’t have time to wash that morning!

  • June 28, 2011


    Until I get through security, I leave my extra jewelry (watch, necklace, bangles) & anything metal I might normally have in pockets, in a ziploc in my carryon or purse, then just put it on afterwards. Also, I try to wear shoes with socks or stockings so I’m not walking barefoot through the screening area (or you could have a pair of socks handy to replace the shoes). My ankles get cold on planes, so a pair of socks or legwarmers come in handy there. For long trips, some comfy slip on slippers or ballet flats are good while on board – as long as you know you’ll be able to get back into your shoes at landing! I’d say Daisy Fuentes is perfectly dress for a plane trip.

  • June 28, 2011


    I personally find a maxi or midi dress in a soft knit to be the perfect airport outfit. I cannot stand tight waistbands, so I am much more comfortable sitting for long periods of time in a casual dress. Layer with a cardigan and you are all set!
    Also, what wasn’t mentioned above is the reason for bringing a more comfy pair of shoes for the plane rather than just kicking them off and sitting in your socks, which is generally considered bad etiquette. You are in very close quarters and some people apparently can’t tell when their own feet are getting stinky.

    • June 28, 2011

      The Fashion Police

      This is actually one of pet peeves about flying… I can almost guarantee that the person across the aisle from me will instantly remove their shoes and then prop their white-socked feet up on their knee, with the always filthy soles pointing in my direction. I have a “thing” about dirty soles on socks, so yes, I always really appreciate it when people keep their shoes on, even if it means bringing an extra pair with them!

  • June 28, 2011


    Amber, it’s a great article! Many advises are something I never thought of although I get to fly 2-3 times a year too. Usually I just close my eyes and wish it was over.. from my experience I agree with minimum to no make-up, minimum jewelry, and no laptop if possible)) but I always carry one. It’s a PAIN.

  • June 29, 2011

    Nikki G

    This isn’t clothing, but I always carry a book and my iPod with me. I hate to converse with strangers on planes (I know that sounds horrible), so I make sure to have something on me to distract me from my seat buddies.

  • June 29, 2011


    On shoes- I really cannot stress the importance of comfortable shoes enough. In April I, my sister and my mother were flying from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia on what very well might be the busiest night to fly from Ben Gurion airport (the night after the last day of Passover). We however, didn’t think of that. And of course, the geniuses at US Airways didn’t think to have more than one person working at their check in booth

    Israeli airport security is different from America (and I presume Europe). Before you can even check in, they have a soldier check your passport and ask lots of questions (what was your reason for travelling? Where did you stay? Who packed your luggage? Has your luggage been out of your sight since you packed it?). Then you have to have your checked luggage x-rayed. After that you finally get to check in. Then you head towards security check. Before you can get into that room you must talk to another soldier who asks you the exact same questions the other one did. Then the security room, which is a MADHOUSE. Cramped and full of people pushing and shoving. Finally we get through there and we get to go through passport checking and customs. Wonderful.

    Long story short, we literally had to run through Ben Gurion airport to catch out flight (which of course was at the farthest gate) and were scolded by the flight attendants for taking so long. I get on the plane, glance at my feet and wince. I had multiple blisters because I had a genius thought when I figured it’d be a good day to break in my new Zara flats.

  • June 29, 2011


    For the airport, I wear a comfy-yet-nice pair of pants with a 3/4 sleeve t-shirt, thick socks, and sneakers. I also bring a light jacket in my carry-on. Bring something to keep you occupied that won’t irritate other passengers. Also don’t forget the facial moisturizer, chapstick, and eye drops. This goes for guys too. I don’t know how many times my husband has needed that stuff. It gets desert dry in those planes!

    As for shoes, I only bring two pairs: the sneakers and a pair of comfy-yet-pretty flats that I can wear with anything. For clothing, I’ve discovered that 4 complete mix-and-match outfits (including what you’re wearing on the plane), night clothes, and enough underwear and socks for a week works wonderfully on just about any length vacation. In most developed countries, you’ll find some sort of laundry or at the very least soap and a sink with running water.

    Try your darndest to get everything into one carry-on bag. I have learned the hard way to pack light and carry only the essentials. I had a checked bag go to the Bahamas without me while I went on to Cincinnati when my flight got re-routed. I never saw the bag again and lost over $500 worth of clothing and equipment.

    If you decide to use checked luggage, take at least your night clothes, underwear, and a complete set of clothing in your carry-on, as well as any electronics and valuables. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble that way.

    If traveling with another person, put some night clothes, set of underwear, and a change of clothes in each other’s carry-on just in case the checked luggage or one of the carry-ons decides to disappear.

    One last thing, mail home any souvenirs (especially breakable ones) larger than, say, your fist. Most developed countries have reliable postal service and it’s likely cheaper to mail bulky stuff home than to get stuck with excess baggage fees. You also won’t have to schlep as much stuff around on your way home.

  • June 29, 2011


    Don’t wear white

  • June 30, 2011


    I’ve travelled more times than I’ve had birthdays!

    When I go to Europe, I wear comfy dark wash jeans with a neutral tone tunic and flats or boots, depending on the season. Hair goes in a tidy bun or ponytail, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have adorable ringlets falling out by the end, which looks quite nice.

    For makeup, I stick with touches of coverup wherever I need it, curled eyelashes and a bit of gloss. Or large sunglasses if I’m being lazy!

    Keep hydrated and moisturize often, but use an unscented product! And maybe bring a small pot of brightening foundation to dab on at the very end of the flight!

    Have fun!