Travelling is fun, but planes pretty much suck. Between the dubious food, cramped seating, and the fact that you have to unwillingly endure a stranger’s less-than-compelling life story for what could be hours at a time, a journey on a plane isn’t what it used to be.
But if there’s one thing you can control mid-air, it’s not looking like a total bag of shit. Among us blokes, looking good for air travel doesn’t seem to matter anymore. But it does, gents: well-dressed equals flight perks, and you owe it to your peers and the staff to avoid looking like it’s the first Sunday after Falls.
This primer will give you the keys to appropriate sartorial etiquette while travelling on a plane, whether that’s a cruisy hour-long flight, a big bad business trip with the MD, or your #wanderlust long haul to the other side of the world.
Dressing For A Domestic Or Short Flight
A short haul flight is easy: the worst thing you have to worry about is cold coffee and a flight attendant having bad breath. But that’s not to say you get a free pass with your wardrobe.
Versatility is the most important factor for short haul flights. Sure, you’re still stranded in Economy for a couple hours, but the key is to wear a look that’s good to go once you get off the plane. No change of clothes needed.
Short hauls shouldn’t require much more than the basics: think a white tee or oxford shirt that you can wear with any set of pants. In the cooler months, a shawl cardigan over your tee adds a bit of refinement without burdening you with too many layers. In summer, opt for lighter fabrics but always stick to basics that give you the most mileage.
Jeans – provided they’re looked after and don’t have the fade and tear schtick going – are the best option. Quality denim can survive the nasty parts of air travel, but usually pass the mark at a restaurant or bar once you land. Make sure they’re a dark indigo, in good repair, and slim fitting. No rips or frayed hems.
Suede chelsea boots or sneakers are the go depending on how much effort you’ve got in the tank. If the flight ends up being on the longer side, or you get stuck with an unlucky layover, consider subbing the boots out for a pair of sneakers. New Balance or Common Projects are good options if you’re not afraid of a bit of a dad-ish, sneans look.
If you’re just ducking off for a weekend, you’ll be packing light (we hope). As such, your accessories should be packed for maximum versatility. Think a smart watch that you can wear to both outdoors or on a night out.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do sort all your kit into a small weekender. Short haul flights aren’t an expedition, so you shouldn’t need anything bigger than a messenger bag. This will make it easier for you to disembark, because no one gets a thrill out of waiting in the baggage area for a bag that may have been lost over rural Queensland.
Dressing For An International / Long Flight
It takes a special kind of bastard to enjoy long haul flights, and most of us have an experience of looking like a seedy mess in a nameless airport on the other side of the world.
Here, you can make more concessions to comfort. No one expects you to make the trip from Sydney to L.A in Zegna. But you should still observe the fundamentals and try to avoid dressing like you’re heading to a teen slumber party. You’ll thank yourself later.
Similar to the short haul look, focus on quality basics. These look good with most combinations and you won’t miss them if something goes wrong during your trip. White, navy, and marle grey tees are our picks, and bring a few to rotate during the flights. Over the top, wear a tailored sweatshirt in a navy or grey to complete the off-duty-but-not-a-disgusting-slob look.
Tailored sweats have a bit of weekend cool about them: you’re dressing for comfort without forgetting your style p’s and q’s. Jersey cotton pants with an elastic cuff and slight taper are comfortable for long flights, and avoid that exhausted commuter look we’ve all observed at various points during our travelling careers.
Sneakers should be your first choice for a long haul flight. Not the grimy All-Stars you wear to the gym or disco, but something that’ll both keep your feet in good nick over the trip and make the cut at an airport watering hole. Don’t punish yourself with formal leather shoes. They will end up smelling by the end of your flight.
Also gents, remember to avoid anything open. Your fellow travellers shouldn’t be subject to the sight and smell of your toes for 12 hours. If you need to, change your socks at the airport between stops. Just don’t be a feral and wear your Bali thongs (flip-flops).
If you don’t fancy listening to Dorothy talk about her grandchildren and third hip replacement, our prime advice is to invest in headphones. Headphones are a universal accessory for communicating via body language that you’re not interested in airplane small talk, so invest wisely.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do bring a change of essentials, particularly if there’s a layover. People tend to get grimy during long flights, so having extra jocks and socks to change into at an airport pit-stop will be the key to feeling fresh during your ordeal.
Dressing For A Business Trip Flight
Business trips can make or break a good corporate career. Your boss wants to see what kind of bloke you are outside the office. Looking decent can play some (small) part in that.
If you’re travelling solo, apply the Short Haul rules and bring your suit in a sturdy garment bag. But if your boss is along for the trek, you need to think clearly about whether they can forget seeing you in track pants and a band tee from your salad days as a face-chewing festival monstrosity. Chances are, he won’t live it down, so you need to think twice, and dress like a big boy.
Do I Suit Up?
Our money is on a cautious no. It’s impractical, uncomfortable, and air travel isn’t kind to suits at the best of times. It’s likely you’ll step off the plane with your favourite M.J. Bale kit resembling a wrinkled mess. Keep it in a secure garment bag and opt for business casual instead.
Play it safe on the more formal end of business casual – an Oxford shirt and thin pullover knit says to your boss that you can handle looking the part without the familiarity of a two piece suit. You won’t need a tie (on board at least) so wear the shirt open-necked, but not so open that you look like an Eastern European criminal with a trunk full of fake Rolexes.
Here, tailored chinos or denim will do the job. Even if you’re semi on the clock, you can still afford to dress down on account for the fact that you’re trading a plush office chair for an aerial sardine can.
If you’re worried that your boss has strange whims about what is and isn’t kosher, play it safe and wear tailored pants – wool or cotton – and stow your jeans for travel downtime instead.
Business trips can have some arcane rules about footwear. You’re still on the clock, more or less, but no one is wearing their proper work shoes. So, you’ll need to think of something in between. Our picks are on suede oxfords or loafers, or even driving shoes if it’s a casual trip. Your feet can take a killing during air travel, and there’s nothing worse than eight hours in the same pair of uncomfortable leather stompers.
You won’t impress a flight attendant by flashing your scuffed, pawn-shop Rolex when she wheels around for snacks, but it’s important to be dressed whole if you’re travelling in company. Remember to pack your IWC, OMEGA or Rolex because you’re there to make a good impression.
Do’s & Don’ts
If you’re travelling with a senior colleague, gauge their expectations before you roll into the airport. If they’re under the impression you’re heading straight into a meeting once the wheels touch down, that might be a good indication you’ll need to travel as you work (i.e, in corporate attire). If it’s a work booze trip masquerading as official business, you can dress down accordingly.
Dressing For A Holiday Flight
If you’re lucky enough to score a week or two here and there to nip off to somewhere sunny, thinking about what to wear might seem like a fair ordeal in exchange for fruity cocktails and endless afternoons on a deck chair.
Holidays don’t really carry heaps of expectations, but you should still avoid your Bintang worst, and make an honest attempt to disrupt the Australian tourist’s reputation as an ill-mannered, ill-dressed wuckfit.
Pretty much anything goes here, as long as it’s not a ratty tee with mothholes or your 2008 rugby all-star jersey. A camp-collar shirt over a tee can add a festive element to your trip, and are on trend without looking too overdone.
However, singlets are a categorical no-no. Even if you’re built like Chris Hemsworth and flying in the middle of February, no one asked to see your armpit hair or dodgy tribal tats from 2009.
It’s a holiday, not a christening, so you can run the risk of wearing shorts. Not boardies though, or your footy shorts from when you were a D-grade benchrider, but tailored shorts – that is, ending above the knee, a modest taper, and generally look like something you could chuck on with a shirt and white sneakers for a night out.
If your holiday was worth the coin, you shouldn’t need to wear shoes a whole lot. However, you still need to get there, so get out your sturdiest, most versatile trainers – New Balance or Adidas – to give your feet a break if it’s a longish trek.
And remember, gents, a week away isn’t an excuse to wear thongs on a plane. Aside from the fact that you’re exposing your toes to being trod on by a flight attendant, feet get nasty during travel and there’s only so much you can do mid-air to keep the funk at bay.
The D’Marge rule for holiday dress is thus: never wear anything you’re afraid to lose, trade, or obliterate while overseas.
Holidays always carry that X factor of ‘anything could happen’, so bringing an expensive watch, heirloom signet ring, or Gucci shades is just asking for trouble (or a mugging if you travel anywhere interesting).