Dressing Professionally But Comfortably: What to Wear for a Long Flight

Vince Camuto Ponte Knit Ankle PantsWhat should you wear on a long flight with colleagues if you want to be comfortable but still look professional? Reader N wonders…

Could you do a post on comfortable, but professional attire for international or long flights? I have an upcoming business trip where my boss and two colleagues will be on a long flight with me. I want to look presentable but still be comfortable for the long flight. Thanks!

I’m curious to hear what people say here; this reminds me a bit about our discussion about what to wear when you’re out of town and working late all the time. (Here’s a fun question, readers — do the answers change if you’re sitting with your boss/colleagues on the long flight? Every time I’ve traveled with colleagues we were sitting apart, and I was so thankful to freely relax/sleep/read brain candy on the flight.) Some thoughts, in no particular order:

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  • Don’t worry about it too much. If it’s a long flight, no one expects you to be wearing pantyhose or other uncomfortable items of clothing (the too-tight blazer, for example) for a long period of time.
  • The longer the flight is, the comfier the clothing can be. I’d say yoga pants and leggings are even ok, with the very important caveat that a) they must be totally, completely opaque, b) in pristine condition, and c) sized and accessorized appropriately so your figure isn’t the primary thing on display. Leggings + tight tank top = catsuit = bad for professional outing. Leggings + comfy tunic sweater that comes mid-thigh = ok.
  • All that said, do note that there are some “comfort work brands” that you should definitely check out if you’re doing the trip often for work. Betabrand, for example, makes bootcut black dress pants; ponte pants from Vince Camuto or Lands’ End are also reader favorites. If jeans might be appropriate, do consider JAG pull-on jeans.

In general, I always like to travel wearing my heaviest/bulkiest shoes (so I don’t have to pack them for the trip), and even in the summertime I bring socks so, at the very least, I don’t have to go through the security line barefoot. (I also think there’s less of an “ick, she took her shoes off!” factor if you’re wearing socks versus bare feet, but maybe that’s me.) The best tip I’ve ever gotten for a long flight was to brush your teeth when you land — it reenergizes you as if you’re starting the day fresh.

Readers, what do you like to wear when you’re traveling with colleagues? Do you have any other tricks for traveling in comfort and style?

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Comments

  1. (was) due in june :

    I wore the Karen Kane faux wrap dress featured on the mom s!te today plus leggings and ballet flats for my long flight with colleagues including partners last week. Very comfortable and totally appropriate.

    • The manageing partner make’s me wear a dress and pump’s when we fly, even tho I do NOT like to wear pump’s on the plane. When I fly by myself, I wear Nike Air’s and Jean’s, but NOT when I am with the manageing partner b/c he says he get’s treated BETTER when he is with a well dressed younger woman (like Margie and me). So I do what he say’s b/c he pays my salary.

      • I say this coming from a place of concern- pls research when to use ‘s contractions. I don’t think you are using them correctly in your earlier post and it mat come off as extremely unprofessional.

  2. I’m a big fan of the knit dress (jersey, ponte, sweater) and comfy tights combo when traveling.

    I’d also say how formally you need to dress depends on how conversative your boss and colleagues are. If they’re likely to wear a suit and tie on the plane, you probably should too. If they’re going to wear a golf shirt and khakis, or leggings and a tunic, you can wear something more comfortable and relaxed.

  3. Consultant :

    I have flown a lot with colleagues, although mostly on shorter flights and we mostly go straight to the office, so we wear whatever we would wear to work. I would never wear yoga pants or leggings in front of any of my colleagues, but YMMV since I also wouldn’t wear either of those out of the house even for running errands.

  4. Shopping challenged. :

    My phone died and took my comment with it. Short version is that a really long plane ride will probably end outside the U.S. Best to find out beforehand what standard office temps are and if gym clothes are considered street clothes or if you’ll look like a schlubby slob if you wear them. Cotton jersey is your friend, as are layers.

  5. Marshmallow :

    I recently discovered Lululemon’s “City Trek” pant, which I wear on casual days in my Biglaw office and would be perfect for a long flight. They look like professional, ankle length trousers, but are super stretchy and comfy. Note that the black looks more professional than the other colors, especially the maroon, which is lighter in person than online.

    • I was going to post the same thing! I have these pants in the turquoise colour (“dark fuel”) and I love them! They look professional and are SO comfortable!!

  6. Oh boy, I had to deal with this and I was going from a cold climate to a tropical one. Very difficult to dress for that even without having your boss and colleagues onboard!

  7. ManagementConsultant :

    I travel weekly for work, and would never dream of wearing yoga pants/etc on a flight. That boggles my mind! There are SO many perfectly comfortable outfits you could wear that are also completely office-ready. If a suit isn’t comfortable to wear on a plane, I wouldn’t find it comfortable enough to sit in for 12 hours in the office either, and it probably means that it fits poorly (i.e., it’s actually too small for you). Really, the only concession I make on travel days is sticking to flats and keeping my heels in my bag for arrival at the client.

    Things I regularly wear on cross-country or even TATL flights that I think are exceedingly comfortable: dresses with a bit of stretch to them, dress pants and a button down, A-line skirt and a sweater, and various suits. I think probably the only thing I wear on a regular basis to work that it wouldn’t be my ideal to fly in would be pencil skirts.

  8. It really depends on whether you are traveling during the day or overnight, and whether you are going straight to the office when you land or checking into a hotel. I travel a lot, with and without my colleagues. (I am a partner in a consulting firm.) If we are going straight to an office or meeting, then of course wear business clothes. With socks/hose. Having said that, I do not schedule meetings after an overnight flight. So for overnight flights, my uniform is nice ponte knit slacks (not yoga pants, not leggings!), a longish, tailored top (nothing too flow-y) that doesn’t wrinkle too badly, and a pashmina wrap. This takes me through most climates and cultures. I do not agree that one should wear one’s bulkiest shoes on the plane, but then again, I don’t think there’s a reason for bulky shoes on a business trip. They can be a pain in the neck at security, and they can start feeling awful during a long flight.

    My suggestions: Shoes that are easy at security, comfortable for walking through airports (Heathrow & Frankfurt are crazy-big), and that won’t be too uncomfortable if your feet swell a bit on a long flight. Professional but comfortable clothing for overnight flights – I can’t imagine wearing a dress or skirt on a long flight and trying to sleep. A wrap to stay warm if the plane or destination is cold, or to cover oneself to block out light or to gain a sense of privacy when sleeping.

    One last thing – do not brush your teeth on the plane unless you bring bottled water into the bathroom. Those packaged “dry” toothbrushes are great instead.

  9. I travel internationally a lot for work, usually on long overnight flights. I always wear yoga pants, with socks and my heaviest shoes, sneakers, so I can go to the hotel gym and/or take a long walk to try to get over jet lag more quickly. (I try to travel light, so no room to pack the sneakers) You don’t have to remove your shoes at airport security in the U.S. if you belong to Pro-check, and foreign airports don’t require it.

    I wear several layers, usually a sleeveless top, a sweater, and a sweater blazer. Because the temperature can vary a lot during a flight, plus I’m often traveling to a much warmer climate, so it’s useful to be able to peel off layers upon arrival.

    This may seem very casual to many of you, but if I’m going to be scrunched into an economy seat for 11 hours or more, I’m not going to wear anything that isn’t as comfortable as pyjamas. And I’d never go straight to work after such a long flight; there’s no way I could handle a meeting professionally and make good decisions. I head to my hotel and a shower, followed by a walk to re-set my body clock if it’s daylight, or a swim in hotel pool to stretch cramped muscles if it’s after dark.

    The few times I’ve traveled with colleagues/bosses, they’ve been dressed as casually as I was.

  10. Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

    Sometimes I feel like I am from another planet compared to the other ladies here. But I think I am just from California.

    If we are going to a client meeting, depo, office, etc., I just wear whatever I would wear to work.

    If we are flying and going straight to the hotel (the normal case), my colleagues travel in casual clothes like jeans and a reasonably nice shirt (some more reasonably nice than others-some are just a T-shirt). Most of the men wear flip flops or sneakers. I usually go with jeans/a casual dress and dressier sandals if going somewhere warm, or a sweater, jeans, and boots if going somewhere cold. So basically my nicer looking weekend clothes.

    • I completely agree that East v. West, and industry by industry, there are certainly different worlds. Mine is an ultra-conservative east coast world. I remember early in my career, the first time I had a business trip to San Jose, I had to go to a Nordstrom personal shopper to help me buy “business casual” clothes. It was the day before the trip, and the west coast partner happened to mention, “Oh, we’re business casual here.” This was in the day when women didn’t wear pants to work, wouldn’t think of going without nylons, and were still wearing blouses with bows. (I know, they’re back, but I get queasy just looking at them.) I freaked a bit, and then headed to Nordstrom after work. And 25 years later, I still remember that first business casual outfit.

  11. I wear ponte knit or yoga pants and then a professional-ish top on long haul flights, typically a sweater or knit blazer. I try to avoid any pants that have a button on the waist- even if I can wear them comfortably to work, the combination of button/buckle/long time on a plane doesn’t work for me. I always wear flat, comfortable shoes and no sandals. My high school French teacher put the fear of an emergency landing in my brain for life.

  12. LynneinNC :

    One colleague that traveled all.the.time for our firm wore business suit, heels, etc. to the airport;after going through security changed into jeans, nice tee, cardi and trainers. She was comfortable in flight and still presentable upon landing. She rarely went straight to work upon arrival. She said her business suits lasted longer because they were not exposed to the rigors of plane travel: confined spaces rubbing against airplane seats, messy seat mates; food or drink spills.
    I like the comfort of the Land’s End ponte knit slacks when travelling for flight over 3 hours. Under 3 hours, I stay in business attire.

  13. Usually I wear tights, a comfy dress, and flats for business travel – the same thing I’d be wearing to the office on a business-casual day. If traveling alone, though, I’ll put my hair into a much higher bun than I would wear to work because it’s more comfortable with the headrest.

  14. I’m way late to this party but wanted to weigh in. I travel about once a month, sometimes more, for a minimum of 8.5 hours International flights (Based in Australia which is hella far from everything). I do about a 50/50 mix of business/economy and always wear leggings or yoga pants, tunic or long tshirt, cardigan, pashmina, and flat shoes. I bring socks for the plane. My male colleagues wear jeans. Female colleagues wear comfy pants and similar tops to me. No idea how the men are all comfortable in jeans. That would be the worst possible thing in my mind.

  15. I’m new to the business travel world and a recent return to the professional world after a long hiatus to raise my family. What do you suggest as far as recovery after a long trip? This may be an odd question, and maybe it is harder because I recently had a serious illness, but I find it takes me a week to recover from a multi time zone trip. Any suggestions?

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