Long Flights: How to Look Professional But Be Comfortable

dressing for long flightYou want to look professional during a long flight with colleagues, but you’re understandably not too eager to wear a suit for several hours of waking, sleeping, and eating. So, with your trusty flight outfit of a fleece + yoga pants staying in the closet at home, what can you choose that will be comfortable but still appropriate if you end up sitting next to your boss? We’ve talked about traveling internationally in comfort and style, what to pack for an extended business trip, and traveling with coworkers, but not this exactly. 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 can see this being a concern not only in this situation (traveling directly with coworkers) but in a situation I’ve been in, where there’s a conference that almost everyone in your industry attends, so even if you’re not traveling with direct coworkers, you end up seeing a million colleagues all over the airport, on flights, and via other travel hubs. A lot of sites have comfylooking, wrinklefree travel clothes (we just featured a washable top from Chadwicks’s line on CorporetteMoms’ Washable Wednesday) — but what is the chic alternative to the flowy pants-with-matching-loose-jacket look?  A few thoughts:

  • Wear a dress.  This was one of Road Warriorette’s suggestions when she talked about what to wear on long flights, and I totally agree — this is going to be one of the easiest things to wear. You look put together but still comfortable, provided the dress you choose doesn’t require too much Spanx. Pretty much any jersey dress will do, but there are wrinkle-free dresses that might be perfect for this kind of long trip, like this nice one from TravelSmith (on sale for $44). In the wintertime, go for dark tights; in the summertime I’d layer a slip-short like the reader favorite from Jockeys underneath, just for maximum ease of movement during travel. In the wintertime I’d pair it with tall boots (because, bonus, then you don’t have to make room for them in your luggage), but that’s just me.
  • If you’re ok with looking casual — but leggings are TOO casual — consider reader favorite pull-on Jag Jeans (available at Nordstrom and a few at 6pm). Paired with a nice sweater or even a blazer that you take off before you get comfortable in your seat, these can look great. (Don’t forget our old video on how to fold a blazer.)
  • Bring a wrapThis is so much better than a huge sweatshirt or travel pillow because you can use it as a travel blanket, a neck pillow (if folded properly), an added layer of warmth, and more.

Finally, if you have a choice in the matter, encourage the members of the group to NOT sit together on the long flight — it gives you a bit of “me” time and avoids the possible meet-cute situation of waking up on your coworker’s shoulder. As an added benefit, it allows you to get as comfortable as you want in your seat without judgment — watch that cheesy rom-com, sleep with your mouth open, have a glass of champagne, whatever.

Readers, what do you wear on long flights where you want to look professional but still be comfortable? Have you been in any situations where you know you wore the wrong thing (or one of your coworkers did)?

(Pictured: London To Hong Kong Boeing Airbus A340 – 600, originally uploaded to Flickr by Chris.)


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. LawyerinChicago :

    I love the Icebreaker Via blazer for flights (it’s out of stock on the US site, but it restocks often). It’s quite casual–more like a collared sweater than a blazer, really–but with the jacket styling it reads a little more formal than a cardigan. It does not wrinkle and it’s comfortable through a range of temperatures.

    I opt out of backscatter machines, so while I prefer to wear dresses for traveling, I’ve taken to wearing my NYDJ ponte knit pants for the opt-out. They’re also pretty casual, but very very comfortable and such a dark black, that they don’t show dirt and don’t read as casual as jeans do. (Personally, I think denim is really uncomfortable, especially for sitting in cramped conditions, even with spandex in the mix).

    • That jacket is very cute- and the kind of “not really a jacket” jacket I’m always in search of. Hoping it will be available again in US!

  2. Jumpingjack :

    I’m a big fan of pants that are knit material but cut like trousers. I’ll even wear them to work sometimes. I got the Stretch Ponte Knit Trousers from Nordstrom recently – they are work appropriate and feel like yoga pants. Will definitely be wearing them on my next long work flight.

    • Jumpingjack :

      Here they are: http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/nydj-stretch-ponte-knit-trousers-regular-petite/3736603

      • Thnks for the suggestion. These look good and have great reviews.

      • Also a skinny pear :

        LE has pants like that are 40% off today. I have a prior year’s version (boot cut). There are pull on (I don’t have) and zipper-fly versions (which I have).

    • Veronica Mars :

      I second this idea; I have three pairs of the Lilly Pulitzer Leigh trousers and they’re my go-to look for when I want to be extra comfy. I’ll look into those nordstrom ones!

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      NY and Company used to sell pants that were hidden elastic waist and sweatpant like material but looked like and were marketed as work pants. I haven’t looked recently to see if they still carry them.

    • Rogue Banker :

      Seconding this idea. Wore a pair of pants like this for my flight last week – trouser cut, herringbone pattern, fabric that feels like pyjama pants. Those with a comfy sweater and a knit blazer makes for the best flying outfit ever.

  3. LilyStudent :

    My favourite travel outfit for looking put together is a jersey fit-and-flare dress over leggings (functioning as thick and warm tights) and boots. Pashmina scarf, thin cardi, whatever coat you need, and you’re ready to go.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I was going to suggest leggings over tights. Especially with a longish dress and knee high boots it is hard to tell the difference unless you are looking closely, even more so if you wear cheap leggings that are less opaque.

    • This is my go-to winter travel outfit. In the summer I wear a maxi dresses and light cardi, with my pashmina and slipper socks in my carryon. For summer work travel, I would just switch the maxi for a knee length jersey dress.

    • LilyStudent :

      Although, the downside to this is a lack of pockets. On my flight home tomorrow, I’m wearing a comfy T, denim skirt, leggings, boots, and a hoody.

  4. I would wear my black crepe Eileen Fisher pants (best pants ever – elastic waist, very elegant looking), and my Boden wrap Barcelona sweater. Very soft and cozy and looks nice.

    • Jumpingjack :

      Ooh, that Barcelona wrap sweater is going on my to-buy list immediately. Looks like a great item to keep at my desk.

    • lucy stone :

      How much does the Boden Barcelona shed? I’ve been eyeing it up all day.

    • LilyStudent :

      Oooh, I hadn’t even seen that! I’m not a massive fan of alpaca (I overheat very easily and it’s very warm! Perfect for people with normal body heat though) so I might have to make my own in a 100% wool. Love the shape and colours.

  5. Never underestimate the power of a good/comfortable [email protected] for such a journey too. I wouldn’t wear the lock-and-loader for this excursion, but I wouldn’t wear a sleep [email protected] either. Something that you will forget is there, even after 18 hours of wear. I know that we all have [email protected] that do not under any circumstance, meet this requirement!

    Also, stuff a pair or two of dry socks in your carry-on. I have found that one thing that makes me feel coldest, is when my feet are wet/damp in socks. Changing into dry socks every 8 hours or so really helps me stay warm and comfy.

    I’ve never flown for business, but it does seem that a pair of ponte pants or a pullover knit dress would be the way to go here. Maybe even some of the cute sweater-dresses out there?

    • Anonymous :

      lock-and-loader? sleep bra? what??

      • Wildkitten :

        I assume push-up and sports bra.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Bras for those of us that are over-endowed. Surprisingly, the “coobie-bra” full size provides enough support for me to wear in public for very low impact activity like sitting on a plane.

        • Yeah, I totally get what she means as a well-endowed person. I have bras that keep them locked and loaded (a What Not to Wear term) and I sleep in sleep bras which are not comfortable because they don’t keep you up enough – no underwire and meant to be pretty loose. They are opposite ends of the spectrum and neither great for a long flight.

          • Wait, people sleep in bras??

          • Jen S. 2.0 :

            I know plenty of people who sleep in bras! I used to sleep in non-underwire bras. Now I generally sleep in the tanks with built-in bras — support without a lot of construction.

        • I’m well-endowed and usually wear underwire [email protected] But I’ve had too many encounters with x-ray scanners and hand-held wands so I wear a sports [email protected] on the plane so I don’t set off the metal detector. Couldn’t get away with a sleep [email protected]!

        • Yes, this. Though I don’t worry about setting off the metal detectors because of my bra. I’m well-endowed, to say the least: these things don’t hold themselves up on their own. If TSA can’t figure that out, well that’s them.

          • Jen S. 2.0 :

            ” these things don’t hold themselves up on their own.”


          • Where I work rented space to the training sessions for some of the very first TSA screeners after 9/11. After 3 months they still never figured out about underwires or that EVERYONE’S feet are going to beep if you wand them while they are standing on a steel floor. It was an interesting three months and we were glad when their contract ran out and they left.

          • +100 Although I don’t enjoy being felt up by TSA the odd time a bra sets off the detectors, underwires are simply a necessary evil in my life.

  6. Blonde Lawyer :

    I feel the need to comment that no dress ever requires [email protected]! There is no obligation to look skinnier than you are.

    • Thank you. I’m probably taking this too literally, but a dress that doesn’t require “too much [email protected]” was a pretty off-putting choice of words.

    • I agree! I do NOT think it is fair for men to go around commenting on our bodie’s, when they themselve’s are sloppy and do NOT take care of themselve’s. When I was taking a plane to Pitsburg, I was wearing shorts and these 2 guy’s in the seat behind me kept comenting on my leg’s and how good they looked. They had NO idea that I was an attorney at law, goeing to do some EBT’s out there. As far as they were concerned, I was simply a peice of MEAT for them to analyse and coment on my body. That is NOT why I went to law school, and the onley reason I was weareing shorts on the plane was b/c it was HOT out the day I took the flight and I did NOT want to wear a dress on the plane b/c I was not even meeting with cleint’s that day.

      I think women should dress for comfort, and FOOEY on men that want us to look svelte so that they can show us off like Barbie dolls. Even my dad is like that — he alway’s tells the neaybor’s how pretty his daughter’s and how Rosa has a figure to die for even tho she has 3 kid’s. Of course, he manage’s to bring in the fact that I do NOT have children, nor am I even MARRIED, and then he tells them that it is ONLEY b/c I work all day that I have the tuchus that I do, but he is seeing fit to makeing sure I work off my tuchus with the fitbit!

      Speakeing of hours, I was congratuealated by Frank and the manageing partner for meeting my 7200 hours 2 week’s early this year. As a result, I am getting an extra bonus. I told them I would be giving my extra bonus to charity this year b/c Dad say’s I need a charitabel deduction and that next year he will see about me bringeing up at the partnership meeting a proposal to have the firm match our charitabel contributions dollar for dollar, up to $5000/year. He say’s it should be a wash b/c at the end of the day, the firm will have less income and i will pay less taxes! YAY! I have no idea why, but dad knows alot about taxes. He also knows a guy at the IRS he can go to if he needs a favor. DOUBEL YAY!!!!

    • Amelia Bedelia :

      I wear spanx to look smoother, not skinnier. And I read this to mean a dress that wasn’t SO thin that you needed heavy duty spanx like wear to avoid VPL and weird bumps.

      • Baconpancakes :

        I took it to mean a dress that’s thick enough to not require smoothing as well. I just try to avoid buying those at all, and if I have a skirt or dress that would require those, I usually wear Hanky Panky thongs instead.

      • Yes, that was my interpretation as well.

    • Carrie... :

      Some of us need to fight the jiggling. And I need the smoothing too, although I love my Hanky Pankies….

      It’s not all about weight.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Sorry “skinny” was the wrong word. I guess my thought is bodies jiggle and there is no requirement to hide it but I totally get wanting to wear something that does. I just don’t like the idea that you shouldn’t go out in public if you jiggle.

        • Anonymous :

          Idk, I think body jiggle absolutely needs to be hidden. That’s just polite.

          • Anonymous :

            Polite to whom? Do men feel the need to hide the jiggle? Absolutely not. Hiding the jiggle is solely a women’s issue that is imposed by society. Your body is perfect regardless of jiggle. I hope to god you don’t see me and think that I’m being impolite by allowing the world to see that my body jiggles. Jesus.

            I mean, if you want to look smooth, I can understand that, but please do it for you, and don’t think that smoothness is a requirement for being polite, presentable, or professional.

          • Yeah…. I just don’t want guys at work staring at my ass. Maybe on an airplane it’s less a big deal…. But let’s be frank. When it jiggles, it draws more attention. Men have let me know, no doubt. It’s my flat-chested equivalent to a going bra-less. People like me know who they are….

            At work, certainly I don’t want to highlight my body in that way. It’s hard enough being the only woman in my group.

            I certainly can’t see how can we talk about wearing appropriate hem lengths on our skirts, tops not cut too low, bare shoulders – yes or no, the height of heels and not talk about the jiggle that is hidden by a good bra and sometimes… lower undergarments.

    • Wildkitten :

      I like spanx tank tops (TC, but same idea) for layering purposes so no matter how much I move I know, for example, that there won’t be a gap between my pants and sweater.

    • I wish more people (particularly my mom) felt this way. I find spanx so uncomfortable and just don’t wear them even though I carry the bulk of my weight in my tummy

      • Sorry to offend, guys! I’m one of those women who definitely likes the smoothing/firming properties of Spanx (because hey, my size is my size) — if I’m wearing a sheath dress or anything tight around my belly, Spanx is a must for me to get the sleek silhouette that I want. This has always been true — even before kids, when I was a size 2. Sometimes it’s the weight of the fabric, but sometimes it’s the way the fabric clings. I have “Spanx dresses” and “non Spanx dresses.” (Ok, I also have a “acceptable for high-waisted control tights but not the full Spanx thingy” dresses.)

      • An alternative is to wear a spanx a size too big, or those skimmies underwear which have been praised here.

        • This is what I do. I size up in Spanxx, and use it for the smoothing property only, not the slimming.

  7. Another critical piece–especially if you’re flying long haul–is compression socks. They’re not fun to wear but are super helpful in reducing swelling and preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis.

    • Compression sock can be really fun to wear! I have a pair that are black with big bright blue polka dots. I love them and wouldn’t do long distance travel without them. Here’s the link: http://nabeesocks.com

  8. purplesneakers :

    This is a little off-the-wall, but. I splurged on a blow-dry at the salon before my last long-haul flight, and it was wonderful. No dealing with my unruly curls and their incessant tangling, and I felt pretty after 27 hours in transit.

    • That actually sounds really great. Once I missed a flight in Shanghai, and the night flight home to the US wasn’t for 24 hours… :( and they have a salon in the airport there and I spent so much $$ on a massage and it was SO worth it!

  9. A year or so ago I saw a post about yoga pants that look like work/suit pants – can’t seem to find the post. I really wished I had those during my last flight! Anybody out there remember the brand/store?

    • Betabrand comes to mind. Don’t know if I saw them on this s!te and have no experience with them, but I’ve seen ads for them and they appear to be in this category.

    • Also a skinny pear :

      Beta Brand

      I have been curious, but I’ve never tried them. But I am a believer in the LE Ponte Pants (which I need to alter — I got them when my children were younger and I was in desperate need of washable work pants; they have held up very well).

    • beta brand; they run small but look nice.

  10. In the winter it’s best to wear fleece rights on a long flight. They’re more comfortable than jeggings.

  11. Wildkitten :

    I think the Lands End sheath dress is great for travel – it’s comfortable enough to sleep in and isn’t binding.

    My favorite Road Warrior3tt3 trick is to not put on your makeup until you land. I wouldn’t want to fly with colleagues totally naked-face but I would go as minimal as felt presentable.

  12. antsmarching :

    Be careful with dress wearing, any dress that doesn’t have a pencil-like skirt will result in a pat down by the TSA. At least that is the case in the airport in my large city home.

  13. In the winter for a business flight, I’d wear ponte pants, a silk knit shell (Eileen Fisher) and a structured sweater-jacket. The wrap jackets suggested all look frumpy on me…maybe better on slimmer, taller people.

  14. I just bought 2 dresses from Boden that I use as my “travel” dresses. The are super comfy, have pockets, don’t wrinkle and are heavy material that doesn’t wrinkle a lot. http://www.bodenusa.com/en-US/Clearance/Womens-Dresses/Day-Dresses/WH538/Womens-Ottoman-Shift-Dress.html

    Big sale today, too!

  15. Anonymous Associate :

    I was also going to say that wearing anything other than a sheath dress results in a pat down, but that might be a result of my ethnicity. I nearly always gets my hands swabbed/patted down even though I am TSA Pre. My coworkers are somewhere between getting a kick out of my harassment by the TSA and thinking it is terrible racial profiling. I am just glad I don’t have to take out my baggie of liquids.

    Anywho, I usually only wear work clothes if I am coming directly from/going directly to a depo/hearing/meeting. I don’t really find my work clothes uncomfortable (sheath dresses, pencil skirts, blouses, tights, etc.). Otherwise, I do neat casual – i.e., jeans/pants, a decent top, boots/sandals, or if it’s hot, a casual dress. Never even thought about looking professional for the flight itself. My coworkers don’t dress up just for travel either, though.

  16. Thanks for the great post. I don’t do long flights often but I travel regularly (easily averaging 4 airport trips per week) and staying comfortable but professional is key, especially for very long day trips. Please do a post on ways for us road warriors to stay in shape (or direct me to it if I missed it already)!

  17. If I need to travel with a suit, it works best for me to wear the suit jacket and hand it over to the steward(ess) to be hung up as soon as I get on board, replacing it with whatever shawl or cardi required for warmth during the flight. Most men I know do this as a matter of course – on an international flight on a business-heavy route, there’s usually a few armloads of jackets to be re-distributed just prior to landing.

  18. One word: Zoran. His wool pants are soft, elegant, do not ever wrinkle, and have an elastic waist. The cashmere and silk sweaters drape well and are super comfy. Add a scarf, and done! A coat or another Zoran topper piece is optional. His pieces are pricey, but you can find a lot on eBay or Union&Fifth for $100 or so, and it is worth every penny.

  19. I travel between the northeast, where it is cold in the winter, to hot climes 12 or more hours flight away. So my clothes need to not leave me freezing or basting. My travel go-to are pants from URU – they are silk, come in a pattern that is pressed into the silk and so they both breathe and never look wrinkled. The ones I favor have silk ties on the side, so can be either capri length or long, depending on how I tie them. And then a silk t shirt (Eileen Fisher) and a light jacket or sweater.

  20. From my experience, I would advise against wearing a dress on any flight. Many flights tend to be fairly cold, so to play it safe I usually wear my stretchy dress pants and flats or boots (depending on the weather). Also, I have had tights and leggings snag on my luggage, seat, etc.!