Make no mistake, I’m slightly obsessed with airport fashion and etiquette. A few months ago, I summarized my love into musings on the types of outfits people wear for air travel, and how I essentially group people by them.

One Mile At A Time also recently wrote their opinions on an element of airport fashion which can be both amusing and controversial (so who can resist?!), regarding dressing up for travel in premium cabins, like first or business class. I too, have strong opinions here, so I’m jumping in.

Happy For You

Basically, the overlying theme of my opinion is that I’m happy for you. Whether you’re in first class as a billionaire, member of airline staff, a points millionaire or just found a great deal, it’s a lovely way to fly. You should enjoy it.

Accordingly, you should enjoy it exactly how you’d like it to be. Business class is amazing, but it’s mostly designed to be “one size fits all” and business like, whereas first class is that extra level of personal touch, including everything from when you eat to what you eat.

Basically, be whoever you want to be in first class and do it your way.

If you want to wear a ballroom gown, or three piece suit and polished shoes, go for it. You’ll look really awesome, no doubt. But if you are ultra tired, just want to relax for the long haul flight and would be better suited in pajamas or a comfy tracksuit — that’s fine. It’s no bother to me in my seat.

I’ll explain more about my travel fashion choices later, but basically I might be any of the above on the day, depending on the daay. If I just flew 13 hours to attend a day of meetings in an airless room, only to end up back on a 10 hour overnight flight home, I’m going to be comfortable.

Don’t judge me, don’t look at me, and don’t roll your eyes that I’m not dressed for the occasion. I practically live here. If you don’t, and want to celebrate, that’s fine. Again, I’m happy for you.

I Totally Agree With OMAAT On Etiquette

People should dress however makes them feel the most joy and or comfort, as long as they don’t negatively impact my flight, or any flight.

That’s where a simple system of etiquette still matters, even if you can pretty much wear what you want in premium cabins, and should totally be able to, in my opinion.

I think, unless you have incredibly well manicured feet, open toed shoes on men is a bit of a no-no on planes, particularly if those sandals will be slipping off. In my opinion, bare feet is never ok on planes for anyone. Socks — totally fine — bare feet — not.

Incendiary clothes are also pretty unfair too. Why create drama in a confined space?

Making extreme political statements — hello ‘red hat’ mob — just does no good on a plane. It’s inevitable that on any given aircraft, there’s going to be a bunch of people from virtually all faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds and polar ends of the political spectrum. Stoking emotions at 33,000 feet rarely works well, so why do it?

Just wear “the other hat”, t-shirt or outfit that day and save the provocative stuff for somewhere you can actually escape, without falling 33,000 feet or causing a diversion.

Finally, some cultural respect is healthy.

Wearing a string bikini to board a flight to a fundamentalist Islamic country is just a bad look for everyone. It makes you look like you think you’re more important than an entire faith, and makes everyone around you incredibly uncomfortable. Save it for the hotel pool.

No, People Don’t Need To Dress Up

No, people don’t need to dress up to sit in premium airline cabins, like business or first class. It’s not even against a certain code, or ethics anymore.

Plus, define how an “first class” person dresses these days, with one uniform, I dare you? Is it a blue blazer and khakis? Is that like, what every man has to wear to look rich and becoming? Come on. If that was the case, Mark Zuckerberg, wouldn’t have a seat, and he could buy all the airlines combined!

It’s just impractical in so many cases to even conceptualize one uniform. That’s for private member clubs, where people of likeminded taste can choose to gather in a private space.

Why take a beautifully pressed Paul Smith suit or dress and crinkle the living hell out of it while uncomfortably trying to sleep on an overnight flight, when you could leave it in a clothing bag, change into the airlines pajamas and sleep like a baby?

This isn’t a Wes Anderson film, and someone named something like Barnaby won’t just be there waiting to hand you another perfectly sartorial outfit, when you wake up.

But like I said, if that’s what makes you happy, or schedules didn’t permit an outfit change, more power to you — enjoy it. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the formal outfit too.

This is also an area where I do feel for some high profile people, particularly politicians who must keep a look of professionalism at all times, even on long overnight flights.

How I Approach Travel And Flight Fashion

I’m an evangelist of the marriage between function and fashion when it comes to air travel. I like to go a little outside of my comfort zone, having a little extra “swag” in my outfit, in part because I find travel is exciting, so celebrate, right?

Even then, I don’t go overboard, and I avoid being what I refer to as “the upgrade outfit” in my previous travel fashion musings.

But yes, fashion must be met by function. I aim for materials which won’t make me uncomfortable in flight, like jeans with a light stretch, or modern tailoring that allows more formal looking pants to still have drawstring waistbands, or elastic.

I also like cotton, glorious organic cotton that lives and breaths with me. I often end up with layers on the top half, allowing me to be comfortable in any temperature. Layers also help keep packing light! I’m a hoodie, jeans and crisp shoes person.

That’s usually a t-shirt and hooded sweatshirt, shirt and stretch blazer or t-shirt and cardigan combo. Sometimes a bomber jacket, for good measure. And if it’s winter, and my coat will get hung on a lovely hangar by a crew member, maybe a nice overcoat.

I go one of two ways on shoes: either comfortable Chelsea boot with sneaker style cushion, or just an incredibly comfortable pair of sneakers.

Function simply has to be involved in air travel shoe choices, because if you travel frequently enough, at some point, you’ll find yourself either: running, walking a long distance or feeling like you need to sit down! Carrying bags adds extra strain on your feet too.

Wear What Feels Right, Respectfully

I think… the first time I flew first class, I might’ve dressed up a bit. Not like… Judge Smails in Caddyshack dressy, but like… maybe a blazer instead of a hoodie. If I’m excited, or representing someone, I may still do that.

But through various consulting works, family travels and blog travels, I’m in a first or business class cabin fairly often, and I’m often pretty rundown. I see everyone from A-listers to business tycoons wearing their comfiest pajamas through the airport, and I see members of the same groups looking utterly stylish and chic.

It just depends on the occasion, what you had going on before, how long the flight is, when it is, and what you’ll be doing afterward. Because of this, I don’t think there’s any reason anyone should feel obligated to dress up, though they’re welcome to. Just don’t smell, be offensive or walk around barefoot.

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Fashion

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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12 Comments

  1. I agree with the etiquette portion. But pajamas should be a hard no. Not sure why that’s becoming a trend as of late. Especially when fuzzy slippers are involved. If you’d wear it to be, it shouldn’t be on a plane, regardless of what class seat you’re sitting in. Just my 2 cents.

  2. I disagree. While I think there should be some reasonable minimum such as non-sandals and a collared shirt for men, you’re being contradictory. You say that certain things shouldn’t be done as they violate your idea of propriety but everything that fits within your parameters is fine. The problem is, everyone’s idea of proper decorum is different, which is exactly why you need some common standard. Otherwise your hypothetical bikini wearer should just shrug and do as s/he likes.

      1. I guess all I’m getting at is that cultural insensitivity is still really subjective. For instance, my wife and I lucked out and flew JAL first class to the USA in 2019. While in the HND first class lounge my wife drew my attention to a homeless looking American guy with a backpack who fit in like a troll at an elf convention. No self respecting Japanese would be caught dead looking that disheveled in public but the guy didn’t seem to care. I was pleased when he went elsewhere because of the stares only to have him sitting by us on our flight back to Chicago. I guess he was an influencer or travel blogger with all the pictures he took and his hogging the bottle of 21 year old Japanese scotch. Ultimately, it’s just a lot easier to dress moderately nicely so you can still be comfortable IMO.

  3. I personally care very little what others wear.

    But when I’m in a premium cabin, I recognise that some of my fellow passengers have saved their all-too-scarce pennies for a special trip. Out of respect for them, I wouldn’t dream of wearing a hoody or, shudder, athleisure gear. Nothing takes the edge off a special occasion quite as much as seeing someone else looking bored, indifferent or entitled.

    There are plenty of comfortable clothing options that look effortlessly chic. Out of respect for others, wear them.

    There’s a lot more to cultural sensitivity than avoiding skimpy clothing in Islamic countries.

  4. I had a guy on a longhaul flight change into his pajamas….AT HIS SEAT!
    How an Earth did he think it was acceptable to strip down to his “tidy whities” in the middle of the damn aisle?!?

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