What to Wear and Carry on Your Next Plane Trip

Germany, Munich, Bavaria, Passengers sleeping in economy class airliner
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In the early days of leisure jet travel, people got dressed up to fly: Women donned skirts, hose, and heels; men would wear neatly pressed suits and shirts with a tie. (Think Mad Men.) Yet that won't help you to know what to wear and carry on your next plane trip. Although a few first-class passengers still dress up to fly, the majority of passengers in every cabin now dress defensively, not decoratively.

With all of the checkpoints people must go through to get from the terminal to the plane to their destination — check-in, security, passport control, customs, immigration — it’s smart to dress comfortably and in a way that won’t cause a delay for you or your fellow plane passengers.

Yet there are reasons to dress fashionably as well. It's a fact that slobs never get upgraded. And when you’re on your honeymoon or a romantic getaway, you want to look stylish even if you didn't assemble a bridal trousseau. (Word to the wise: Hold off wearing your “I’m with Stupid” shirt until after the wedding.)

The following tips can help you decide how to dress, what to carry and otherwise prepare for your next plane trip:

Dress in Layers

It can get steamy standing in a crowded check-in line and chilly in an air-conditioned plane. To prepare for both situations, dress in layers that can be peeled off or added as needed in the airport and on the plane. Make sure your vacation packing list features items that can be combined.

What to Wear on Top: Layer 1

Going someplace warm? Choose a pretty cami, tank top, or short-sleeved T-shirt. Make it a long-sleeved undershirt as your base layer if you're heading for a cool destination. Same goes for the groom.

What to Wear on Top: Layer 2

Lots of women like to fly wearing a pashmina, which they can use as a light blanket. These big scarves are pretty, but not terribly practical. What is? Pockets, for your check-in document, your passport, gum, etc. So, consider a jacket or hoodie with pockets, since travelers can always use more places to stash stuff.  

What to Wear on the Bottom: Stretch

Grandma across the aisle may be settling into her plane seat wearing elastic-waist sweatpants, but you won’t feel especially attractive if you wear the same. Instead choose pants or jeans with a little extra “give,” woven with a small percentage (5% or less) of Spandex. They’re super-comfortable yet you'll arrive without your pants looking baggy in all the wrong places. 

Avoid Heavy Metal

Silver belt buckles, oversize earrings, loose change, watches, and heavy chain-link necklaces can trigger a metal detector alarm. (So can necessities like hearing aids and underwire bras.) To avoid embarrassment and holding up the line, place jewelry in your carry-on and put it back on when you reach your destination. And do you really need to lug all those keys on vacation? Pare down to the necessities and keep those in your carry-on, too.

Tip: Recently engaged with a diamond ring? Buy a fake lookalike and leave the real thing at home in a safe place.

Wear Slip-On Shoes

Some airport security posts make you remove your shoes and put them in a bin to be scanned; others allow you to walk through in your footwear. As a courtesy to fellow passengers, wear clean socks. And if you’re tempted to wear sandals or flip-flops, think twice: Toes can get inadvertently stomped on in a crowd. If you want to be on trend, consider black booties that slip off easily.

Manage Your Electronics

Digital cameras, cell phones, PDAs, and laptops are too delicate and valuable to leave in checked luggage. So plan to carry them on. Do keep your computer accessible; more than likely you will be instructed to put it in a bin on the security conveyor belt to travel through the scanner alone.

Prepare for the Worst

It's not uncommon for airlines to misplace luggage. As you dress the night before your flight, consider if your outfit is one you wouldn't mind wearing for an extra day. And do be on the safe side, always tuck an extra pair of socks and underwear into your carry-on bag.

Minimize Liquids

You won’t be allowed to bring a filled water bottle through security. But if you empty it beforehand, you can refill it from a fountain once you’re past inspection — rather than paying to buy a bottle of bad-tasting Aquafina or Dasani water.

All liquids, gels, and aerosols that you want to carry on the plane must be in three-ounce or smaller containers, and you can use only one quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag to hold them. Anything that exceeds those sizes in carry-on luggage is likely to be confiscated.

Edited by Susan Breslow Sardone.