6 Things Are Not to Wear on a Plane

November 11, 2019

The rules of in-flight fashion are different from those on the ground. When you’re sitting for hours in a metal tube flying 35,000 feet in the air, comfort trumps style. Wear an outfit that keeps you cozy and relaxed, and you’ll likely appear more chic than the traveler tottering down the aisle in four-inch stilettos or sweating in too-tight synthetic fabrics. That’s why it’s crucial to know what to wear on a plane—and, more importantly, what not to wear on a plane.

Just ask Lady Gaga. In 2010, the pop star donned Alexander McQueen “armadillo shoes” and a wild outfit of black and yellow tape on a transatlantic flight. During the voyage, Gaga began to experience symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, a life-threatening condition commonly caused by a combo of in-flight risk factors like low cabin pressure, dehydration, immobility, and cramped seats. When Gaga complained that her legs were swelling up during the flight, the cabin crew convinced her to change into something a little more comfortable—and a little less likely to incite an artery blockage.

Just as Gaga and other demigods of impractical couture should keep their costumes off the tarmac, those of us who fall into the jeans-and-sneakers category of fashion ought also to think carefully about what we wear on a plane.

Tight clothes can restrict blood flow in the already-confining space of an airplane seat, not to mention put you at risk for DVT. Ditch the skinny jeans, or anything tight enough to leave marks on your skin, and don loose-fitting natural fiber garments (clothes made from cotton or linen are a great choice).

Shun any fabrics that lack breathability, such as nylon or leatherette. Add your rubber raincoat or waterproof jacket to this list as well. (Note, however, that some high-quality waterproof jackets, like outerwear made from Gore-Tex, are quite breathable. It all depends on what it’s made of.) Less breathable fabrics hold sweat on the skin when it’s hot as well as prevent air circulation. A foolproof way to find breathable clothes for the plane: Stick with moisture-wicking activewear (I recommend prAna) or clothes sold from travel-specific suppliers like Patagonia.

Aircraft lavatories are tiny contrivances, about the size of a small closet or a very large Manhattan apartment, so you’ll want to wear something that isn’t too tricky to maneuver. Avoid bodysuits or complicated wrap shirts or dresses, as well as long pants or skirts that may graze the unsanitary (and often disturbingly wet) lavatory floor.