Listen to this article
There are some high-fliers who can pull off an aeroplane ensemble with aplomb: Michelle Obama waving from the steps of Air Force One in a tie-dye print dress by Zero + Maria Cornejo; Victoria Beckham fast-tracking her way through Beijing airport in a sleeveless yellow coat; Gwyneth Paltrow cutting a dash in Donna Karan leggings, with pashmina and jacket at the ready.
For the rest of us, going on long-haul flights means facing the associated dilemmas of: 1) how to stay warm or cool under temperamental in-flight air conditioning; 2) how to dress for maximum comfort on a flight while avoiding disapproving glares at check-in; and 3) how to go from flight check-in to hotel check-in without bed head.
The arrival of the A380 superjumbo (British Airways’ first landed at Heathrow this month) has only compounded the problem. Featuring designated social areas – business lounges and stand-up bars – it may usher in a new, even more complicated, era of airline glamour. It was no coincidence that during his recent pre-spring 2014 collection for Lanvin, Alber Elbaz posed the question, “What do you wear when you might get upgraded from economy to business class?” and answered it with a camel-coloured ensemble of slouchy, no-crease trousers, loose tops and a lightweight trench. He’s not the only designer to have considered the issue. Here are some tips from designers who criss-cross international datelines regularly on how to fly in style.
The late Jackie Kennedy looked amazing travelling. You want to be glamorous but also effortless. I usually wear layers: trousers and a sweater, always a scarf, sunglasses, sandals or boots, depending on the season, maybe a statement coat like our “Nala” for pre-fall. I am always practical. High heels on an overnight flight just don’t make sense. Make-up complicates things on longer flights. It’s better to apply it when you land. For accessories, always a great handbag and not too much luggage. If you pack lightly, you live lightly.
If I’m flying short-haul and going straight from the airport to an event, I keep what I am wearing, and add a pair of amazing costume earrings. Otherwise, I favour knitted black Azzedine Alaïa dresses with a pair of Bottega Veneta flat leather boots. Sunglasses are not just a stylish accessory but great for hiding red-eye. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was on a flight to Cannes recently wearing a blazer from my current collection with a pair of skinny jeans and a Panama hat. She looked great.
If it’s an overnight flight and you are not travelling when you land, then you want to get right into your jammies. I dress for comfort: sweatpants, which are pretty nasty in my case, as I just want to get cosy. However, the experience of being on the plane and being in the airport are two completely different things, so you don’t want to be spotted at check-in wearing a ridiculous tracksuit. Bring a nice oversized piece, like the cocoon-shape coats in my current collection, that you can wear over your shameful cosy flying outfit.
Since reading something on how to survive a plane crash, I now travel in a hooded top. Apparently, if there is a fire on board you’ll be better protected. Still, there are some people who appear comfortable in a tight suit no matter where they are going. Luxury brand consultant Yann Debelle de Montby, for example. He always looks immaculate. Weight restrictions have made the process of “carry on” much more difficult – even for the business traveller. Since instant access to your iPads and other paraphernalia is essential, virtually every bespoke bag we make now has an exterior pocket.
I always find it surprising to see female passengers go past in high heels and tight skirts; how do they manage that on an aeroplane? To think flying is glamorous is an old idea. I usually wear a pair of light, loose-fit trousers like my own label cotton twill chinos, a long-sleeve T-shirt and a cashmere sweater. You need layers as the air-con goes up and down. It’s nice to slot into a new timezone wearing something that makes you feel good. A scarf or necklace will do that.
As a boy, I remember my mother and grandmother putting their best outfits on to fly. I feel flying should be as luxurious today but that’s not always so. My aeroplane uniform consists of a cotton T-shirt, worn-in Levi’s and a cashmere cardigan. In the past, our clients have been subjected to customs officials who confiscated spiky pieces, claiming they could be used as a weapon. I’ve learnt that packing things in a good jewellery case (ours are based on vintage train cases) is a good idea.
I would never wear jeans on long haul. Instead, I wear baggy cotton chinos by Junya Watanabe, McCoy or Aspesi, which are light enough and pyjama-y enough to move around in on board. And I feel I get better treatment if I’m wearing a blazer, especially at check-in. Women are the best at paring things down. A woman wearing a long ankle-length dress with a pashmina or shawl, curled up, reading as they fly across the ocean – I just think that’s the chicest thing.
Amy Smilovic, creative director, Tibi
On my last trip I wore R13 brand jeans, a Tibi “Alexa” crêpe sweatshirt and blue suede Golden Goose high-top trainers. I’m in denim quite a bit, so this is a regular look for me when I fly. I stay away from velour or spandex leggings, in fact, workout clothes in general. There are plenty of more comfortable options such as soft denim, loose fitting jeans or silk drawstring trousers.
Thomas Mahon, tailor and founder of English Cut Made to Measure
I like wearing deck shoes on casual trips. I do a lot of sailing and find them really comfortable, far more respectable than trainers and easy to kick on and off. For business, I’ll wear a lightweight “fresco” wool suit, unlined with plenty of pockets. The last thing you want to do is spend a 12-hour flight with a belt buckle sticking into your stomach, so trousers with side strap adjusters are a good buy.
Marianna Goulandris, founder of Marianna G swimwear
My travelling staple is a short, tailored jacket by Maje or Saint Laurent. No matter how mismatched your outfit is, a smart blazer always pulls the look together. As a frequent flyer, I have come across a lot of stylish travellers but no one has impressed me as much as my father. After a flight from London to LA, everyone on board looked like they had been through a hurricane but he looked stylish and composed in his Armani suit and crisp shirt.
For more expert tips, visit www.ft.com/style
Uniform approach: Style in the aisles
Airline uniforms have come a long way since the 1930s, when Boeing employed the first stewardesses. Back then, their austere look centred on military-style jackets and skirts. Thirty-five years later, advertising executive Mary Wells took a bold move by enlisting Emilio Pucci to design outfits for Braniff’s stewardesses, and the idea of a fashionable uniform for air crew was born..
There have been plenty of other such collaborations, from Ralph Lauren’s work for TWA (1978) to Julien Macdonald’s for British Airways (2003) and Christian Lacroix’s for Air France (2005). As of next year, however, aisles everywhere will get even more stylish, with designers Vivienne Westwood, Martin Grant and Prabal Gurung working on the official uniforms of Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, and All Nippon Airways respectively.
“I had to approach things a lot differently from how I normally work, by catering for 12,600 people – all different shapes, sizes, and ages,” says Grant of his Qantas collection. “It was also an interesting branding exercise for me, as everything had to align back to the airline and capture its image.”
Westwood, whose sustainable collection uses materials such as yarn made from plastic bottles, says: “I am always trying to find fabrics that are more friendly to the environment – Virgin Atlantic researched this and found more eco fabrics.” The silhouette is classic Westwood: jacket bust pleats, a nipped-in waist and a curved hip line and sharp Savile Row-inspired three-piece suits in burgundy wool.
It all gives new meaning to the idea of “runway”.
Get alerts on Style when a new story is published