How to be comfortable & polished for travel 🧳

I’m old enough to remember when “airport style” meant wearing our Sunday best. These days, it’s pretty much “anything goes.” While I’d never want to go back to traveling in stiff, uncomfortable clothing, I DO want to feel neat and put-together, both in transit and upon arrival. Here are some tips and comfortable travel outfit ideas…

Airport style: a comfortable and polished travel outfit idea for women in black, navy and buff.
ARRIVE IN STYLE: COMFORTABLE TRAVEL OUTFIT IDEA
SUNGLASSES (SIMILAR) | TEE | SCARF
CARDIGAN | PANTS | TRENCH (SIMILAR)
BAG (SIMILAR) | SHOES (SIMILAR)| LUGGAGE

Your personal style, comfort levels, climate, and destination will all factor in to what works best for you for travel. But here are a few guidelines that will help you get from here to there comfortably and in style:

Travel in style (without sacrificing comfort)

  • If your goal is to keep luggage light, you’ll want to wear your heaviest items in transit.
  • Temperatures in airports or terminals, or on board planes, trains, busses can fluctuate wildly. I always wear/carry 2-3 lightweight layers that I can add or remove as needed. Lightweight knits in natural, breathable fibers will keep you most comfortable.
  • Avoid anything tight or binding, which will only become more uncomfortable over a long flight or ride. (Many of us find we may get a little bloated at altitude, be sure to allow for this.)
  • Avoid excessively loose, flapping clothing or design details that can get caught in turnstiles, armrests, etc. (My personal preference is to stick with styles that button, snap or zip closed.)
  • Even during warmer months, I always pack a lightweight scarf or wrap, in case of excessive air-conditioning.

Footwear

Even if I’m packing sandals for my destination, I always stick to closed-toe shoes for travel days. Partly because my feet tend to get cold, but mostly for protection. (If you’ve ever had someone in a hurry run over your feet with a heavy wheeled bag, you’ll be grateful…)

Airport security is a big pain point for most of us. It seems to be an absolute crap shoot these days as to whether we’ll be required to remove our shoes, even with priority or “trusted traveler” clearance. So I always assume I’m going to have to remove my shoes at some point and wear a) socks and b) shoes I can slip on.

I love these sneaker styles with a zip, which you can get in and out of without having to fuss with laces!

Pants

I usually travel with jeans, and will often wear a pair with some ease and stretch, even for long-haul flights. But I know that’s not most people’s preference. Knit pants or trousers would be my next choice, and today you have a LOT of options for styles and fabrics. I’d recommend sticking with a dark color that will be easier to dress up and less likely to show any dirt or spills.

A popular style with my readers (and one I’ve traveled with quite often) are the slim washable stretch crepe pants from Eileen Fisher. These are a sleek, simple style that can be dressed up or down, and come in a bunch of colors, sizes Petite P to XL

In my experience, they wear like iron and are comfortable in a range of temperatures. They work best with tops worn un-tucked.

If you prefer skirts to pants, here’s a midi skirt in that same washable stretch crepe fabric.

If you like to tuck your tops, or just prefer a more traditional trouser style, these ponte knit trousers are available in multiple colors, in Misses, Petite and Plus. They’re also washable.

These lantern pants are currently one of my favorite styles. I own a pair of these (brown, no longer available) and love them for travel. They’re comfortable, washable, and look sharp enough for “smart casual.” In black, they’re still available in most sizes from XXS-2X.

This style is also offered in a bunch of different fabrics and colors here: SHOP LANTERN PANTS.

Tops

As I mentioned above, I usually wear and/or carry 2-3 layers (not including outerwear) for the top half of my travel outfits.

As a base layer, I always include one of these silk jersey tanks. They not only provide a little additional warmth (or can be worn on their own if the thermostat gets cranked up) but also help my tops stay cleaner longer, IMO. Mine are in the Bone color and are several years old and still going strong. This one is available in Black and Espresso, sizes XXS-3X.

This style in Tencel jersey has a higher neck and wider straps, and is available in black and white, sizes XXS-3X.

Depending on the season and what else I’m packing, I’ll wear a simple short or 3/4 sleeve tee in cotton or cotton blend. This one from Madewell has a refined look and is available in several colors, Misses & Plus sizes.

Here’s a v-neck option in linen. And if you want a little more arm coverage, this cute long sleeve Breton is offered in several color options, sizes 2-22.

Sweaters

A lightweight cardigan is a versatile option for travel. It can be worn as a top or middle layer, or tied over the shoulders. Both merino and cashmere are excellent for travel, as they’re lightweight and warm. I have that v-neck cardigan shown in the collage at top and love it.

If you prefer something longer, this one from Vince is quite good.

A cashmere hoodie is another option, and this one is quite budget-friendly. (For a more elegant look, stick to darker neutrals.)

If you’re looking for something wool-free, cotton can be tricky as it tends to be heavier and bulkier than wool knits.

This classic cardigan is a cotton/spandex blend. While it may not be as warm as cashmere, it will be easy to layer, and may be a better choice for warmer seasons or destinations. It’s available in two colors, sizes X-Small to XL (runs small, suggest sizing up).

Linen knits are another good wool-free option, and are comfortable in a range of temperatures. This cardigan is available in Misses XS-XL , and a pretty Raspberry color in Plus.

Scarves

As I mentioned above, I never travel without a lightweight large scarf or wrap.

This leopard print scarf is one of my favorites, because it just seems to go with everything! (Here’s one black/gray/white for you cool-toned folks.) It’s a silk-cashmere blend, very lightweight, and can be washed.

Here are a few more options in the same lovely fabric…

If you have travel planned and aren’t sure where to start with your packing list, check out my post, “How to create the ultimate 12-piece travel capsule wardrobe.” And for more travel and packing tips, visit my Travel Wardrobe Resource page!

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17 Comments

  1. Helpful hints!… the last pic with the scarf and Sezane cardigan. I’m interested in the cardigan. I’m sometimes a small and sometimes XS. They say size down if between. But if I want to wear light tee under it, not sure how to go here. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks, Lynn. I think if you wanted to wear a light tee underneath, it doesn’t change the equation much. If you wanted to wear a thicker tee or top underneath, I’d probably recommend sizing up to the Small.

  2. This is full of really great guidance. I just returned from a trip to the UK and basically wore the very outfit headlining your post today, probably b/c I’ve followed you for years – even to using Red Leopard last fall. All of it together has really helped as I transition (in my late sixties) into needing clothes that work for me at this stage of life. I was in dowdy territory and needed a lift and now have more confidence in making good choices. Speaking of that, just before I left for this recent trip, I snapped up the Land’s End light puffer jacket, and boy did it ever come through. It was cold and rainy in London for most of our trip, and that jacket saved me! It also completely folds up into one of its pockets and I carried it in my carry-on! While Londoners were all wearing lovely midi/maxi coats that I envied, for travel the jacket you suggested (I got it for the original low sale price) was perfect. Finally, I’ve had some pushback about the Eileen Fisher crepe pants style-wise, but for overseas air travel, they can’t be beat as long as you (as you said) don’t tuck in the shirt. They also work with long tunic tops on my short frame. Thanks, Susan!

  3. You are very good at this. I am a hopeless traveller. Always pack too much. I have never been able to travel with a carry-on suitcase. Not even for our weekends in Paris haha.
    Greetje

    1. I think with a smaller suitcase there’s definitely a tradeoff in the type and variety of clothes you can bring. It’s a matter of finding your best balance between packing light and having more options. (And you always look fabulous when you travel…)

  4. I’m caught in the conundrum of hating to fly, but loving to travel. While I hem and haw and procrastinate, I’ll add my thought that we are treated better when traveling if we look like we care (or, cynically, have influence). Unless we’re movie stars, wearing pajamas to fly is not the way to get good service. Your capsule wardrobe is perfect!

    1. You would be surprised by the number of Business and First Class passengers who change into their QANTAS pj’s when ready for sleep

    1. Not sure what you’re referring to, haven’t seen anything else come through this morning other than the two comments here.

  5. I basically wore what you had suggested, Susan, for a recent trip to the eastern Caribbean, including my trusty L.L.BEAN trench ( rainy here and on our return home) .
    Like you were there choose my outfit!
    Like Bette, flights can be exhausting and tedious, but they get me to my destination! If I plan well, I have lots of little things in my bag that make the hours more comfortable.

  6. I appreciate the wonderful tips you’ve shared on putting together a travel outfit. You’re an expert at what you do and you do it well, but it still takes time, effort and energy, so thank you, Susan.

  7. I wear the Eileen Fisher crepe knit pants for travel too. I have them in black, white and several shades of navy.

    By the way, I first read about MZ Wallace handbags on your blog. I know own two of them and love them! I am getting ready to buy a third one! They are fabulous.

  8. I’ve been wearing the Eileen Fisher silk jersey tanks as my first layer year round for over 20 years. In winter, they protect my sweaters from my body oils so the sweaters don’t have to be washed or cleaned as often. In other season, they just keep me comfortable. They’re absolutely the best for travel – wash out in the sink, wring dry in a towel, and they dry overnight. They’re not cheap, but they’re a great investment!

  9. Have you tried the Quince cashmere? Am wondering about the quality. I haven’t purchased from that company but the price is right and the comments are good.