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What to Wear when Traveling, Do we really need to "Dress up?"

Nowadays we want comfort when traveling right ?Especially on a long flight overseas.
I have heard from different people it is important to "dress up" when traveling
in order to get good service from airline personnel ,not be looked down upon and to possibly get a free upgrade.
Is this way of thinking outdated? Has anyone traveled "dressed up" and actually gotten a free upgrade?
What are your opinions ? I need to be comfortable were set for an overseas flight in a couple of months.
I usually wear jeans with a decent outfit and shortly after take off I switch into some leggings and sandals.
I'm thinking this flight to just skip the pretense and head to the airport in my leggings. I need to be comfortable.
What are your opinions ?

Posted by
4556 posts

Has anyone traveled "dressed up" and actually gotten a free upgrade

The only times I have been upgraded have been when I’ve had elite frequent flyer status on an airline.

The airlines don’t care about how you are dressed. They care about how much money you spend with them.

Posted by
2525 posts

We always dress in nice and clean clothes. Were we upgraded because if our clothing? Nope. If it work for you, please let us know as I’ll put on a tux.

Posted by
2755 posts

Actually, I do believe I've been upgraded because of my appearance. One domestic flight, Delta (Boston to Raleigh), I was definitely upgraded. The gate agent called me up, whispered 'Don't tell anyone' and he upgraded me to the front with the businessmen for free. However, I have to say, the flight was full of the sloppiest passengers waiting in the gate area I have ever seen. They looked like they rolled out of bed and forgot to change their clothes. So, my business casual stood out like a sore thumb.

On one international flight, we think it was our appearance, or we were particularly nice, or the steward was in a good mood, or who knows...but we were moved into the next class for free also, two by two seating on BA (Boston to London)...this was probably at least 5 years ago for the international flight.

That being said, I never wear uncomfortable clothes, but I like them to look nice. I do think looking reasonably nice has helped me on many occasions, traveling or not. I have never worn leggings, but you could wear leggings under a short jersey dress or something, wouldn't that dress the leggings up? And some nice accessories, so you would feel comfortable, but you might look a step above some of the other people incase you needed attention to be paid to you ahead of others?

Posted by
2990 posts

Somehow I've never found that being nicely dressed and being comfortable were a contradiction in terms. I can be quite comfortable on very long flights without looking like I've just climbed out of bed or come to the airport directly from a gym. But it's none of my business what anyone else chooses to wear in public.

We've been upgraded twice, but I didn't ask if it was based on our appearance. But I doubt it. And that's not why we dress as we do anyway.

Posted by
4665 posts

Remember back in the olden days when people really did dress up to fly? Of course, I can also remember when my mother made us get dressed up to go shopping downtown.

Posted by
19 posts

ok so it goes across the board on what to wear on flight and what constitutes casual right ?
And if anyone actually got upgraded recently .
I would never travel looking "sloppy" to Europe anyway .lol

Posted by
1217 posts

BA apparently does random upgrades when cattle class is full- the idea is to encourage infrequent travelers to like what they experience and buy a higher cabin class next time.

With the rest, the airlines have figured out there will be someone on the flight willing to pay a couple extra hundred dollars to buy up a cabin class at check-in or shortly after that and combined with free upgrades for elite customers, the free upgrade for non-elites has generally gone away. Most of the time, it will only happen if you're so far down the irregular operations rabbit hole that the airline has gone to an 'any available seat' rule trying to rebook you to your final destination or you otherwise have some sort of unfortunate issue (conflict with another passenger, inoperable seat discovered with no space to re-seat you in cabin purchased, etc.) and you handle it with enough grace and humility that the airline employee feels sorry for you and sneaks you an upgrade.

'Dress up' can be useful if you're flying on a 'buddy pass' of an airline employee since the dress code for some airlines when using a NRSA pass does still have more formal requirements for business/first class than it does if you're trying for only a coach seat, but that's quite niche and probably beond the scope of the original question.

Posted by
1970 posts

I've been upgraded - but only when I pay for it. It's so infrequent that I don't even think about it. I travel - each and every trip - in a pair of cotton capri pants called my "airplane pants", and in an old pair of mesh Merrell's. The pants are made of black t-shirt material, I guess. I wear an REI polar fleece jacket. I'm definitely no airplane beauty but I'm all about comfort on a plane.

Posted by
646 posts

We didn't get upgraded, but when we flew domestically for funerals this year, my husband wore his suit to make readying it for the service easier. On both flights he did get much positive stewardess attention. It was enough to make him consider wearing a suit on other domestic flights.

Posted by
293 posts

I like to wear comfortable dark jeans with dark shoes. I also make sure that I (and my kids and husband) wear shoes we can run in. Our shoes are usually lace-ups, loosened in preparation for inspection, then tightened again once through security.

I used to get upgraded for no reason during the 90's, and once both husband and I were upgraded because it was our anniversary, That was when I flew out of and into Colorado. In the present day, however, there is no hope, no hope at all, when SFO is your home base.

Posted by
5011 posts

If you think you're going to be upgraded based on how you are dressed, you are dreaming.

Upgrades are determined by a variety of factors, the airlines have a very complex matrix of criteria and variables on every passenger that they weigh. It mostly boils down to how valuable you are to the airline (fly a lot? spend a lot? have elite status? etc.). How you're dressed is not part of their algorithm.

There's no reason to "dress up" in hopes of getting anything from the airlines. Basic personal hygiene, and exhibiting decent human behavior towards other passengers and airline staff are good things, but it's not gonna get you anything from the airlines. To put it bluntly, be comfortable, but don't be a slob, treat others as you would like them to treat you. And don't expect anything.

Posted by
996 posts

Most airline upgrades these days are based on 1 - status with the airline and 2 - available number of seats. I always dress nicely - meaning my clothes are clean, my hair looks as good as good as it's going to get - but I don't dress up for a flight. I dress comfortably for me, which usually means a pair of nice jeans or capris with a nice top. Because of the miles I've flown with an airline, I'm already on the list to automatically upgrade if there's a place.

I think with most airlines these days, it's all about who has miles with them. That's why I always sign up for an airline's frequent flyer plan if I'm going to be using them for transportation.

Posted by
300 posts

There is a dress code if you are traveling on a "friends & family" ticket. You might remember about a year ago a girl got spoken to by a gate agent about wearing legging and she had to switch to a dress (which she had in her carry-on). A big stink was made about it on national news and then it later came out that she was the child of an employee and they were traveling for free on "friends & family" or "buddy" pass. A friend of mine travels on those passes frequently and has to wear a button down shirt and a sports coat. He does wear jeans but always with the sports coat. The only time I have been upgraded was due to the airlines wanting my window seat so they could put a family together. I have gotten economy plus due to having the airlines credit card. I do the dress & leggings combo for comfort. I usually do compression socks too, which go on once I am on the plane as do the leggings.

Posted by
546 posts

I have flown Business Class very often usually on Trans-Pacific flights on both Asian and US airlines. For my part I have been upgraded more than once. Standing at the gate you can generally pick out those who are flying in Business or First. And so can the Airline staff. And I am sure your chances are not improved for upgrade if you are wearing sweat pants and a T shirt.

I believe the way you are dressed does play a part in the upgrade decision. It may not be THE factor but I do think it is in the mix for sure.
I think you certainly help your chances if you are dressed in at least comfortable business casual.

And I do remember flying when you dressed in a suit. But then again my mother was a woman who never left the house without gloves and a hat and I was forced to dress up in a suit and tie to go out to dinner as a small boy. This probably colors my view of this.

Posted by
3492 posts

CJean and I are from the same school of thought. Without regard to upgrades, being nicely dressed and being comfortable are not mutually exclusive. One can be very comfortable without looking as if one has come from the gym or just gotten out of bed. What anyone else chooses to wear in public is their business . Without casting stones at anyone's choice of flying apparel, I simply choose to not contribute to what style Guru Tim Gunn once described as "the slobification of America".

Posted by
2518 posts

Wear what you want, within reason. Clean, not obscene, and you are ok. Yes dressing nice CAN help with upgrades but it’s no guarantee. If you paid for coach assume you will be in coach no matter what you wear.

There are also ways to look nice and be comfortable, if you care. I sometimes wear legging-like pants with ballet flats, a long cardigan, and a big scarf. In summer I have a comfy maxi dress and pretty sandals. And a scarf. Feels like a nightgown, looks like a trendy dress! Much nicer looking than cheap leggings or shorts and sweat shirt. Note the scarf - dresses up an outfit and can fold into a pillow or be a blanket on the plane.

One benefit is that my “plane outfit” also is part of my travel wardrobe. Having specific “comfy but ugly” clothes for the plane means you won’t wear them much on the trip - which is a problem when packing light.

But really wear what you want!

Posted by
3249 posts

Fantasy: teams of airline staff using closed circuit cameras monitor and assign a 1 to 10 dress rating score to waiting passengers, ready to reward with a wink the 9s and 10s.

Reality: multiple flights share waiting areas and airline staff keep eyes glued to monitors trying their utmost to never catch a glimpse of any passengers.

Posted by
8293 posts

“But really wear what you want.”

OK advice as long as wearing what you want doesn’t make you look like a slob. Being comfortable is important but a dose of self respect is nice too. Now I sound like my mother.

Posted by
2990 posts

Now I sound like my mother.

But I'll bet your mother was a classy lady :)

Posted by
1132 posts

You get good service by being a nice, polite and respectful...even jerks can dress up and still be jerks.
I have seen people on flights that looked like they just rolled out of bed, uncombed hair up, puffy faced, jammie bottoms and a sweatshirt, but they are usually in their 20's and it just kinda seems okay to me.
I like my hair done, make-up on and I wear Leggings, a tank top and a Tunic and a sweater with my sketchers. The Tank and Tunic are parts of other outfits for the trip and the leggings can be jammies. But Yea, I feel dressed appropriately and feel it is respectful to my fellow travelers. Once we get to the hotel/apartment in the destination city I freshen up and change into street clothes.

Posted by
503 posts

I do think it matters if you have to deal with airline personnel. Someone who has dressed with some care, is well groomed and polite will get better service - that's just human nature. Having said that, that doesn't mean men must wear suits and ties and women need to wear dresses/pants with heels. You definitely can dress for comfort and still look well dressed.
While this may not get one upgraded, it definitely can help when the airlines try and jam you up - which they seem to be doing on a much more regular basis. You will be taken much more seriously if you are dressed appropriately instead of in sweats and bunny slippers :-).

Posted by
1454 posts

The only thing I would add is (and slightly off topic) : PLEASE wear clothes that are clean when you fly !!!
As long as you are CLEAN and comfy, I think that's just fine.
I had four flights on my recent trip, and on three of them my seatmates were wearing clothes that smelled like they should have been laundered weeks before.
No B.O.; just extremely stale smelling.
Kinda gets to you on long flights.

And stop picking at your beard for hours on end!!!! Yuck!!
Now I sound like my mother.
Rant over.

Posted by
3469 posts

As far as he upgrades go, the airline will upgrade one of its Frequent Flyers before picking a random once-a-year passenger. I fly a lot and the airline I am on most of the time posts a list at the gate of who is in line for an upgrade. The last domestic flight I took there were 120 people on that list, for a plane that seats 160. At least on that airline, the only thing that matters for getting the upgrade is where you are on that list. They also offer discounted business and 1st seats that in many cases are lower priced than coach on several flights and they email select customers with offers for the upgrades for a small price. They would rather sell the seat than give it away. There is a better chance that their international flights will have empty seats up front, but the days of random upgrades seems to be over for most airlines.

Does it help in your interaction with the airline employees if you dressed "better" than the guy in line next to you? I know it does in situations where flights are cancelled or equipment changes happen and many passengers have to be rebooked. The guy in business casual will most likely get the hotel and meal vouchers or rebooked into business/1st over that the guy in the sleeveless t-shirt, worn out shorts, and flip flops who will not. (Of course my opinion here may be slightly influenced by the fact that I am that guy in business casual who gets those things!)

So dress how you want as long as the clothes are clean, you are clean, and you don't expect special treatment when you wear your tux, things will be fine.

Posted by
118 posts

I am too young to actually miss the days when people dressed up to fly and would never think of leaving the house in their PJs (not to mention without proper foundation garments)... but I wish people/society would spend just a little more time concerned with personal presentation.

I actually try to dress in vintage inspired clothing every single day and planning my travel wardrobe has taken almost as much thought as any other part of my itinerary. My Osprey backpack is going to look terribly out of place :)

Posted by
19 posts

Mira thanks for your wardrobe ideas, yes a scarf would dress up an entire outfit.
I want to be comfortable but look nice and trendy not like a slob. I could never
do the sweatpants travel thing at all

Posted by
7 posts

I think most airlines have both structure and transparency around updgrades nowadays. Can usually see on the app the exact order. And how the order is assembled is also pretty clearly spelled out (status level, fare class, time of check in, et al). I'd be really surprised if upgrades were ever "given out" for any reason, really, rather than whatever the system spits out.

Posted by
7635 posts

I have not noticed that those in 1st class look any better dressed than any one else.

With as full as the planes are, upgrades occur based on your 'points' status, not how fashionable you are.

If was ever true, that dressing up got you an upgrade, that era is gone

Posted by
401 posts

I had a flight delayed out of Paris to Frankfurt so I missed my connection to the U.S. on Lufthansa. This was in 2012, so not that recently.

As I was on a business trip, I was dressed pretty well. After waiting in line, I was upgraded from economy to business class on the next available flight by the gate agent in Frankfurt, which was pretty nice for a transatlantic flight.

I believe it was more my demeanor rather than my clothes (I was calm, polite, and kind with him -- not abusive and demanding as the previous two or three people in line had been), but who knows for sure? All I know is that it was the most comfortable flight across the pond I'd ever experienced.

Posted by
62 posts

On my first flight to Italy we got dressed up for the flight. And my grandparents bought my mom and me corsages (to wear on the flight)!

Posted by
8443 posts

"On my first flight to Italy we got dressed up for the flight. And my grandparents bought my mom and me corsages (to wear on the flight)!"

OH MY! What a wonderful, wonderful memory! I am going to smile all day thinking about that.

Posted by
7948 posts

I am at the Frankfurt airport a lot, and frankly am amazed at what people are wearing. The pajama look is way too prevalent. Especially the onesies! On adults!
You can be comfy and still not look like a total slob.

Posted by
4665 posts

Onesies???? I would ordinarily say "You've got to be kidding!" but as I recall, Ms. Jo seldom kids.

Posted by
10060 posts

I, too, remember the days you would "dress up" for flights. Nowadays, I like to be comfortable but look presentable. I've seem too many people in t-shirts, shorts and flip flops.

I asked a gate agent not too long ago what the criteria was for upgrades. Status FF members get first shot but they still want people who "look" as if they belong in biz or FC. Not necessarily formal clothes but neat. If it's a choice between someone in a suit or biz casual and someone in a t-shirt, the former will get the seat. (As long as everything else is equal.)

It also has to do with your attitude. If you treat them with respect, they appreciate it. Quite often I've gotten extras by just smiling, empathizing with them and asking for help. A few times, it didn't work and the gate agent didn't care. (Mostly of the now defunked USAir.)

Posted by
1 posts

I agree with those comments about dressing up a bit, and certainly understand the need for comfort, they need not be mutually exclusive. That said, I used to fly standby with a former pilot friend and remember his advice: "NO jeans and NO flip flops if you want to get on board using my buddy pass. Dress well." Personally, I think leggings can look classy if they fit well and worn with a long top. I have only been offered a free upgrade once and I think it was because I was "nicely" dressed. On another note, I will never wear open toed shoes in the airport or getting on the plane - I choose to avoid having my toes run over by luggage, cart or another person.

Posted by
1 posts

Ever had an airline lose your luggage? For 5 days? I have, and was glad I'd worn a black pantsuit, sweater and colorful scarf in the plane. We joked each day that I managed to tie my scarf differently.

When we fly now it’s always to go to Europe where we need all clothing to fit in a small Rick Steves roller bag. Since we wouldn’t consider wearing jeans or sweatpants in Europe, we just pick out one of our nice traveling outfits to wear on the plane. Hasn’t helped us with upgrades but it sure is nice to get off the plane in any European country and feel like you belong there. By the way, because I often need to wear a bulky leg brace, I wear leggings a lot—but always black and only with long tunic tops or dresses and nicely accessorized with a scarf and modest jewelry. With this approach you’d always be dressed nicely enough to look respectable in airports and on the plane.

Posted by
37 posts

This posting made two memories from the past pop into my mind.

The first was my first trip by air. I was 10 traveling with my Grandfather. I wore a suit! Of course that was 50 years ago!!! But I had to wear a suit and heels when I traveled on business some 25 years ago. That was a real pain running through DFW to catch my next plane.

The only time I've been upgraded was when 3 of us were pulled off the plane due to overloading (!) The other two complained loud and long. I didn't and received a first class seat on a non-stop flight.

Now for long flights I'm dressing for comfort.

Posted by
1 posts

Depends on what one means by "dressing up". I have seen some travelers looking like they have just rolled out of bed or are about to go out to do hard work.

My personal belief is that in respect of other fellow travelers we should try to dress "smart casual", that is, no formality but let's try to look (for a lack of a better word) neat..

Posted by
15 posts

I still remember my first flight to Europe, in the 1980s, to Frankfurt. We were young, nicely dressed, and early--just sitting waiting for our flight, pretty much the first ones there, and one of the flight attendants came over to us and asked if we'd like to be upgraded. Wow! Loved it. What a nice start to what became a great love of travel. Has not happened since, but I'm always hopeful. I always fly with a scarf--can drape it as necessary--a jacket of some kind and, like someone else noted, shoes I can move fast in. I've had to sprint a couple of times to make a connection.

Posted by
908 posts

I like that someone mentioned “shoes you can run in.” I always wear slip-ons that are what I call cornfield-proof. Hey, if we land in a cornfield and survive, I want to be able to walk to the nearest highway, and that’s not happening in a pair of flip-flops.

“No” to Onslow-style wife beater undershirts and pajama pants. Sometimes I wish there was a minimum dress code!

Posted by
95 posts

We dress comfortably and nicely. Don’t want to look like a slob.

But I believe the best thing to wear is a smile and good manners. 🙂

Posted by
19 posts

Yes not dressing up like a slob and being polite.I never push my chair rest back!
I think it is so rude. My last flight a guy pushed his back rest and reclined .
He was so close to being in my lap so uncomfortable!!

Posted by
31303 posts

My usual travel clothes are somewhat "dressy", but I don't specifically dress up to get a "free upgrade" or whatever. I wear the same type of clothing throughout the trip, and it's quite comfortable.

I've seen people changing into pyjamas, slippers and similar attire in the departure lounge washrooms prior to a flight, but that's not something I'll ever be doing.

Posted by
1454 posts

Speaking of reclining:
I like to recline my seat, but I always turn around and ask the person behind me if it's convenient first, and never during meal service.

Posted by
60 posts

My uniform for long flights is what I call "Academic Respectable". Khakis, loafers, Oxford button-down, wool sweater vest, & my old blue blazer. Tie is worn, but loosed to half-mast., only snugged up to deal with TSA or ticket agents. I can shed the jacket & vest in a warm cabin or leave them on in a cold one. All the items are clean, but older, unstarched, unironed, & well worn. It all survives the respectability test, at least under casual scrutiny.

Posted by
12400 posts

I would say my appearance is "casual dressy" certainly no big deal, no jeans or that sort of material, new or nearly- new clean looking snickers, buttoned down laundered shirt, clean pressed light travel jacket., plus the waist belt. Since the departure is in May, comfort on the 11 hr non-stop flight over is a priority .

I have only been upgraded twice in 46 flights going over and returning, ie 2 times out 46 trans-Atlantic flights, upgraded from Economy, the sardine can seat. ...totally random.

Both were on Lufthansa going SFO to FRA.

Posted by
7948 posts

Wondering why someone wouldn't think of wearing jeans in Europe, when everyone else in Europe is wearing jeans? Most comfortable thing to wear on the plane and sightseeing. I don't wear any other kind of pants than jeans, year round.

Posted by
1 posts

Yes! I was upgraded from Economy to Business Class on a departure from Dublin to Atlanta. . The stewardess told me they selected me from the crowd because of the way I was dressed - looked nice but casually comfy. It was ofcourse an wonderful surprise and too fabulous to get used to. Not expecting it to happen again but just in case . . . . . I always travel with one really nice scarf to dress things up.

Posted by
125 posts

This year will be my first time flying internationally and I plan on dressing as I would for any other flight. I like dresses in the summer..so much cooler.. but since we are going to Germany to hike the Zugspitze and I need to take hiking boots/hiking clothes I plan on wearing my heavier things on the plane...hiking boots/jeans. I don't think I will look sloppy, as i will wear a "nicer" top, no sweatshirts or flannel, thank you! lol I think how you carry yourself is just as important.
However, I would NEVER think of going out without looking decent anyhow. By decent I mean, hair looking nice, not some sloppy bun on top of my head so I look like I just rolled out of bed, pajama pants (yes, I have seen this in airports), no shoes that scuff along the floor because I can't be bothered to pick my feet up enough to walk properly...you get the picture.
Oh, also, I don't mean to speak for anyone but myself but, PLEASE do not pop your boyfriend/husbands pimples while we are all waiting for the next flight! EW

Posted by
47 posts

I travel for business about 50 days per year and in the past 4 years the standard of dress is getting worse by the year. 50+ year old men dressing in flip flops and beach clothing flying to Seattle of all places. Women wearing work out clothes is another gripe.

You need not wear a suit and business attire but for goodness sakes have some pride in your appearance.