Board a flight for a work assignment as if you are seated between your future hiring manager and future boss.
This may seem like a tall order — we all love to be comfortable while we travel — but when doing so for professional purposes, there shouldn’t be a disconnect between the reason you’re on the plane and the overall task at hand. You never know who you will end up seated by, and the larger the project or the bigger the conference that you’re attending, the greater the chance of running into someone you know, or more importantly, want to know, in a professional capacity. Nearly every time I step on a plane, I see strangers casually chatting who discover they are in the same line of work or have mutual work acquaintances. As an extension of the plane ride, I’ve seen many disheveled travelers running into clients in hotel lobbies. While most clients understand travel days, you only get one chance at a first impression so why not make the best one you can by presenting a polished work style?
When traveling to and from an engagement or conference, you always want to look like you are interested in being there. This isn’t to say you need to travel in a 3-piece-suit at all times for work but having some base line semblance of professional presentation can go a long way and prepare you for anyone you may run into. Below are my top six tips for airline work travel.
Before you get worried, know that comfort has a role here, too. There is a lot of discussion around wearable technology and how technology impacts fashion and style but personally, I feel like the largest technological impact has nothing to do with a wearable gadget (I’ll spare you my unpopular opinion about them), and everything to do with the fabric technology that has been widely utilized over the last several years. There are many treated, natural fabrics that hold their shape, keep you comfortable, and look polished. Banana Republic, for example, has a new Core Temp men’s line (not an ad, just an example) and many retailers offer wrinkle-resistant fabrics in a variety of items and cuts; additionally, there are so many weather treated options for outerwear. Ladies, if you can’t quit your leggings, at least opt for something very thick (opaque) or even a sleek faux leather pair and wear them with a conservative-length top.
Pay attention to fabric type. The latest fabric technology certainly isn’t a requisite to business travel. Opt for thicker fabrics that won’t wrinkle as easily, or will fall out quickly if they do. Thick, lined cotton blends, wool, and tweeds all do this. Conversely, cotton poplin and silk will not hold up nearly as well.
Casual options are available. While there are many wrinkle resistant button ups for both men and women (perfect for going straight to a meeting), you can still look pulled together in a cotton shirt or a sweater in a tailored cut. The key here is a tailored cut. Avoid hoodies, sweatshirts and logo items (unless, of course, you’re sporting a required company branded shirt). I’m always freezing on airplanes so I pack a cashmere/silk blend wrap that has been a lifesaver on more than one ride, feels like a blanket, and still looks luxurious. These can be found in many different price ranges and from a variety of retailers.
You can absolutely wear jeans. Choose a comfortable pair in a dark color with some stretch for comfort but not so much they’ll fall off at the end of the flight. For both men and women, a fabric content of 90 to 93 percent cotton with the remaining a mixture of poly and stretch tend to hold up the best in the most comfortable way. Also, avoid distressed jeans (much as I love them for general casual wear) and jeans that have worn out, faded, or overall have seen better days.
Footwear. There are SO many comfortable options available in different styles, such as flats and mules for women and driving loafers for men, that look sleek and sophisticated. I’m not opposed to sneakers, either. Look for low-profile fashion ones in leather rather than athletic shoes.
Bags. Every item you have with you has an impact on overall image. Finding chic, lightweight travel bags is one of the hardest tasks. I love the look of leather but understand the impracticality of leather travel bags since the material adds to the overall weight. The best choice is to find lightweight bags that work for your needs first in a single, sophisticated color — think navy or dark green instead of black for distinction. If you like bags with a little more personality, look for ones that have an interesting detail, such as a contrasting stripe but avoid overall busy patterns.
Putting some thought into your work travel style will give you a great overall professional image, preparing you for anyone you may come across en route to your final destination.