How To Dress For The TSA

After waiting 20 minutes for an unfortunate woman at JFK to disrobe, set off the alarms twice, divest of some belts, get a pat-down, and re-wrap, it dawned on me: some folks may need advice on dressing for flying!

First of all, if you're one of those people who wants to sock it to the TSA by going through in your undies, you know, be my guest. This doesn't apply to you — although even then I'd probably avoid a bra with too much hardware. For the rest of us, the objectives are simple: ease of dressing and comfort.

One dreams, of course, of looking like an effortlessly chic jetsetter off the Sartorialist, (these chic suggestions from Refinery29 would doubtless help in that regard) the sort of person who uses those Evian sprays and has some immense cashmere throw in her bag. But most of us will settle for just avoiding a pat-down, and not setting off any alarms helps. So with that in mind, heed these basic — but still crucial! — rules.



No Hardware.
No belts, no watches, no buckles, no metal. Unless, that is, you like hearing that pleasant alarm sound.

Slip-on Shoes
Be it boot or bootie or slipper or flat, you want something you can get off at the last second and have on again without causing a bottleneck. Not to mention, slip off in-flight.


Oh, and Wear Socks. Always.

This advice is really for me.

Think Easy Layers.
Again, you want something you can slip off and on. Plus, boyscout-style, this is the best way to adjust to the plane's temperature — or to changing climates.

Warm Stuff
I'm a big fan of slipping a beret and a warm scarf into my luggage in case of in-flight chill: easier than wrangling with layering in your seat.

On the Upgrade Question.
I wish I had some dynamite advice on how to dress to maximize your chances of an upgrade, but the one time this actually happened to me, I was in this weird coat with a fur collar that my mom got me. More to the point, the flight wasn't full. When I've worn my best entitled-rich-person costumes, in the hopes someone might think I look like someone who should really be in business class, no one has been fooled. And besides, it's so much easier to check in with the machines.

Pants or Skirt?
When I was little, I once read somewhere that if you go down one of those emergency slide things into the water, it takes all the skin off the back of your legs. For years, I wore nothing but long pants. Nowadays, I occasionally vouchsafe a sweater dress.

Climate Change?
Moving from somewhere cold to hot or vice versa is tricky: but again, light layers help. Swap a light sweater for something wool or cashmere, or bring gloves and a hat. And at the end of the day, sometimes there's nothing for it but to shlep a coat. Ideally, have someone meet you with one!

So, What to Wear?
Well, I'm not going to be so bossy as to order you to wear anything, but I can tell you a few combos that well-traveled friends recommend:

  • Tunic or sweater-dress, leggings or tights, pull-on boots or ankle-boots.
  • Leggings, tee, big cozy cardigan, boots or ankle-boots
  • Comfy jeans (a risk if there's a lot of metal), thin cashmere sweater, scarf, flats
  • Jersey dress, jean jacket or sweater, flats

And Wear Comfy Underwear
This is non-negotiable.

What's your foolproof travel outfit? What gets you through security at lightning speed and keeps you cozy in-air? Spill!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.