Sitting in an airplane seat is never particularly comfortable, and it’s only gotten more cramped over time: Airplane seats have continued to shrink in width and legroom in recent decades, which helps explain why passengers often show up for flights in leggings and sweatshirts — cozy, but not exactly sartorial, outfits.
Nonetheless, there are actually some stealthily stylish and comfortable pants out there, perfect for frigid planes and the germy seats you sit in before and during a flight. As a companion to our guide to the best travel shoes, we asked frequent travelers who work in fashion — designers, stylists, and writers — to share their go-to pants for flights, absurd delays, and whatever else the sometimes-hellish journey of getting from point A to point B throws at you.
Despite what we just said about wearing sweats on a plane, several of our frequent travelers told us about the good-looking joggers that they often put on for long flights. There are a great many to choose from, starting with these cashmere Everlane joggers. As Denise Lee, founder of activewear brand Alala, explains, “Cashmere actually regulates temperature really well, which is key when dealing with the unpredictable air-conditioning on airplanes.”
Merino wool will also keep you warm on frigid flights, and as a bonus, it’s also a breathable and odor-repelling material. “The slim fit on these gives them a cool look, but they’re just as comfortable as your old-school university sweats,” says Sophie Kahn, co-founder of jewelry brand AUrate, of this pair emblazoned with a pair of lips.
For a more statement-making (read: not black, navy, or gray) pair of joggers, go for a pattern and a cut that’s slouchy but not schlubby. “Printed jogger pants give you comfort and style all in one,” says Caroline Maguire, Shopbop’s fashion director, of this vibrant Tibi version, which gets “extra comfort points for being high-waisted,” she says. The bright floral pattern is cheery, but isn’t too garishly bright, thanks to the navy background; plus, the paper-bag waist is super flattering.
Upscale track pants
A close cousin of the go-to track pants: fancy track pants. “When I find something I like, I tend to go overboard and get the item in every color. Such was the case with these track pants,” says Felicity Sargent, stylist and writer, of this pair from Isabel Marant. “They’re cropped, making them look as great with a slide as they do with a sneak, and they’re high-waisted with a drawstring, so you can adjust to your comfort.” Sargent pairs these with vintage T-shirts when traveling. She has also spilled red wine on one of her (multiple, that’s how much she likes them) pairs, and says it came out in the wash at home.
You could also go for a more ostentatious, logo-striped pair in bright pink, like Kahn. “If you’re up for a bit more spunk and some yummy velour, these pants will do just the trick; they make me want to fall asleep when I wear them,” she says of these Opening Ceremony pants, which have an elastic waistband. She likes to style them with a white tee and blazer.
Connie Wang, senior features writer at Refinery29, opts for thick sweatpants with an elastic waistband, like these Adidas styles. “Drawstrings and gathered stretch waists end up digging into my torso on long flights,” she says. “I also like a thick fabric that won’t show panty line because thongs on a plane are a form of torture.”
Slacks (with elastic waistbands)
Aritzia really excels at travel-ready pants, says stylist and writer Felicity Sargent, who dubs it “the master-life-hacking-maker of slacks that feel like sweats,” with her favorite being this cropped pair. “They have sneaky, invisible elastic bands on the sides, making them super comfy, and they have great slit pockets and are on the low-rise side, which makes them feel fun and ’90s. “They’re also, in my experience, though not advertised as such, wrinkle-free,” she says. For quickly dressing them up upon landing, add a black cami, mules, and some gold accent jewelry, Sargent suggests.
Not surprisingly, Everlane being Everlane, it makes a similar kind of track-pants-office trouser hybrid, also with a stretchy waist. It’s currently in Everlane’s “Choose What You Pay” section, which just means it’s on sale.
Wide-leg pants and culottes
For a more polished but equally comfortable option, Anna Gray — creator of the Things I Would Buy If I Didn’t Have to Pay Rent newsletter — suggests going for a wide leg. “Pick a fabric that doesn’t wrinkle, and a shape that looks good with an oversize sweater because planes, like movie theaters, are always freezing, right?” One favorite of Gray’s is this crisp, cotton, black-and-white striped pair.
For lengthy flights, Lee likes this slinky, wide-legged cashmere style. Her favorite version of the luxe take on loungewear is from Naadam, are made from a silk-cashmere blend, and sport side slits to the mid-shin for some movement, and a sporty tux stripe on the sides.
Claire Mazur, Of a Kind’s co-founder, swears by voluminous pants with tight vertical pleating for traveling. “The last time I boarded an airplane, the flight attendant greeting passengers looked at me and said, ‘You look so comfy and chic.’ I later asked that same woman for extra barf bags and she did not retract her statement. The thing that prompted her compliment were my Issey Miyake Pleats Please pants,” Mazur explains. “They look like fancy silk but are actually polyester, they have an elastic waistband, they are loose, they are extremely soft, and, perhaps best of all, they are machine washable.” While Mazur recommends any Pleats Please pants, she notes that the wide-leg silhouettes “are particularly perfect for flying.”
Here’s a far cheaper alternative with a slight sheen, recommended by Gray. “The hint of metallic in these elevates what are essentially pajama pants,” she says of these, which are pleated, even though it’s hard to see in this photo. “Also, pleated fabric tends not to wrinkle, so you don’t get to the other side with a wrinkly butt, God forbid.”
For cheaper pleats without a metallic sheen, some Eileen Fisher high-waist ones.
Harem pants with an exaggerated drop-crotch might be a polarizing style, but they’re an extremely comfortable travel alternative to leggings, says Maguire. She favors this stretchy pair with the slim legs of your favorite workout or couch-vegging leggings, but with a lot more ventilation. “This olive color pairs well with anything, from a neutral to a pop of color,” she adds.
Last, we’ll leave you with an idea that might be just crazy enough to work: leather pants on an airplane. Kahn explains the unlikely travel appeal, “They keep you warm when it’s cold, which is often the case in the plane, and cool when it’s hot, and overall they’re super comfortable.” She notes that she sizes up in this, and pairs it with a cozy sweater and sneakers for travel days.
Bouchra Ezzahraoui has a similar recommendation: washable leather leggings. (Yes, really.) “I find them to be the perfect compromise between a stylish pair of jeans and comfy yoga pants,” she says of this pair. “They’re flattering, very flexible, and the leather is machine washable.”
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