Three years ago, while waiting to board a flight from JFK to Tokyo, I spotted it in the wild a T-shirt, a long cardigan, black leggings, and cool flats, all pulled together into the Perfect Plane Outfit. The wearer, a young mom with twin toddlers in tow, had mastered an ensemble that had eluded me for years.
Any plane trip is an occasion—heck, most Americans don't even take the vacations they work so hard for—and I’ve always sought to treat it with the gratitude, respect, and excitement it deserves. Yet contrary to what that woman—or Betty Draper, for that matter—may dupe us into thinking, deciding what to wear in-flight isn’t an easy task.
Unless you’re splashing out for Emirates’ new studio-apartment-size First Class suite, you’ll need something that will survive being stuffed into 30 inches for many, many hours—eventually as many as 21—in the air. There are significant weather-related logistics to contend with; after all, what use does an enormous sleeping-bag parka have on a 90-degree beach? Carry-on packers especially will want something they can re-wear once vacation actually starts; in other words, something that doesn’t wrinkle. And, finally, you’ll need something stylish—not often companionable with comfort in the dreary netherworld of middle seats.
I had just about given up on in-flight sartorial savvy until I purchased a pair of black Align II pants from Lululemon. These $98 leggings, I quickly learned, are the foundation upon which a Perfect Plane Outfit is built. They allow you to do what Seinfeld once deemed impossible: compete in normal society while wearing (what feel like) sweatpants.
The Align IIs, which have been on the market since 2015, are made of Nulu, a proprietary Lululemon fabric that’s at once ultra-soft, super-stretchy, sweat-wicking, lightweight, opaque, and matte. Thanks to their velvety, second-skin-like waistband, you can size down considerably (for me, by two sizes) until your core and backside are hugged in without being pinched, cinched, or squeezed—all the better to snooze on a red-eye. And with no pockets and zero adornments save for inseams, one flattering navel panel, and Lululemon’s tiny circular logo, they’re a triumphant study in clean lines and confident minimalism.
Best of all, though, the Align IIs look good—on any excursion, in any climate, no matter how hot or cold. Flip-flops, boots, heels, sneakers, flats, wedges: there’s no shoe that doesn’t work. Blouses, workout tanks, T-shirts, denim jackets, sweater dresses: yes, yes, and yes. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic about the bygone glamour of air travel, throw on a scarf: there, done. And if you’re not, stuff the leggings into a tiny, featherweight ball in the corner of your suitcase and excavate them at the end the trip—they’ll be the foundation of your Perfect Plane Outfit for the flight home.
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