What to Pack Series

What to Wear To Get Upgraded

Posted by Bee Shapiro on August 31, 2012 at 5:05:15 PM EDT | Post a Comment

Growing up in a hospitality-driven family (my mother works for Alaska Airlines and my father in hotels), getting upgraded was always a coveted possibility. With an employee's handbook in hand, my mom used to chide me on sloppiness before boarding a flight. No sweatpants. (Not even the Juicy Couture kind.) Check. Polished heels with flats to change into. Double check. Granted, some of it was old school, and especially in our casual dressing times, perhaps not necessary, but a lot of it has stuck with me. The truth is, looking good actually helps when angling for an upgrade. Here are a few style picks with the luxuries of first class in mind.

Women

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Look 1: First Lady Chic

Nothing stands out in the airport terminal like a cool and collected look. With election season in full swing, first ladies are a good guideline. Their styles tend to be more structured and in favor of texture, like this boxy boucle tweed coat ($280 by Rory Beca) with metallic threads that will (hopefully) catch the eye of the gate agent. For a take on the modern skirt suit, pair with a bateau neck sweater in the same color family ($17.99 at Target) and bright tweed pencil skirt in head-turning cobalt ($75). Though, flats are comfy, stow them in this handsome designer bag by Reed Krakoff ($1,090). This is the time to pay attention to your footwear. A classic pump, especially in this leg-lengthening nude patent ($59 by Nine West), with a moderate heel will go a long way at check-in. (So will batting eyelashes, but you didn't hear that from us.)

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Look 2: Movie Star

It used to be first class was a denim-free zone. Those days are long over, so take cues from A-listers who lay all the way back in first class wearing dressy jeans. We like style arbiter Gwyneth Paltrow's style: the mom of two flits between London, New York, and LA looking just about perfect. Paltrow often wears skinny jeans—here, we selected a pair by another famous frequent flier, Victoria Beckham ($265)—tucked into boots like these by Burberry in walnut brown ($850). On top, she sticks with a classic button-down, maybe in a light blue ($117 by MIH Jeans). In case of chilly cabins, bring along a shearling jacket, cut into a hip motorcycle shape ($2,115 by Acne). Budget watchers can try faux versions, or go to Asos.com for more affordable price points. Accent with a simple stone drop necklace ($96)—agates are all the range—and pull all your documents together with a hot pink travel wallet ($145.99). Just remember to take off your Jackie O sunglasses while chatting up the check-in agent.

Men

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Look 1: Dandy CEO

Play the part of a mover and shaker. Sure, a regular suit will accomplish the head honcho look, but stylish business casual makes a stronger, cooler impression. British menswear is a good guiding light. Look in your closet for gray trousers, or French Connection makes nice flat-front designs ($198). On top, throw on a striped blue shirt, maybe with a tweak like this Rag & Bone design with partial button-down placket ($205). To highlight English dandy style, slip on wing-tip oxfords ($188 by Allerton) and loop on a menswear print scarf, like this one in houndstooth by Ermenegildo Zegna ($185). But, if there is one category to invest in, it would be outerwear. A traditional trench coat by the Mackintosh or Burberry ($1,295) will last you ages and add tremendously to your wardrobe. Lastly, these Bose in-the-ear headphones ($129.95 for music and calls) will comfortably stay in place hours into your flight.

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Look 2: Jet-Setter

These days, first class regulars don't always have your usual desk jobs with humdrum dress codes. So, take inspiration from bad-boy-look-aficionado/millionaire Brad Pitt. Pitt's jet-set look is polished but also kind of rebellious. There's a hint of that in these black motorcycle boots ($219.99) and Ray-Ban folding aviators that neatly tuck into breast pockets ($244.95). On top, the actor usually goes for something basic with an athletic feel, like a three-button henley—we like this one in rich Bordeaux ($18.36). Just add your favorite denim. The finishing pieces are what separate the outfit; a black leather jacket is a must-have, like this Belstaff one with snap buttons ($1,450), and a dapper checked cap in a textured wool blend ($24) adds just the right gentlemanly touch.


Photo credits: Women: First Lady Chic: Top left, Target Brands, Inc.; Bottom left,  REED KRAKOFF LLC; Top center, Lord & Taylor; Bottom center, Nine West; Right, shopbop.com. Movie Star: Top left, mytheresa.com; Bottom left, Zappos.com; Center, NET-A-PORTER.COM; Top right, Planet Blue; Middle right, Zappos.com; Bottom right, Matches. Men: Dandy CEO: Top left, MRPORTER; Bottom left, Neiman Marcus; Top center, Bose Corporation; Bottom center, French Connection Limited; Top right, STYLEBOP.com; Bottom right, J. Crew. Jet Setter: Top left, Topshop USA; Bottom left, SINGER22; Center, Sunglass Hut; Top right, Sierra Trading Post, Inc.; Bottom right, Zappos.com

Member Comments (12)  Post a Comment

  • Debbls on Sep 19, 12 at 10:03 AM

    Nice looking clothes, apart from those women's shoes. I've seen women do it on airports, but there's no running for a flight!
    Most comments are spot on re upgrades based on elite status (it comes from brand loyalty miles/points). In fact, so many people have elite status nowadays it's nearly impossible to even depend on an upgrade if one is higher status! I've seen lots of seats go empty in f/b class. If I want to fly "up" I just guarantee it by buying it, tho expensive. Sitting next to rock star because they needed someone to sit next to is very strange story, because most people, no matter the job would rather sit with vacant seat and know how to ignore others.

  • MissGreen on Sep 18, 12 at 07:05 AM

    I recently was on a flight. The business cabin could hold 36 passengers but there were only 7 of us. Economy looked nice and cramed. Obviously nobody was getting upgraded no matter how well dressed they were!

  • MissGreen on Sep 18, 12 at 07:02 AM

    Wearing a certain kind of clothes won't get you upgraded. I travel premium and I wear casual clothes when I fly. Hubbie wears shorts and leather thongs. Nobody is dressed to teh hilt.

  • CarolA on Sep 17, 12 at 03:23 PM

    I get upgraded all the time..... And trust me they never even see me LOL! The computer sees my "status" with the airline and that's the deciding factor. The 'agent' has very little say anymore over things like this. I can't think of a flight I have been on in the past several years where these tricks would have mattered. The "computer" upgrade list was always longer then the number of empty seats up front. Sorry!

  • Sonya_Riddle on Sep 5, 12 at 01:39 PM

    I agree you need to dress well, if you want an upgrade. On the other hand, if I can pay over $1,000 for my handbag, I think I would be able to afford a first class seat. Wouldn't you agree?

  • gbloomquist on Sep 5, 12 at 11:08 AM

    Yes, these are helpful comments. (Don't believe the nay-sayers.) But, they probably work best if you are also pleasant and/or charming. No matter how well you are dressed, if you are a jerk to the ticketing and gate agents, you won't get upgraded. Finally, conjunctural matters also are in play: how full the flight is, who needs a seat-mate, etc.

  • pmrichard on Sep 5, 12 at 10:29 AM

    I think if you are "non-revving" or flying standby, these tips will work for you. My husband is a pilot and, recently, I was upgraded (didn't ask for first and truly didn't expect to get it because of the heavy "loads" and the normal upgrade requests by the Platinums-Tins). I truly believe that it was because I was dressed well...and the fact that they needed someone to sit next to a "celebrity" who would not (because of non-rev status) bother them. :)

  • Claudia_Gallegos on Sep 5, 12 at 10:18 AM

    Let me tell you the truth: it helps a lot to travel well dressed. I changed from economy to business in a 11 hs flight, being early and well dressed.
    I was stopped at immigration services due to the person who was sitting next to me, who asked me a question, after I had passed all the requirements: she had several bags and was poorly dressed. It makes a difference!

  • Amy_Guskin on Sep 5, 12 at 10:08 AM

    So, to get an upgrade, you have to dress as though you don't need one? Sure.

  • paris1953 on Sep 3, 12 at 03:45 PM

    Love your looks, but I don't think the computer will be persuaded. I think these coveted upgrades are pretty much all computer controlled now; elite status, etc. are now the controlling factors.

  • CarolA on Sep 3, 12 at 03:19 PM

    And can you remove the FIVE "plugs" for someone's website. Or at least charge them for the advertising?

  • CarolA on Sep 3, 12 at 03:18 PM

    Really, you believe this story. I guess so you published it.

    But "what to wear" went out years ago. Now it's "how much do you spend with the airline" they don't even LOOK at you, they look at your status

    Waste of bandwidth. LOL!

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