How to Pack a Suit in a Carry On

Bennett Collins

Packing a suit into a carry on is easier than most think. This article lists the current best practices to avoid wrinkles when packing all the pieces that form a suit.

I’m at that point in my life where weddings are becoming the newest thing taking up my weekends, and business is part of my day to day life. As a result, the question of how to present myself in formal settings, as though my life is totally together, is getting louder in my head. 

This gets even more complicated when travel is involved. Getting my suit from A to B without needing a professional cleaning and pressing on the other end is a important, and the struggle is real.

Believe it or not, it is possible to pack a suit in a carry on. The Outbreaker 45 or Setout 45 are both enough to pack a suit and shoes, and more, for a business or wedding weekend trip. 

From my own research, there are plenty of videos and how-to graphics out there that show ways to pack a full suit wrinkle free, and there are is certainly consensus around best practice.  

Before we begin, there is one overarching piece of advice. Do not overpack your carry on when you’re trying to preserve the wrinkle-less integrity of your jacket, pants, shirt, and shoes. Even if you fold and pack everything correctly, if any portion of the suit is crushed under pressure for long durations of time, wrinkles, collapsed collars, and crushed shoes will be the outcome. 

Disclaimer: the following advice is for when you do no have time to iron, steam, or dry clean any items in your suit. 

How to Pack Suit Jacket and Pants

There are folks out there who advocate wearing your jacket on the plane if you don’t have room in your carry on. While that can work, it will still result in small wrinkles at the very least if you wear it on the plane, or even if you take it off and fold it correctly, laying it on top in the overhead bin.

If you want to avoid arriving wrinkled, the best practice is to pack your suit properly in your carry on bag, not to wear parts of it in transit.  

There are two ways to pack your suit and pants to minimize wrinkles and they’re both dependent on the space in your carry on. 

The Fold Method

This is the most popular approach and has been demonstrated, time and time again, from GQ to Brooks Brothers. The method is to methodically fold your suit coat’s shoulders into each other, with the lining facing outward, to retain the structural integrity of the suit. Then, fold the suit coat into the pants to avoid horizontal creasing of the pants.

This method is best for those with little space in their carry on, or those who want to avoid the use of plastic as described below. 

The Dry Cleaner Bag Method

If you don’t have much else to pack in your carry on, or you’re willing to sacrifice space for a nearly wrinkle-free suit coat and pants, this is the simplest and most efficient method.

Very simply, keep your suit coat and pants in the plastic dry-cleaner bag, hung on a hanger, and make a single, soft horizontal fold. 

How to Pack a Dress Shirt 

The shirt is, arguably, the trickiest thing to pack. If you need extra help, Shawn wrote a whole separate article on how to do this well. To distill this article into it’s main points:

  • Fold – do not roll
  • Lay shirt on a flat surface and fold arms into the middle, halfway up the sleeves
  • Fold in each side 3 in. and then fold the shirt in half from the bottom once, and again for a tighter fold 
  • Shirts made of wrinkle resistant fabric are better than non-iron materials 

Bonus tip #1: Personally, I take out the collar bones (the plastic/metal pieces that go into the collar wings) to avoid bending them. 

Bonus tip #2: If you’re packing more than one shirt, layer them facing opposite directions.

How to Pack a Waistcoat & Cumberbund

Neither of these items are super complicated to pack. For the waistcoat, make a fold along the vertical center back seam and then a horizontal fold (just two folds altogether).

For a cummerbund, just roll it, do not fold, and stick it in a shoe.

How to Pack Dress Shoes

Truthfully, I think packing dress shoes is a risky thing to do and these are the only item of your suit outfit that I would wear on the plane. Pack your casual shoes instead.

If you’re going to pack the shoes, make sure they’re stuffed so they don’t collapse and crease. Stuffing them with dress socks and even rolled up ties, or your cumberbund, would be better than nothing. 

How to Pack Ties, Socks, Belts, & Accessories

This is pretty straightforward. Roll your neckties, bow ties, and belts. Pack pre-folded bow ties in a spacious part of the bag. Roll or fold your socks, as you wish.

Keep your pocket square, cufflinks, suspenders, and any other accessories to your suit in a separate bag that make them together and easy to access. 

TL:DR

It’s really important not to cram a suit into an overpacked bag if you’re trying to avoid wrinkles and you don’t have time to get the suit dry cleaned or steamed.

  • Do not wear parts of your suit on the plane, except your shoes, to avoid small and large wrinkles
  • Fold the suit coat and pants, together, with the lining facing out.
  • Or, keep the coat and pants hung on a hanger in a dry cleaner’s bag and make a single horizontal fold
  • Roll ties, cummerbunds, and socks
  • Vertically fold waistcoats along the seam and then make a single horizontal fold
  • Keep cufflinks, suspenders, and folded pocket squares in a small bag to make life easier

Folding dress shirts can be tricky. Luckily, we’ve written an entire article about how to do this. 

 

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