The Worst Things To Wear To An Airport According To TSA Agents

From the moment you start packing your bags, you have to begin devising your strategy for getting through airport security. The experience is filled with dos and don'ts, rules and regulations, and seemingly arbitrary assignments of what does and does not define a liquid. (For instance, is peanut butter a liquid... Like, really?) Regardless of what you think, though, them's the rules — and the only option is to follow them, lest you risk missing your flight.

Equally as important as making sure your snacks don't violate federal law is ensuring your airport outfit won't garner special attention from any TSA agents. So, to help you out, we've curated a list of the absolute worst things to wear to the airport. Some of these items will simply slow you down and really annoy the people in line behind you, while others are actual health and safety concerns. In addition, there are a couple of things on this list that may get you into some trouble, so this is definitely worth a read if you want to stay under the radar.

Bulky clothing could win you a free pat-down

While it can be fun to get dressed up for your flight, we are certainly not above dressing comfortably for the airport, either. After all, the whole ordeal can be a big source of anxiety for many travelers, so why not at least be comfortable while stressing out? Just a word of caution, though: Try to avoid excessively baggy or loose clothing, as this might hold you up in the line for security.

Why does this happen, though? Former TSA agent Kimberly Pruitt explained to Insider that TSA agents are required to inspect travelers wearing baggy clothing to make sure that they aren't smuggling dangerous or banned objects that could harm their fellow passengers. However, it's not just baggy sweaters and oversized pants that are red flags; maxi skirts and large dresses might lead to extra inspections and a pat-down, too. Consider wearing a pair of leggings or bike shorts under your skirt or dress so you can quickly pull up the outfit to show them you've got nothing to hide.

Boots or shoes you can't remove easily are a no-no

The U.S. might be the land of the free, but apparently, that liberty doesn't extend to the shoes on your feet. Perhaps one of the most consistently annoying things about airport security in the U.S. is the requirement that all travelers remove their shoes, and, unfortunately, there's no getting around it. The practice of random shoe inspection began after a British man named Richard Reid tried to detonate a shoe bomb on a transatlantic flight in an attempted terror attack back in 2001. It officially became the protocol for all passengers five years later.

This is why the TSA recommends that travelers do not wear shoes that lace up excessively or have complex buckles or zippers that make taking them off and putting them back on again a pain for all involved. So, if you choose to wear some knee-high lace-up shoes, just know you're going to be holding up (and likely annoying) your fellow travelers.

Don't wear flip-flops or slide-on shoes without socks

Instead of complex boots or even lace-up sneakers, the TSA recommends travelers consider wearing some comfortable slip-ons. These will streamline the security process by making it easy for you to slide off your shoes to go through the scanners and slide them back on once you've gone through. No balancing your bag, your computer, and your toiletry bag in one hand as you hop on one foot, trying to get your shoe on and get out of everyone's way.

However, please — pretty please — consider wearing socks with them or at least bringing a pair to wear through security. It should go without saying, but keep in mind that the floor in the security area is extremely high-traffic. That's thousands of feet that walk across that floor every single day. While your feet might be squeaky clean, you have no idea where other people's feet have been. You do not want to walk across that floor or carpet barefoot.

Avoid complicated hairstyles that require lots of hairpins

Many people want to look their best when flying, and more power to them! Not all of us can muster up that amount of effort for a red-eye flight, but boy, do we have an appreciation for those who can. While a nice button-down and a pair of tailored trousers could be all it takes to pull off an effortlessly elegant look for the airport, we caution travelers against also crafting complicated hairstyles before takeoff.

Why? Well, according to the TSA, if you put together an elaborate up-do using a bunch of bobby pins, all those little bits of metal are going to set off alarms in the metal detectors, and you may require a secondary screening as a result. Bows, hairclips, wraps, clip-in extensions, and even wigs can have the same effect, which will also prompt an inspection of your hair. While it might sound preposterous, it does happen.

Keep the outerwear off until you get through security

In a similar vein to why you wouldn't want to wear baggy clothing as you're trying to get on your flight, you just can't wear outerwear through airport security. This is because coats and jackets have all kinds of pockets and places to hide or forget things. They are also more likely to have metal accents on them, such as on the belt or zippers. So, while it can be annoying to take off your coat and stand in line for the scanners as you freeze your butt off in the cold airport, you need to do it. Otherwise, you're really going to regret being told to go back and put your jacket in a tray before you can come through.

At the risk of sounding like your parents, this is why it's important to layer up. Wear a long-sleeve shirt underneath your outerwear if you're worried about staying warm while you wait. This way, you can stay both comfortable and prepared. Wouldn't Mom be proud?

Large metal jewelry will be a pain for you and the TSA

There's nothing wrong with wearing a good accessory or two. After all, the airport doesn't really have any rules against adding some flashy fun to your outfit. With that said, the TSA has a couple good reasons why you should probably avoid a particular accessory choice: metal jewelry. Walking through the security scanners and metal detectors with tons of metal jewelry on is bound to set off their machines, and this adds extra time to the process for them and for you.

Though they might be an essential part of your outfit, you're definitely going to be wishing you had packed them up in your bag as you strip off your jewelry and go back to place them in a bin. If you have very valuable or sentimental jewelry, this will probably make you a little anxious, so avoid this by placing these items in a little pouch in your carry-on. You can always take them out after you pass through.

While we love some sparkle, pack up the bedazzled clothing

Former TSA agent Jasmain Washington told the Huffington Post that bedazzled clothing is another fashion choice you may want to avoid when going through security at the airport. 

While many travelers may want that touch of sparkle in their outfits — especially when headed out for a fun weekend with friends — the intricate embellishments and sequins can actually set off the sensitive scanners. This can lead to additional security screenings — including with the wand and pat-downs — and may slow down the security process. This could even prevent you from getting to your gate on time. 

So while it's not as fun, choose clothing that has fewer bedazzled gems, and maybe opt for clothing that has bright colors if you're wanting to wear something fun and flashy. Alternatively, if you're a bedazzled fanatic, consider wearing bedazzled shoes instead since these will go through the scanner anyway.

You know the belt has to come off, so why wear it?

For every traveler who wears a belt, there's a TSA agent keeping an eye out to remind them to take it off. That's because the metal buckle will inevitably set off the metal detectors. Of course, there are belts that don't have any metal parts, but while you're free to wear one of those, airport security personnel understandably don't have the time (or patience) to verify what kind of material your belt is made of, and will likely ask you to take it off anyway.

Perhaps the best option would be to simply forgo the belt altogether. Not only is this yet another piece of clothing you have to take off and put on again, but the less you have to disrobe, the faster things will go for everyone. If you need to look presentable for your travel, instead of wearing a belt, find a pair of pants that have an elastic or comfortable waistband but also look tailored. These days, there are plenty of clothing options for professionals that are comfortable yet put-together-looking — and more importantly, suited for travel.

Clothing with threatening language will earn you special attention

In the United States, wearing clothing with offensive language or your personal opinions on it (or both) is part of your First Amendment rights. However, even though you can wear them freely, that doesn't mean you are free from the consequences of that particular fashion choice. Especially when it comes to airport security.

The TSA's job, first and foremost, is to protect travelers from any perceived threat. While most people who are actually a threat to others' safety probably won't announce their intentions on their t-shirts, if your clothing implies you have weapons on you or you intend to do harm, this will raise the suspicions of security personnel at the airport. The same goes for accessories that are not weapons but resemble them in some way.

What could happen? In all likelihood, not much. Again, you would be well within your rights to go with these clothing choices, but you'll likely be pulled aside for additional screenings and questioning, and weapon-adjacent accessories will be confiscated. So why risk it?

Keep your hats in your bag through security (with some exceptions)

Baseball caps, knit beanies, cowboy hats — whatever you choose to wear, they should probably come off when going through security. Not only does it just make sense since these items could have bits of metal on them or inside them that could set off metal detectors, but agents at security will probably ask you to take them off anyway, since you could potentially conceal dangerous or prohibited items under them.

However, not everyone has to adhere to these rules. Per the TSA, travelers who choose to wear headwear for personal or religious reasons can keep it on when going through security. You may have to go through additional screening with a wand, though. If you don't clear this screening, you might even be asked to go to a private room to remove the headwear. Unfortunately, there is no way around this.

Think twice about clothing with excessive buckles and metal hooks

When it comes to choosing your outfit for your flight, here's a useful piece of advice: Metal anywhere on your person is a big no-no, and that includes buckles and hooks on your clothing. It's not that TSA thinks you're going to somehow hurt someone with a top that has buckles on it, but it's going to set off the metal detectors and slow everything down in the process. You definitely don't want to get tapped for additional screenings because of your clothing choices.

It's worth noting that this includes your undergarments, too. So consider keeping any underwear with metal decorations on them in your checked luggage rather than on your person. These kinds of clothes and accessories could probably go in your carry-on unnoticed, but you might get some questions about them if the agents can't identify what they're looking at.

Certain baby carriers are better than others

Moms and dads with babies, listen up: We are so excited that you are bringing your baby with you on your trip, but you need to be aware of a few things. 

If you plan to carry them in a baby carrier through security, make sure you've got one that can go with you through the scanners without setting off alarms. If you use a soft-bodied carrier that does not have any metal grommets or buckles on it, you won't have to take this off when going through security, and the baby can stay with you the whole time.

If you are using a framed carrier, this will have to be removed and placed in the X-ray machine to be scanned. This is definitely not optimal for you or your child, and would be especially dreadful if you had to wake them up from a cozy nap.

Brace-wearing may require a doctor's note

Traveling with any kind of medical device or medicine is a pain as it is, but even more so when going through airport security. You never know if the TSA agents you'll be encountering that day will raise questions about your medically necessary devices. To avoid finding yourself in this kind of predicament altogether — especially if you need to wear a brace, prosthetic, or other wearable device — make sure to obtain a note from your doctor that clearly states that you need the device.

If you can remove the device, do so and allow TSA to inspect it or send it through the X-ray machine, if possible. However, if you can't or don't want to remove the device, don't feel obligated to. While you should definitely let the TSA agents know that you have a device on you so that they can inspect it, you aren't required to take it off.