Let’s be honest: traveling by plane is not always the most comfortable experience. Bags get tossed around. They get stuffed in cramped spaces. You sometimes need to dig through your luggage to find your ID, cell phone charger, or medicine. All of these challenges can make traveling with a suit or dress an absolute nightmare – which is why garment bags are one of the most useful yet underappreciated pieces of luggage you can own.
Garment bags are available in a number of styles to keep your clothes clean and wrinkle free, but it can be hard to know which style to choose. Should you go with a traditional flat suit bag, a wheeled garment bag that looks like a duffel, or a garment sleeve?
Our guide will provide insights on how to buy a garment bag that will suit your individual needs and help you step out with your clothing and your confidence intact.
Traditional Garment Bags
Traditional garment bags are made to fit comfortably when folded over inside a square suitcase. However, many people will use the bag as-is to carry their fine garments separately. Here’s how to find a traditional bag to fulfill both needs.
- Get a bag that is made from waterproof, puncture resistant materials.
- Make sure the bag folds over easily, and/or features a clamp to fasten the two ends of the bag together for easy carrying and storing.
- Ensure the clamp at the hanger opening is strong enough that your hanger won’t slip down into your bag, ruining your clothes. The industry standard is the WallyLock®, available on WallyBags®, as well as suitcases from other manufacturers.
Garment Bag as a Primary Suitcase
Garment bags are a popular luggage option for business travelers. They help consultants and executives focus on the business at hand, not on the state of their dry cleaning. However, the traditional garment bag can be cumbersome to carry on it’s own. Here’s what to look for in a garment bag that doubles as a piece of primary luggage for short trips:
- Choose a bag with a handle that will pop up from within the bag. Handles should also slip easily back into the compartment within the bag, saving space within the luggage compartment, vehicle trunk, or hotel room.
- Look for a bag that has roomy compartments not only for your formal attire, but also for your other items, such as shoes, socks, and belts.
- A number of garment bags now come with wheels. If you are going for a bifold or trifold bag, we recommend that you purchase a bag with four wheels. If you are considering a wheeled duffel bag or a more traditional looking bag, a two- or four-wheeled bag is fine. Learn more about luggage wheels in our wheeled luggage buyer’s guide.
Garment Bag as a Supplementary Suitcase
Pictured: SAMSONITE SoLyte Ultra Valet Garment Bag
Most travelers choose a garment bag as a supplementary suitcase to carry a couple of suits or dresses separately from other luggage. While you can use a more traditional flat bag, there are also a number of garment bags that are slimmer than a suitcase, sturdier than a traditional bag, and a lot easier to carry. Here’s what to look for in a supplemental garment bag:
- Keep it light and flexible. Because you will have another bag to carry, you will want something that won’t weigh you down. Look for materials that are light and sturdy, such as ballistic nylon.
- Look for something with a strap for shoulder carrying or connecting to a larger suitcase.
- Pay special attention to the way the bag folds. Is it a bifold or a trifold? Will this cause the bag to rest uncomfortably against your side or make it hard to maneuver through a cramped airport?
- Ensure that clamps are sturdy and accessible, and that they stay closed once clamped.
Garment Bag as a Carry-On
Garment bags are becoming increasingly popular as carry-on luggage. However, not every garment bag will meet airline regulations. While passengers were allowed to use a garment bag as their carry-on in the past, recent airline crackdowns have left this in doubt. Here’s what to look for if you want to use a garment bag as a carry-on:
- Be sure your bag fits the following dimensions: 22” long x 14” wide x 9” tall, or 45” combined dimensions. These are the standard dimensions that most airlines follow.
- Ensure that your bag can fold as necessary to fit into a tight overhead bin without damaging the delicate, wrinkle-free state of your clothing.
- Some airlines may have special allowances or restrictions. American Airlines, for example, will allow travelers to bring a soft-sided garment bag up to 51” in size. Check with your airline for information on rules and regulations specifically for garment bags.
- If you are traveling internationally, please note that flights departing from different countries have their own carry-on rules and restrictions.
Suitcases with Expander Garment Sleeves
A number of suitcases feature built-in garment bags, or garment sleeves, that fold out for convenience and ease of use. Of course, you have to wonder if the suitcase is giving you the best of both worlds, or whether it’s simply offering a mediocre compromise. Here are a few tips to help you make an informed decision:
- Built-in garment bags are rarely capable of holding more than one or two suits. If you need more storage, consider a dedicated garment bag.
- Make sure the material inside the bag is sturdy and wrinkle resistant.
- Look for hangers that are strong enough to hold your clothing, but won’t weigh down your bag. Or, even better, choose a bag that features a WallyLock® so that you can use your own hangers.
Have you found a garment bag that you absolutely adore, or do you have any questions on how to choose the right garment bag for your next trip? Share your insights with us on Facebook or contact us directly for help picking out the perfect piece of luggage.