Thrifty fliers know the art of carrying on

With the recent announcement that US Airways will start July 9 charging domestic passengers $15 to check their first bag and $25 for the second, winging it with just a carry-on is more than a convenience, it's a fiscal responsibility.

But is it even possible to stow a week's worth of wardrobe in a space the size of a breadbox without looking as stale as day-old bread? We asked two of the fashion world's most frequent fliers: Michael Macko, former vice president of men's fashion at Saks Fifth Avenue and new fashion director at Details magazine, and Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IMG Fashion, which organizes fashion weeks around the globe.

When it comes to carry-on bags, Macko swears by a custom-made L.L. Bean canvas boat and tote — size large. “I get an outside pocket put on, which is the perfect size for a passport and boarding pass and luggage claim stubs — and a zippered top, so nothing falls out in the X-ray machine,” he said.

He leaves a black nylon Prada bathing suit in the bag at all times (“They double as workout shorts and fold up into nothing”) and counts flip-flops and Woolite among his must-haves. Among the space-saving tricks he's learned is getting dress shirts professionally laundered and folded before departure. “Not only do they travel better, but I reuse the plastic sleeves later on in my travels — they're good for wet bathing suits or flip-flops when you're out at the pool.”

Mallis, who calls her penchant for tote bags a sickness, often can be found lugging one full of unread magazines through an airport in one hand, with a soft-sided leopard-print Dolce & Gabbana carry-on in the other. “The straps are long enough to get on my shoulder,” she said of the latter. “I haven't mastered the flight attendant's wheelie bag yet, and it looks chic — at least every few seasons when animal prints are in.” Her travel essentials include black cashmere sweat pants to travel in and a sweater by Egg. (“It can serve as a blanket, a shawl or a wrap and get you through all kinds of weather patterns.”)

Q. How do you maximize style in minimal space?

Michael Macko: When I'm traveling, I always try to do a color story. For example: navy and gray or khaki and navy, so it all mixes and matches and you don't have to worry if shoes and jackets go together. If you just pack by outfit, you get in trouble.

On a summer trip I'll bring a navy blazer, a khaki suit and some Michael Bastian sport coats, and I'd probably wear a navy suit on the plane. And I have a light gray Prince of Wales check suit, so that jacket will also work with a pair of white jeans and my Dior Homme skinny khakis. I also always lay out things and make a mental note of my outfits. And I usually wear my heaviest pieces, which saves a lot of room in the luggage.

Fern Mallis: I try to stay in a black or neutral color story — but some trips are more successful than others. I usually stack stuff up on my bed, and then I'll go back and take out all the brown pieces or gray pieces that are throwing my color story off. The goal is keeping it to black and white with some accent color pieces thrown in. And I only bring the things I know I am going to wear.

Q. If you were limited to a single carry-on bag, what would be in it?

MM: A Ralph Lauren Black Label navy blue blazer with silver buttons — it's a nice slim cut — and a pair of dark, straight-leg Levi's 511 jeans.

FM: One pair of slingbacks or dressy sandals that will go with almost everything — usually a Manolo Blahnik. Piazza Sempione makes these capri-length pants — the ‘Audrey pant' — I bring those in black, khaki and white and intermix them with a variety of long tops and tunic tops by Eskandar and Sabyasachi. They are comfortable and can be dressed up really easily with a long scarf or jewelry.

Q. What about accessories?

MM: Bring ties and a lot of pocket squares. I just got a bunch of really great Brooks Brothers Black Fleece ties. Thom (Browne) did these great madras shirts with matching ties, two bow ties and a classic skinny tie. It's like they're the new twin set.

FM: I bring the bangle bracelets I bought in India because they go with anything, and I always travel with a couple pair of dangly Judith Ripka earrings that dress up everything.

Q. When it comes to keeping your wardrobe wrinkle-free, do you have a secret weapon?

MM: I'm a firm believer in tissue paper. Turn a suit jacket inside out, fold it in half, put tissue between the halves, fold it in half again over a rectangle of tissue and lay it in the suitcase. It acts as a kind of buffer.

FM: I'm a tissue-paper packer — I wrap my clothes just like they'd wrap them at Saks, with several layers of tissue paper in between.