I am always astounded by how people choose to dress. The website “People of Walmart” proves that Americans are willing to wear just about anything in public. And, in my recent experience, the airport is no exception.
I realize that the glamorous days of flight are over. Stewardesses no longer parade around the cabin in fitted suits and excessively high heels. And, thankfully, weight restrictions and perfectly coiffed hair are also a thing of the past. But have we come so far (or should I say, fallen so far) as to consider a ratty t-shirt with pit stains over old jeans or – God-forbid – sweatpants appropriate public attire? Do we think this is how we should present ourselves? After all, the airport is not a hotel. Nor your bedroom. So why do people insist on carting around giant pillows while wearing oversized cartoon-themed pajamas?
(Public Service Announcement: please leave your pillows at home. It is extremely rude to expect the stranger sitting next to you to put up with an overstuffed pillow encroaching upon their limited personal space.)
Of course, this is not to say that some don’t go too far in the other direction. The airport is not a fashion runway, either. There is no need for skin-tight dresses or 5-inch heels. Whom are you trying to impress? But seriously, don’t torture yourself, flats are fine!
So what should one wear? Obviously personal style comes into play. You shouldn’t wear a uniform to travel. But consider your neighbors. (i.e. something freshly laundered) and consider your surroundings. Travel makes you cold, then hot, then cold again. So layer up.
Generally, I wear comfortable skinny jeans and a flowy top when I fly. I always include a jacket and avoid wearing boots or laced shoes. (Tom’s are my go-to travel footwear.) Minimal jewelry, a casual scarf (which may double as a pillow), and an easy up-do complete the look. Occasionally I’ll don a maxi skirt, tank top, and jean jacket – especially if I am traveling somewhere more conservative.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that one should copy this look or change who they are. And I certainly don’t wish to return to the days of suits, pearls, and white gloves. But have some respect, for yourself and for others.
My father loves this little anecdote: A few years back, my parents traveled to Indianapolis to see me. They mistakenly flew Southwest, which has a first-come, first-serve policy toward seating. Due to frequent gate changes and my mother’s need for last-minute bathroom breaks, they were amongst the last to board.
You can easily guess what they found: middle seats. All aisle and window seats were taken; all but one. My mother graciously took a dreaded middle, but told my father to snatch up the last available aisle. And he was grateful. He even thought the seat next to him might remain empty. The plane door was closing, there was light at the end of the tunnel, home free… up until a last minute straggler nearly fell onboard.
Bedecked in a oversized tank top that exposed his hairy chest and ample armpit hair, he was clearly sweating profusely as he made his way toward the back of the plane. As Dad tells it, the man looked around, adding suspense to the tale. He debated which painfully small middle seat to choose. Dad tensed, desperate, willing the latecomer to pick another. But to no avail. For reasons we will never know, the sweaty, under-dressed man chose the seat next to my father. (If only he knew this choice would give him a place of honor in our family folklore.)
The story goes on to recount the smell – in great detail – as well as his incessant need to lift his arms to adjust the vent, exposing his bare chest and armpit to my father’s horrified face.
But why? Why did this man choose such an inappropriate outfit? Perhaps – and I’m stretching to give him the benefit of the doubt – he overslept and almost missed this flight, which would explain his last minute arrival and state of undress. But I highly doubt this excuse fits most of the people I see at the airport.
Indeed, I began this post while sitting in Narita, waiting for my flight. The idea came to me as I noticed two young women next to me, wearing gray sweat pants, grungy (and I do mean grungy) t-shirts, and flip flops still caked in mud. Attire aside, their hair was a mess. Both looked as if it hadn’t been washed in days and was thrown up in messy buns – not the cute kind. But worst of all, last night’s makeup ran down their faces, the residue of heavy black eyeliner still visible.
I had to stop myself from staring. I could not imagine why these women, who were traveling with me from Tokyo to Minneapolis, thought it was appropriate to dress this way. Where was their self-respect?
More embarrassingly, they stood in stark contrast to the many Japanese travelers. I looked around and noticed that most far out-dressed the Americans. Perhaps it is because they are accustomed to public transit – train and bus travel a constant way of life. Perhaps it is because they are, generally, a more conservative people. But still I was astonished by the contrast: obviously American tourists wearing pajamas vs. the well-kempt women of Japan wearing comfortable dresses and stylish sandals.
This prompted me to think of an article I’d recently read about business class travel. The article posed the question: should you dress up for business class? Immediately I thought, why just business class? Does anyone actually want to look like they belong in coach? Shouldn’t we always want to live first-class lives?
Do. Please do. Live first-class lives, and dress for the life you want, not the life you have. And if that isn’t argument enough, then I’ll include a final word from my mother: “No matter where you are, always dress in a way that won’t embarrass me!”