Rant-tastic subject #143: "What to Wear on Airplanes"

juicy sweatpants

[Hint: it's not the above.]

For years, and I mean YEARS, of pretty much monthly travel, I've been boggled at what people decide is appropriate to wear on airplanes. Just absolutely boggled. The sweatpants and the stiletto mules (often on the same person), the jeans that are more holes than jeans (with matching holey t-shirts), the ratty flip-flops, the micro-minis. I could never figure it out, until last night, while waiting for the red-eye home to Chicago from SFO, I had a little epiphany, or perhaps a little interlude of sleep-deprivation. (So hard to tell the difference, really.)

My take is that people who wear clothes on airplanes that are better suited to washing a series of strangers' cars at $5/pop have essentially given up all hope that they will ever be the recipient of happy chance. They've decided serendipity is not for them, so they've forsaken the notion that perhaps one day they may need to make a good first impression on a stranger. (They've also decided that they don't ever need to be upgraded to business class, never mind first.)

Me, I won't get on a plane in anything less than I would wear to a business-casual meeting. Usually a skirt + cardigan, mostly a skirt + comfy jacket. At least two pockets are essential, so I don't have to keep digging in my bag for ID & boarding pass. Flat shoes that slip on and off easily are a must, so that I can play my walk-through role in the TSA's security theater with aplomb. (The next time I'm behind someone in strappy, multi-buckle gladiator sandals, though, I'm tossing THEM to the lions.) If I'm flying on Saturday, *maybe* I will wear sneakers, but they're nice one, not the ones I use for mowing the lawn.

This way, if I end up sitting next to someone interesting, I don't have to shout over what my clothes are saying. Last night I saw clothes that said "I model for Frederick's of Hollywood, LamĂ© Division"; clothes that said "my favorite Saturday morning cartoon and a bowl of chocolate-frosted sugar bombs are what I REALLY need right now"; and clothes that said "I can change the oil in my car — and recently have." None of those clothes said "Take me seriously, please."

I'm not against comfort — notice I said "flat shoes, comfy jacket" and I wear t-shirts, for sure, not fussy silk blouses — but there's a line between 'comfortable' and 'raggedy-ass lazy' and the airport is not the place to cross that line. An airplane is a confined space, and, like any confined space, demands MORE civility and regard for others, not less.

So, please: no more flip-flops (and if you do wear flip-flops, please try to keep track of them, so that we aren't all held up on deplaning by you searching under three rows of seats for your left one). Try for clothes that have structural integrity; turbulence can be rough, you know? And I know they sell perfume (cheap, too!) in the airport, but that doesn't mean you get to try on five different ones before you board.

Before you leave for the airport, look at yourself in the mirror, and think: Could I meet and IMPRESS someone who would change my life while wearing this? And if the answer is "No," change. And add a sweater: those planes can get cold.

0 thoughts on “Rant-tastic subject #143: "What to Wear on Airplanes"

  1. I feel that dressing appropriately on a plane, or any place in public, for that matter, is simply a matter of common courtesy. I can’t express how uncomfortable it makes me to sit next to a man (or even a woman) wearing a tank top, shorts and sandals. And don’t even get me started on the subject of wearing lounge wear or pyjamas in public… this is simply inappropriate in any setting!And for those of you who argue that you’ll never meet anyone worth knowing on a plane – a friend met her current boyfriend, a lawyer, on a flight. She was dressed, as she always is, in preppy/retro business casual. He was dressed in a suit. I doubt that either of them would have even spoken to the other if they had been wearing sweat pants and flip flops.And dressing appropriately does not require sacrificing individual style, as some people seem to think! It’s entirely possible to cover your body and look presentable while still looking like yourself!


  2. Thanks to the link from the recent packing entry, I just reread this post for the first time since its publication, and I just had to add my comment to the tiny minority of us who don’t “dress up” to fly. Flying may have required dressing up in days past, but those days are gone. I see no more societal call to dress up for a flight than to “dress for dinner” at home. If they’re going to stop giving out pretzels because the three cents a serving is breaking them, and charge me fifteen bucks to check a bag, I see no economic call to make a good impression.But mainly, like the reader Risa who commented a year ago, I love the blog, especially the vintage pictures, but I “come from a different world.”I’ve come to realize that I don’t have any reason or inclination to dress “cute,” so I stopped trying. I’ve never worn a size smaller than 14, and comfort is by far my number-one criterion in choosing clothes. I never buy shoes with heels. Nothing I own has lace or cap sleeves or a side zipper. Everything has pockets, and I never even have to check for them.In my world there are no skirts or dresses at all, and I am baffled by the near-universal opinion that they are comfortable.I had a yard sale this morning and sold my last four dresses. I now own zero, and I can’t imagine (aside from bridesmaiding and the small possibility [I’m 34] of getting married myself) ever buying another one. The only skirts I buy are those that have shorts underneath.There’s a simple reason for this: my thighs stick together. I cannot imagine any garment less comfortable than a skirt or dress. If there’s no fabric between my thighs I am miserable.And an airplane, where I’ve already been made miserable by ridiculous fake security preceded immediately by nickel-and-diming, is the last place I want to be made even more miserable by my own mistakes.


  3. Am appalled that the number of flip-flop wearers vastly outnumberes the number of folk who wisely don’t let their feet touch that pad at the security checkpoint. Really, people — studies show that what’s on the floor at the airport (let alone on the floor of the plane) makes what’s on the floor in the showers at your gym look positively domesticated. If you can afford the airfare, you can afford a pair of Hush Puppies and a nice pair of cotton socks. Otherwise, smarter travelers look at you and see not a slovenly daytripper but a disease vector. Knock it off.


  4. I don’t understand this disconnect between dressing comfortably and dressing nicely.A pretty cotton tunic dress with tights and ballet flats are just as comfy as pjs or sweats. And take the same amount of time to put on. Just because you’re not trying to impress anyone doesn’t mean that you should look slovenly. I dress up pretty much everyday because I want to look nice, whether anyone notices me or not. And I’m a former slob! I used to wear pjs in public and big ole’ tees, and toesocks with flipflops. But that was in high school. I’m a 21 year old college senior now and I like to look pretty. Whether anyone notices or not, it makes me feel great. I’m also not for everyone wearing polos and dockers (unless you like it). I’m very much an individualist, and I like to stand out. I love one of a kind things (my prized posession is a purse I found at the Salvation Army with an oldworld map printed on it) But I still like looking pretty and presentable for noone’s sake but my own. I dunno, I feel like dressing sloppily is something I did in high school, and I’ve matured since then. Plus other people have to look at me whether I care or not, and if they had to get up and dress themselves nicely, what makes me exempt?


  5. No offense, people, but what people wear ain’t gonna change just because you groan about their dirty socks, bad habits, and greasy hair at security! They are people too. Maybe their daughter is dying, or having a kid—maybe they are really a model, or just someone flying a 12 hour red-eye. What people wear, and do, is their business, not yours. And if they put a dress code on flights—I’ll be sure to skip those completely. Of course it’s kind, and nice, and christian to do the right thing, and have pose and posture, and a good knit dress, on a plane. But let me remind you—there is a soul beneath the dirty wrappers. And wearing a greasy shirt does not make you less of a person.


  6. I loved your piece of travelling and dressing for travel by air.I just returned from a knitter’s blog…wonderful stuff…but potty mouthed…I was so shocked by the words in the blog…I then stumbled upon your piece here..and just feel..there are still people out there who think as I do..whether travelling or writing.


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