Originally posted March 22, 2010 on http://www.loyolalooks.wordpress.com
No one dresses up to travel anymore. In a world where self-proclaimed “fashion icons” along the lines of Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan roll out bed and board their international, first-class flights in ragged sweatpants tucked into monstrous UGGs, sporting greasy mops of hair piled carelessly atop their heads, it is nearly impossible to even remember a time of “dressing up” to travel.
It is interesting to ponder what life must have been like when people actually cared about how they looked when they traveled. The era of heels, stockings, ties, scarves and designer pantsuits for jetsetters certainly feels long gone by now, but even as recent as the 1960s, travel was a luxury that not everyone could afford. The acquisition of a plane ticket spoke to status, and travelers would certainly want to live up to their sartorial expectations and don their very best “travel” attire. Those who had the opportunity to travel via air were certainly up to the task of putting forward a stylish traveling outfit.
In shows like Mad Men, we can see the distinguished look of suits that men chose to wear aboard aircrafts in the glamorous 1960’s. In the classic film The Sound of Music, set in the 1930’s, the escaping von Trapps are almost given away by their “traveling clothes” when stopped by Nazi patrolmen. The fact that their attire was more altered than expected for a prominent family with the noble title of “von” to attend a musical performance speaks to the distinction between clothes meant for traveling and clothes worn for any other occasion.
Those traveling wanted all their aristocratic, sophisticated, stylish, well-to-do comrades to see them in their best clothes, and it became a bit of a fashion show to see who could “one-up” the other when it came to stylish traveling attire. Yes, there was a time when people saved special clothes for special occasions. And traveling was, until recently, considered a special occasion.
Back in the day, there were even regulations on airline stewardess height and weight, which the industry claimed was to promote easy movement throughout the tiny aisles, but let’s face it: they wanted the employees to look good in the tight skirts and low-cut uniform blouses. Call this sexism or snobbism or objectification or whatever, but there is no doubt that this element of “status” and “sophistication” associated with traveling—thanks in large part to the image put forth by the very first stewardesses—was a huge contribution to the boom in commercial aviation. People always want to show off and move up in society, and flying offered wealthy people of the 1960’s a chic avenue to display their impeccable style.
Even the word posh derives its roots from the act of traveling in style. During the advent of cruise ships, (think the Titanic, Queen Elizabeth II and liners that Grace Kelly would have taken to Monaco in the 1950’s) only the wealthiest of people could afford steam rail. These “first class” passengers desired to be seen as the most sophisticated and elegant travelers aboard, so they would request a port room for the journey abroad, and then a suite on the starboard side of the ship for their return journey. This practice led to the easy to remember phrase “Port Out Starboard Home= POSH”. Now, to be “posh” means to exude elegance, class, taste and sophisticated style once associated with the luxurious act of sea travel. And, of course, this is why Victoria Beckham acquired her Spice Girl moniker.
Today, though, when one looks around an airport, it becomes clear the days of posh travel attire are a distant memory. I find it positively depressing and disheartening to look around a boarding gate in the States and see very attractive, obviously well-off people looking completely disheveled and chaotic as they board the plane.
With oversize sweatshirts falling off them, or hanging around their waists, while struggling beneath the weight of several overstuffed bags hanging from their shoulders and rolling along behind them, most American travelers are not only unkempt and untidy looking, but they also appear disorganized, which becomes an issue of safety and security, especially when traveling internationally. Not to say that comfort is not important. No one wants to sit in a tiny airplane seat for several hours wearing a binding mini-dress or a restricting necktie.
The fashion show days are sadly long gone, and you don’t have to dress to the nines to travel in style, but that is certainly no excuse to look like you literally rolled out of bed to arrive at the airport and in the process dragged half your bedding with you. A pair of well-fitted black knit pants are just as comfortable as a pair of old Juicy sweatpants, yet you look ever so much more refined. Men can easily remove their formal overcoats or blazers once seated on the plane, enjoy the flight in the comfort of a crewneck sweater and feel just as cozy as when covered in a Red Sox sweatshirt. One does not have to sacrifice elegance and sophistication to enjoy a comfortable, relaxing journey.
Another important element of traveling in elegant comfort is knowing what to bring with you. You just do not need to bring your entire bed with you. If you don’t want to be troubled with a pillow at all but still desire rest during the flight, I find that a soft pashmina or scarf propped up against the window works perfectly well. Another option that I often utilize on flights to tropical weather when leaving Boston snow is traveling in shoes and socks but including flip flops in my carry-on to change into upon landing, as well as throwing a yummy pair of socks in my bag to keep my feet warm for the flight home to a colder climate. There are so many easy, chic alternatives to schlepping unnecessary belongings that there is simply no excuse in this day and age. Victoria Beckham has even admitted that she changes into pajamas (Burberry silk pajama pants, of course) for her long flights between Los Angeles and the UK. However, she always changes from her comfort attire into an undeniably chic dress or pant style for de-boarding and strutting throughout the airport. This concept of constantly stylish comfort and never looking slovenly is what makes her style so easy and attainable, at whatever budget.
You don’t have to be rich anymore to travel or to look stylish while doing so. Nearly every department, outlet, discount and thrift shop will offer a more tailored, silhouetted option to whatever beat-up sweatshirt you are traveling in. It is certainly worth the money to invest in a purchase that will offer you countless hours of comfort aboard long flights without weighing you down with dowdiness in the process. Luggage is very reasonably priced, and there are dozens of varieties in sizes and colors and styles that will lend themselves nicely to carry-on pieces, ready and waiting to hold your most precious items and on-board comfort items.
You never know whom you might meet on a flight. On a flight to Zurich then en route to Paris, my mother and I encountered the former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis and his wife. They obviously could not have cared less about my outfit, but I still felt better walking by them not dressed like I was ready to attend a slumber party. It’s also important to dress up if you ever dream of the opportunity of getting bumped up to first class. For long flights, my motto is “Why not ask?” and if you ask the ticket agent at the gate for a first class upgrade while clad in tattered sweatpants and a worn-out dumpy sweatshirt, chances are they will decline even if there is ample space available. But if you dress like you belong (not being too obvious, or uncomfortable, but just sophisticated and put together nicely), you greatly increase your chances of a first class upgrade. This is one of those situations in which if you look like you belong and act like you belong, no one will question you. The worst-case scenario? There’s no room in first class. But at least you tried and gave yourself a fighting chance of experiencing the magic beyond the other side of the drawn curtain.
I openly long for the days when style and fashion were important at all—especially to those who decided to put their image on display when traveling internationally to some of the most sophisticated places in the world. So please excuse my snobbish attitude if I scoff a bit when I see tabloid pictures of Lo Bosworth, Mischa Barton or some other faux celebrities who claim to be “so into fashion” or even some (gasp!) who make a side-living as a figurehead fashion “designer,” shuffling through LAX, JFK, CDG and Heathrow looking like nothing more than a homeless vagabond wearing designer sunglasses.
Please, bring back the sophisticate travel attire! What are some of your comfortable, stylish travel tips?
first photo courtesy of ligress.com
second photo courtesy of www.x17online.com
third photo courtesy of rolemommy.com
fourth photo courtesy of coutureinthecity.com
fifth photo courtesy of socialmoms.net
sixth photo courtesy of peoplestylewatch.com
seventh photo courtesy of drfunkenberry.com
eighth photo courtesy of main.stylist.com
ninth photo courtesy of zimbio.com