"Mad Men’s" Don Draper knew how to dress for a flight (Source: AMC)
Certain elements of plane travel — like being able to smoke on board — are best left in the past. But there’s one old-school flying tradition which I’d like to re-introduce: dressing up for flights. For years, I’ve been trying to uphold that tradition single-handedly. Like young Manny from “Modern Family,” who also gets decked out for flights, I’m also “just a kid trying to bring class back to travel.”
It’s not like I board flights wearing tuxedos, nor do I habitually suit up Don Draper-style (although that does happen sometimes). My usual flying attire consists of jeans, a button-up shirt, and a suit jacket — the latter mainly because I hate how wrinkled jackets can get when you pack them.
But even in my business-casual flying attire, I often end up feeling overdressed, as many of my fellow passengers look as if they just rolled out of bed: old shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, yoga pants. Not that I have a problem with any of those particular items of clothing; I sometimes sport them myself (except for the yoga pants; I’ve been told I can’t quite pull them off). It’s just that I long for the time in the not-too-distant past when flying was considered a special, glamorous occasion and people dressed accordingly. You see it on “Mad Men,” where Don looks his Dapper Draper-best whenever he takes to the skies.
Back when flying was a glamorous occasion (Photo: Getty Images)
I wasn’t around during the “Mad Men” era, but my parents were. And when I was a kid, they made us dress nicely whenever we flew. They never explained why (they’re also from the era when a child’s “Why?” was answered with “Because I said so!”). But I suspect they felt that if we kids dressed better, we’d feel and act better. And considering how nicely I remember the adults dressing for flights back then, a lot of others agreed.
Today: More casual flight attire is the norm (Photo: Getty Images)
So what happened? The consensus seems to be that airline deregulation in the late ’70s increased airline competition and lowered fares, which made flying no longer an exclusive luxury for society’s well-heeled and opened up the skies to less affluent, and more casually dressed, fliers. I find that line of reasoning simplistic and more than a little snobby. It’s not as if casual dress is the exclusive domain of the working class; anyone who’s seen Mark Cuban or Mark Zuckerberg knows that. Heck, on a recent flight from L.A., I saw a woman decked out head to toe in expensive designer sweats that easily cost hundreds of dollars.
No, the decline in airplane dress standards is not a socioeconomic issue. I think it’s the result of two factors. One is the general casualization of our culture. Churches, offices, and fine restaurants have relaxed their written and unwritten dress codes. Airlines clearly followed suit, no pun intended.
But there’s another, more significant reason why flying attire has become less glamorous: because flying has become less glamorous. Instead of pampering you with free meals and wide seats, airlines now pack you onto cramped planes that are more like aerial cattle cars, and they nickel and dime you for every last soda and carry-on. Before you even get on the plane, you’re herded en masse through long lines, ordered to strip, and patted down. It’s hard to feel “Mad Men”-glamorous when you’re standing in a TSA scanner trying to figure out how to hold your hands up while keeping your pants from falling down because your belt’s 10 feet away in the metal detector. In the face of all the in-flight and pre-flight indignities that accompany modern air travel, it’s easy to see why many fliers view getting dressed up as one more aerial hassle. “I just want to be comfortable” is the common refrain you hear when you ask passengers about their flying attire.
No doubt about it: flying is now a not-so-glamorous experience (Photo: AP)
To that I say, yes: Dress up and you may be less comfortable. Dress down and you may be comfortable. For a little while. But after you’ve reached your destination many hours from now, would you be willing to trade all that time in Crocs and DC T-shirts for one chance, just one chance, to dress up and relive the adventure and glamour of air travel? To tell our airborne tormentors that they may take our 4-ounce tubes of toothpaste, but they’ll never take … OUR DIGNITY! Fliers, it’s time to suit up!
We want to know what you think. Should we start dressing up for flights again? Hit us up in comments.