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Classic Style in the Air. . .

An old travel ad notable for at least three reasons.  One, the people in it are dressed nicely rather than in Prole Drift sweats or the like.  Two, you'll observe an old Lockheed 'Constellation' in background, truly one of the most aesthetically beautiful flying machines of the pre-jet age.  My mom flew on one a few times as a girl in the 1950s.  And three, note the sadly departed (and for me, much missed) Trans World Airlines.

Great minds think alike as the overused and hackneyed expression goes, but imagine my delight when one of you suggested a post on dressing for air travel.  Since my family will spend 7+ weeks in Berlin, Germany this summer, I have mused about just such a post but have not yet written anything specific, and neither do I have personal photographs to share yet.  However, I can advise men who aspire to somewhat more stylish air travel attire than has become the typical, sloppy, and sometimes just plain gross norm in recent years.

I am old enough to recall a time before the airline industry was deregulated in the late 1970s.  Yeah.  Ancient.  I know.  One foot in the grave already and all that.  Uhhhhh!  Ok.  Got it out of your system?  Good.

Commercial air travel was not always awful.  It was a different ball of wax all together before about 1978, preserving some of its faded glamour of 25 years or so before,during the age of the jetsetters in the 1950s and early 60s.  Thank of personalities like Sinatra, Bardot, Bogarde, Hepburn, and Niven for example.  Even during my childhood, roughly a quarter-century later during the mid- to late 70s, and I remember this vividly, it was still possible to travel on a plane that was not packed to the gills with humanity, dragging along Hefty Lawn & Leaf bags (no kidding) in lieu of actual carry-on pieces.  Moreover, airline seats were somewhat larger and farther apart than is now the industry norm, so things were much more comfortable even in coach class on transatlantic flights.  Most notable, those with the means or reason to fly still dressed presentably, if not well, in those halcyon days of yore. There was smoking in-flight, granted, but that's a topic for another time.

How far we have tumbled in the last almost 40 years.  Commercial air travel now, unless you are lucky enough to be in first class, business class, or whatever a particular airline might call it, is akin to travel by a Greyhound bus.  A grungy, dirty Greyhound bus.  And then there are most of the other passengers.  Yep.  Less than pleasant.  While I have yet to reach the point where I simply refuse to fly all together, getting somewhere by air, in particular on an American airline, is an experience I neither look forward to, nor enjoy while in transit.  My last few experiences on American carriers have honestly been like being sealed in a Wal-Mart with wings for several hours or more as far as my fellow travelers, their appearance, and general behavior have been concerned.  Draw your own conclusions.

On foreign airlines like Mexicana, KLM, SAS, Lufthansa, and Air France, by contrast, the experience has been completely different from the higher caliber of flight attendants and the generally more pleasant demeanor of one's fellow passengers, right down to the more edible food. . .  Actual hot meals with utensils and wine rather than the now ubiquitous (and disgusting) cold breakfast or lunch "wraps" or little bag of unsalted pretzels with, if you are lucky, half a can of something to drink from a tiny plastic cup with a few pieces of ice floating around in it.  I could go on and on, but let's return to the original question and talk reasonably stylish and comfortable air travel attire for men.  

How can a man dress presentably and comfortably when it comes to air travel?  Off the top of my head, and based on my own practices, I suggest the following even when you are relegated to the bowels of tourist class travel:

* A navy blazer or subtly patterned sports jacket (not your very best one)
* A tucked in cotton button-down collared long-sleeved shirt of some kind with t-shirt underneath (necktie is optional)
* Pleated chinos, which will be a bit more comfortable than plain fronted, with a belt
* Understated socks in cotton or wool
* Loafers (easy to remove at security checkpoints) in a color that is close to your belt.  I have a pair of black tasseled ones by Johnston & Murphy that I travel in.
* Your briefcase with reading and writing materials, any paperwork that might need doing, a toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste or breath mints, maybe an electric shaver if you have a heavy beard, and a sleep mask.

There we are.  It's hardly James Bond in Dr. No, but functional, neat, and understated traveling attire nevertheless.  You'll be both comfortable and look better than 99% of the rest of the "boys" standing in security lines after check-in, milling around boarding areas, or those horrible morasses of humanity known as food courts, as well as on the airplane itself.  

Why bother dressing like you give a damn when you fly?  Respect for others first and foremost.  Respect for yourself after that.  And surely, you don't want to look like the hoi polloi whether you travel for business, or for pleasure.  Looking pulled together might also get you preferential treatment, or even a free upgrade.  You just never know.  Anything that might make commercial air travel less taxing in 2015 is worth it as far as I am concerned.  

I have experienced firsthand again and again, as but one example of this, how ticketing, gate, and plane personnel respond more favorably to a man who is dressed like an adult with places to go, things to do, and people to see rather than one more overgrown slob -- with McDonald's breath and a cut-rate airline ticket purchased at the last minute through Travelocity -- who arrives out of breath at the airport in sweats, pajamas, or the dreaded cargo shorts/flipflops/baseball cap combination with the waistband of his boxers sticking out for all the world to see.  We've all witnessed it.  Harsh and elitist, yes, but I make no apologies for my attitude toward this sort of thing.  Grow the hell up, have a bit more respect for yourself, and show a modicum of consideration for those around you.  Or stay home.

Oh, and as one more possible incentive for dressing well during those times when you fly somewhere, consider this.  Interesting people will strike up conversations with you as you kill time in boarding areas and on the plane.  When I was single and traveling alone, much more than I do now, any number of attractive fellow travelers of the female persuasion struck up conversations with yours truly during flights to one place or another.  Probably in part because I was dressed better than the average schlub who we see so often on airliners these days.  

To my utter astonishment, several of those ladies even purchased a drink or two for me in-flight and/or a sit-down meal once we were on the ground again between connecting flights, and a few of the more outgoing young women even surprised me by providing their contact information before we parted ways.  That actually happened a number of times during my 20s and early 30s now that I think about it, well before I met the Grand Duchess although I never followed up on any of it.  Whether you buy that, or not, I hope you might see that dressing presentably for travel by air does at least introduce the possibility of some distinct advantages during those otherwise pretty dull hours in-transit from one point on the compass to another.

In any case, being comfortable when traveling does not mean it is permissible (or necessary) to sink to the lowest common denominator when it comes to our appearance or conduct.  Too many people in 2015 do exactly that however.  Ugh!  On a final and related note, do not, under any circumstances, remove your shirt, shoes, or any other clothing -- except your blazer or jacket -- in-flight, and keep your damn feet off the seat or bulkhead in front of you.  Lay off the booze too after one drink since nothing is uglier than a drunk, especially a belligerent one on a plane.  And make no mistake about it.  The Captain will turn the plane around and taxi back to the gate, or make an emergency landing, to have federal air marshals remove your sorry ass from the flight if you cause any trouble, so don't push it.  

Behave yourself and act like an adult with some grooming and sophistication when you travel by air for the love of God.  Please.  Your fellow passengers will appreciate it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


  1. Another fine old illustration of people who knew how to dress properly for a flight:

  2. I like a navy blue silk knit tie for air travel: dressed up, yet casual and comfy. I also dress for car trips—yes, I mean a jacket & tie—and keep those clothes on the casual and comfortable side, too. Last winter, it was a tweed jacket, wool vest, wool tie, corduroys, and chukka boots.

    As for the in-flight packing list, in addition to the sleep mask, I also take earplugs and an inflatable neck pillow. Other than that, your list is pretty much complete.

  3. Airlines ought to have crash courses on how to dress presentably and how NOT to dress for the people who buy tickets these days. I know, I know. Hey, a guy can dream, right?

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

  4. People used proper suitcases, as well:


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All opinions are welcome here. Even those that differ from mine. But let's keep it clean and civil, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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