Is a dress code needed for flying?
"I'm old enough to remember when my parents dressed us up for air travel," designer Steven Stolman says. "Coat and tie, dresses."
And now, Palm Beach's Stolman--and all of us--have lived long enough to witness a different sort of sartorial air flare, with passengers traveling dressed for bed or the gym. Or, in the case of deliciously named burlesque dancer Maggie McMuffin, not traveling, at least not on JetBlue, not until she changed her teeny-tiny shorts.
To McMuffin and her supporters, the decision of JetBlue staff to make her buy another pair of shorts before letting her board her connecting flight from Boston to Seattle was being miso-gynistic, or at least unfair, since that airline, like most, doesn't have a set dress code, and the decision was made by staff members who believed her shorts might "offend other families," according to an official statement.
But to Stolman and others, it's McMuffin and her booty-shorted, track-suited, wrinkled T-shirt cohort that are unfair--to everyone else on the plane.
"[It] shows a lack of respect to the flight attendants and pilots who always look so professional and whose job it is to get us from Point A to Point B as safely and comfortably as possible, let alone fellow passengers," says Stolman, who traces the current casual plane attire to the last decade and the popularity of expensive Juicy track suits "with bugle beads across your butt. ... Should that passenger have been denied boarding? Absolutely. She should also have been denied egress from her front door, by something called her own common sense and good taste."
What's happening isn't just about fashion trends--and anyone who had to walk behind girls at summer festivals with literally half their backsides hanging out of their jeans shorts knows those have changed--but about how "in general we've become a much more casual society," says Sheila Hills, who worked for 20 years as a ticket agent for a major carrier at Palm Beach International Airport.
Hills has the stories to back it up: "There was an actual incident with this gentleman who was wearing a shirt with [an expletive] on it, and we told him that if he wanted to fly, he had to either turn it inside out or wear a different shirt. You would see young girls almost in their pajamas, in slippers and T-shirts, with their hair all pulled back on early-morning flights like they just rolled out of bed," she says.Read more at:
"One time, there were girls, who I think were on some sort of sports team, sitting on the ground waiting for their plane, passing [the same] stick of deodorant back and forth to each other. I thought, 'Is the toothbrush coming out next, I wonder?'"
As Stolman and Hills acknowledge, we are no longer in the golden Pan-Am era where air travel was a rare privilege "with that specialness about it, because it wasn't an everyday occurrence," Hills, of Palm Beach Gardens, says. "Now it's such a common mode of transportation, no different than driving in a car. They don't feel there's anything special about it."
Things do change. But should there be a line between comfort and couth? Delray Beach designer and former Project Runway star Amanda Perna thinks so: "People should be comfortable, but considerate of other passengers."
When I'm on long car trips, I'm all about comfort. Kick off those shoes, take off that bulky sweater, let your bra straps and your soup-spotted T-shirt show. But before I get out of the car, the shoes go back on and the bra straps and soup stains go back under the sweater, because I'm now in public.
I feel the same about air travel. I dress for flights because I want to get off the plane giving the family members waiting for me the impression that I always look that way.
Airlines, like most private businesses, reserve the right to refuse service to anyone--if they're too drunk, too belligerent, too threatening, or dressed in a way that the staff or other passengers find offensive or distracting, whether it's too much cleavage, or naughty words, or dumb messages about terrorism.
And I get that, although as a writer who pays for my rent and my decidedly non-booty shorts with my own self-expression, I don't take the idea of policing people's clothing lightly. Everything offends somebody, and if that somebody happens to be between you and your flight home, it's tricky.
Then again, current fashions, like jeans shorts cut so high that the pockets are hanging out, threaten to turn me into some judgy old church lady like Sanford and Son's Aunt Esther.
If you like your backside, you and everyone who wants to see it are free to walk around with it on display at home. But the public, who paid to be at that festival, that mall or on that plane, should not have to look at your butt.
Then again, it's hard to dress to a certain standard when the latest and most popular fashions available don't meet them. Victoria's Secret's bralette commercials invite women to "let the bra show" and shorts the length of McMuffin's that might have once been sold in the pajama or lingerie department are now in the regular clothing section.
McMuffin's shorts, little thingees about the length of a boy's short underwear or swim trunks, weren't just worn for comfort, but were coordinated with matching long stripy socks and some sort of hideous retro tiger sweater that looked like a 1970s rug wall hanging. She was trying to dress cute, and as a burlesque dancer, knew she was being provocative, although maybe not enough to provoke getting pulled from her flight.
As she pointed out, the staff and passengers on her originating flight didn't have a problem with it. (A friend also pointed out to me that McMuffin is aware enough of social mores to have worn studious glasses, long pants and a shrug during her subsequent TV interview.)
But obviously, the ones in Boston did, and even though it was inconvenient and likely embarrassing to have to run and buy more shorts at a kiosk, for which she was reimbursed, McMuffin was subject to the airline's subjectivity. It might not be fair. But those are the rules.
Should they be? Not for me to say. But as long as the public gets a vote, they get to, if they choose, sometimes vote you and your shorts off the island, or just off the plane. The tribe, and the plane, have spoken.