J. Bryan Lowder at Slate thinks we should dress up when traveling.
To be fair, I do try to look good on a plane, train or bus. But only because I (almost) always try to look my best wherever I go. Granted, my interpretation might be different than the norm — for me, it usually means wearing an unwrinkled pair of khaki shorts or jeans and a clean button-down or T-shirt. I think I pull off this look, and I feel good doing it.
Isn’t that always what they say? “If you look good, you feel good.” I’m not the kind of guy who feels right in a spiffy suit. I dress up when appropriate (and look good or mostly OK doing it), but I don’t seek every opportunity to don dressy duds. When many people look at vintage photos from the early 20th century where everyone’s in their Sunday finest for a day at the beach, they pine for such a dapper era. But I tend to think, “I would have hated every tuberculosis-laden, segregated, rigid-social-mored second of it.”
The problem I have with Lowder’s pretentious screed is that it belongs in another decade, one without a 2 (and perhaps with a 5) in it. He seems to think that flying, especially, is the near-exclusive province of businesspeople heading first-class to their next business meeting, where even the plebeian coach seats are wide enough so that everyone has space for a dinner dish and an ashtray.
But the main thing that's wrong with his stance is that it isn't even rooted that much in personal dignity — it's more a case of, "Think of those around you!" Yes, the teeming paparazzi masses of judgment. Their flashbulbs are so bright that I barely notice how my slacks reduce my legroom by nearly a third.
I once wore slacks and a tie on a flight, but only because I was heading directly to a job interview two states away. Far from feeling like I classed up the express jet, I felt self-conscious when I saw an old friend in the next seat, who was heading to Atlanta with his band (and dressed the part). My getup fit for the interview (I got the job), but not so much for my perceived sense of style in transit.
That trip aside, I fly on my own time, from desert to swampland and back, in a country where you have to take off your shoes and pass through a metal detector and perhaps make friends with a wand to board your jet. Then you’re herded onto what is basically an air bus (and which was probably built by Airbus) and share closer microbe space with your seatmates then you have with some third dates. Sometimes the toilet stall works and sometimes it doesn’t. And you can get a free ginger ale if you want, but the snacks cost extra.
Flying might have been glamorous once, but that was when relatively few people could afford it (and before America lost its alleged innocence about five times over). I enjoy flying, but ultimately it’s just another means of conveyance. Just like I don’t care what fellow passengers are wearing, I doubt they’d even notice if I dressed better for a random plane trip then I do for work. If they ever do, I shall guffaw at their harrumphs.
Comfort level is something everyone should decide for themselves. If that means wearing your finest dress, go for it. If it means looking like me (or schlubbier), more power to you. But that’s your decision, not the one of a man who would deign to judge crowds of strangers. You’ll know him when you see him. He’s the one craning his head from first class to see if everyone’s noticing him.