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Health, Beauty & Fashion

High Fashion

As more people fly, clashing dress styles up in the air are becoming more common. With different views on appropriate attire, can a common ground in the sky be found?
The Straits Times - September 21, 2012
By: Ong Soh Chin
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High Fashion PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

For many Singaporeans, frequent long distance travel is now a way of life. We cross time zones in the air with nonchalance, as if we were zipping from one shopping mall to another on terra firma.

And we have become conversant in the unspoken dress codes of different destination cities, pulling on a pair of boots here and shedding a cardigan there.

Some cities, like New York in summer, for example, allow for more casual outfits - I lived in my red Havaianas on my recent trip there - while others demand crisper and more formal attire. Paris, the city I visited after New York, seems to demand a stricter adherence to style and decorum. I wouldn't wear flip-flops to a nice restaurant there. But I most certainly could and did in New York.

But to get to any destination, one first has to board a plane and be suspended in travel aspic - in a no man's land in the skies - for numerous hours. And it is this amorphous state which can confound even the most seasoned traveller.

Recently, a woman flying from Las Vegas in the United States on Southwest Airlines reported that she was confronted by an airline employee for showing too much cleavage. In another case, a passenger on American Airlines was told off by the pilot because she was wearing a T-shirt with a four-letter word. She was allowed to keep flying after draping a shawl over the shirt.

Last year, Deshon Marman, an American college football player, was hauled off a US Airways flight and arrested at San Francisco International Airport after he refused to pull up his low-slung pants. His lawyer pointed out that the same airline had repeatedly allowed a middle-aged man to travel wearing women's underwear and not much else.

The local prosecutor declined to file charges against Marman.

In news reports, the lawyer, Mr Joseph D. O'Sullivan, said: "You can't let someone repugnant like that (the cross-dresser) on the plane and single out this kid because he's black, wearing dreadlocks and had two or three inches of his underwear showing. They can't arrest him for what someone perceives to be inappropriate attire."

Others may disagree, and therein lies the problem. While different countries have different codes and rules regarding appropriate attire, how do all these different attitudes find a common ground in the sky?

In certain countries, wearing a miniskirt in public could get one thrown in jail. But up in the air, does one have a right to dictate how others should dress? Or is it every man and woman for himself?

No one knows, simply because there are no firm rules. Today, air travellers run the gamut from the well-groomed to the barely decent. Most people, however, fall safely in between.

Some people make an effort to change into sleepwear mid-flight and to freshen up and dress up properly before disembarking. These are the people who get off a plane looking poised, scrubbed and uncreased. They are also usually called Victoria Beckham.

Others, like me, go the distance in a T-shirt, a pair of comfy jeans and what I call my airplane hoodie - an ancient track jacket that has seen better days but is as reassuring to me as a security blanket.

But even a T-shirt may not be acceptable. Last month, Arijit Guha, a graduate student at Arizona State University, was barred from a Delta Airlines flight in New York because he had on his a deliberately misspelled slogan, "Terrists gonna kill us all". While Guha said he was making a satirical statement about racial profiling by airlines, it is understandable why officials were less than amused, especially in today's fraught socio-political climate.

The truth is, while many of us do not pay much attention to how we dress on flights, our carelessness may be misinterpreted by people with partisan interests and sensibilities, and then amplified by online chatter.

Take the Marman case earlier. US Airways spokesman John McDonald told American media that no passengers had complained about the cross-dresser until his photo in women's underwear was circulated on the Internet.

He said the airline doesn't have a dress code but that employees may talk to a passenger if other people might be offended by the way he's dressed.

Personally, I don't have an issue with cross-dressers or people wearing low-slung jeans on flights, as long as they keep a low profile and they don't smell bad.

In fact, what is more disruptive up in the air is not what one sees, but what one hears and smells. One can shut one's eyes, but not one's nose and ears.

So I have more of an issue with rowdy drunken passengers and ill-behaved children whose parents allow them to use the aisles as a playground. If airline staff want to start muscling in on miscreants, they should start with those violations first, rather than focus on how a person dresses, if you ask me.

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