Flying Fashion: Soar Above the Sweatpants

American travellers can do more to reflect their nation’s greatness by changing their fashion choices in airports.

America, being a country of contrasts, may be a cliché but it is one that certainly comes to life when looking at the sartorial choices of many of its people. Needless to say, on one hand, the United States is blessed with incredible ingenuity, dynamism and innovation: every time I spend time in it I am amazed by its “can-do” attitude and its great creative energy. Yet on the other hand, I am constantly disappointed by how so many Americans choose to dress. Indeed, many would agree that outside some its fashionable clusters, a great deal of Americans in plain sight are quite aesthetically challenged when it comes to clothing.

Land of Sweatpants

It seems that all too often America has become the land of the sweatpants flying free… and some brave running shoe choices. I recently witnessed this disaster when flying through one of America’s major airport hubs while engaging in one of my favourite activities: people watching while enjoying Klezmer music and drinking mimosas.

Men's fashion choices for the airport.When sitting in an airport, one tends to notice the many different types of travelers. Among them are the typical scenes of large, stressed-out families off to tropical destinations or sports nuts going to loudly cheer on their teams. One of my favourite types of traveler include the boxy-suited “business pros” on the road looking beyond exhausted and resembling a scene out of the cautionary tale on the American Dream [cue John Boehner tears] or an Enterprise advertisement. Inevitably, a few plaid-draped hipsters in a band carrying their instruments to their next stop will walk by. Finally, prisoners, soldiers and pensioners seem to make up the rest of the lot.

Apart from the few fast food franchises I could do without seeing ever again, my experience in American airports has always been one of ‘shock and awe’ at the appearance of most people traveling through. This problem seems to get worse the further south and east one goes (sorry Atlanta and Houston). What really perplexes me as a foreigner and frequent patron of America’s great outlet malls is how people can look so fashion challenged despite having access to amazing brands at low prices. Apparently, America’s lynchpin status in the world and its economies of scale in pretty much every consumer item have yet to “trickle down” to the masses.

Regaining Self Respect

Men's accessory choices for fashionable flying.What is even more confusing? To me, it is the fact that so many people undertake to travel through airports knowing that they will inevitably be looked at by thousands of people. Some may pretend not to people watch but I know everyone does it. Some even take this tradition into the levels of an Olympic sport (I’m looking at you Mindthis Columnists). So where’s the vanity, y’all?

Below are the some of the outfits-to-avoid that I have observed (without hyperbole) in a couple of hours of people watching:

· Jean shorts with hiking shoes
· Cargo pants and square toed loafers
· Strange high heeled men’s slip on shoes
· Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Cowboy’s branded sportswear, too big as is custom
· A hoodie with every NBA team on it
· Velcro walking shoes on the young
· Huge golf shirts
· Baggy mom jeans for men
· Mustard-drenched T-shirts down to the knees
· Rodeo shirts and New Balance running shoes
· Camo leggings
· Moomoos
· Sweat pants too short, too long and always too much
· Tube socks of every colour between black and grey
· Short sleeve shirts and ties out of NASA Mission Control in the 1960s
· Light-up shamrock necklaces and shamrock glasses the size of one’s face worn at 8 am
· Sandals and socks
· Scrubs that aren’t actually scrubs
· A baggy juicy couture knockoff track suit sagging in all the wrong places
· Ohhhhhh and of course, the ubiquitous FANNY PACK (if you need it for health reasons, I respect it)

In all of this cacophony of fashion crime it seemed the best of the worst were the omnipresent and oh-so-American baggy men’s pleated khakis. Yes, one may look like a low-end GOP staffer in them but at least they tend to be clean and can be considered the best of the “99 percent”, if you will. To be fair, about 1 in 100 people walking by were quite well put together, probably walking to or from the business class lounges. These “1 percenters” clearly took time to consider their appearance and that investment of a few extra minutes certainly showed.

The levels of air travel have expanded greatly from their classy, albeit highly romanticized heydays of the 1950s and 1960s. Why, then, has this happened?

Declining Prestige and Prices

Required reading for flying internationally.I suspect the cause may have to do with the spread of consumer culture and the fact that technology becomes cheaper as economies of scale pick up. The luxury of air travel has become available to a much wider base of society; in fact, real prices of airline tickets have fallen 50% since 1978. Undoubtedly, this has contributed to the decline in peoples’ appearances when traveling. I fear the rise of the Sweatpant People has less to do with the ‘proletarianization’ of air travel and more to do with an all out comfort, luxury and “me” culture that seems ubiquitous with the decline of once-great societies.

Message to America (and anyone else paying attention)

In all, my message to America is as follows:

If you aspire to be the global hegemon, or at least regain your place, your people should start dressing more like it. Take a quick read of the real meaning of fashion by Terryl Knox Mariano Magbanua and then take some advice from our Russian fashion columnist Nikita Alentyev. It’s high time to start reflecting how amazing of a nation America actually is.