Ed Betz  /  AP file
Holy jeans and flip-flops won't get you an upgrade. Instead, dress to impress — it's one of the best ways to be upgraded to first class.
By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 9/18/2007 7:54:28 PM ET 2007-09-18T23:54:28
COMMENTARY

The days of dressing up for air travel have mostly departed. Back when flying was a bigger deal, passengers would wear suits and dresses on the airplane, and stewardesses (yes, they were called "stewardesses" back then) would collect the passengers' hats and gloves before takeoff. Today you're more likely to see shorts and sweats at the airport. This is partly because air travel is now mass-market transportation, and partly because the airlines have crammed so many seats into such a small space that travelers have been forced to wear comfortable clothes in self-defense.

I am no fashion expert. I'm a flight attendant, and if you see me on the airplane I'll be the one whose tie matches the curtains; it's someone's crazy idea of a clever uniform. But I have learned through the years which attire travels best and which travels worst. But before I get to that, let me tell you about some of the fashion extremes I've seen at the airport and aboard my flights over the years.

Ladies of the flight. Friday flights to Las Vegas never fail to bring out a flock of women ready to ply the oldest occupation in history, and let's just say they dress the part.

The old switcheroo. I have seen passengers board as men and deplane as women and —believe it or not — vice versa.

Having their say. I have seen shirts advocating guns, gun control, Greenpeace, religion, the right to choose, polygamy, the legalization of marijuana and countless other causes. I've even seen one announcing that the wearer was a "Proud Crack Whore." While I certainly believe in the freedom of speech, wearing an "Osama Lives" T-shirt is not the smartest fashion statement at the airport.

New styles. I never understood the appeal of low-riding pants and exposed boxer shorts. Now young men and women are adding views of half of their backsides as well, and I don't get that either. Another new style is a long strand of material wrapped continuously around the body. It doesn't allow you to walk freely, and as far as I can see is completely cumbersome and impractical for travel. New style? Hardly. Isn't that how the mummies were dressed thousands of years ago?

Curlers galore. Some women think it's a good idea to board and fly with their hair in curlers, so when they land they can look fabulous. The end product might be satisfactory, but the stares and chuckles they get hardly make it worthwhile in my book. Plus, curlers must be uncomfortable to sleep on. But then again, I don't have much hair to deal with.

And here are my fashion tips for your next flight.

1. Shoe business. Do not wear new shoes on a long flight. They will quite likely be uncomfortable, cause blisters and may ruin your trip. Wear the ones you know to be comfortable and, if possible, bring the ones that lace up rather then slip on. The flight can make your feet swell and those slip-ons will turn into force-ons.

2. Banish those wrinkles. You may have a favorite outfit that you love to wear, but if it needs constant ironing, keep it in the suitcase or leave it at home. Those cramped airplane seats are wrinkle factories. Instead, wear something that is relatively wrinkle-free, like a polo shirt or even something made of polyester, like my uniform. OK, my uniform is over the top in that material, but there are nice versions.

3. Expect spills. When it comes to serving drinks, keep in mind that flight attendants aren't perfect, turbulence can occur and your seat partner may be a klutz. Bring an extra set of clothing in your carry-on bag in case you need to change in a hurry.

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4. Dress to impress. Want to be considered for an upgrade? Flip-flops, shorts and a Corona beer T-shirt are not going to get it for you. One of the best ways to be upgraded to first class is to dress the part.

5. Temperature control. It can be tough to get the temperature you want on an airplane. In-flight blankets are disappearing and older aircraft cannot maintain a constant temperature throughout the cabin. The best way to avoid becoming too cold or too hot is to dress in layers and add or subtract items of clothing as you need to.

6. Material girl. Pick clothes that stretch a little. The cabin pressure can make your body swell all over so your clothes need to be able to give a little with you.

7. See-throughs and lingerie. Recently, Southwest Airlines made headlines when a flight crew denied boarding to a woman who was wearing a miniskirt. I saw her outfit and it was nothing compared to the see-through shirts, dresses and lingerie some passengers wear. I have even seen a guy try to board in nothing but a T-shirt and a banana hammock. Do you really want people staring at your bits all day? Seeing less is best.

8. Try the new fads elsewhere. Yes, the latest style calls for low-cut jeans that let your midriff hang out, but this look doesn't work for everyone. Unless you want to be stared it, go with an outfit you have worn successfully before.

9. Comfort can look good. You don't have to wear sweats or tank tops and shorts to be comfortable on the flight. Your favorite button-up shirt and khaki pants are just as relaxed and look 100 percent better.

10. Easy access. Face facts: You don't want to spend more time in the airplane lavatory than necessary. If you have to spend more than 60 seconds undoing snaps or unraveling accessories to perform a necessary bodily function, it's just not worth it. Easy access should be a high priority.

Yes, gone are the days of dressing up to fly to Grandma's. Besides business travelers, most of the fancy dressers are airline employees, who have to follow a dress code. In some ways, I'm glad dress has become a bit more informal; I'm especially happy to sit back at the airport and watch the sartorial parade passing by. So go ahead: Express yourself.

Or maybe not.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.

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