On Sunday, Twitter dutifully obeyed its circadian rhythm and hosted its daily outrage conference, this time over a decision by a United Airlines gate agent to ban two teenage girls from boarding a flight due to their inappropriate attire—leggings. No word on whether this was either of the offending pairs.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, began tweeting about the decision after encountering the family of the denied girls at the Denver International Airport. At first, Watts assumed the gate agent’s decision manifested a malevolent United policy for all customers to “police women’s clothing.”
United soon clarified, however, that the girls were “pass travelers,” a term for those using employee flight benefits. As it turns out, regular passengers are free to wear all the LuLaRoe they desire. Those flying at the company’s expense, however, are subject to the company’s dress code, which gave the gate agent authority to declare the young ladies’ ensembles out of bounds.
Unsurprisingly, the clarification did not mollify the outrage of Watts or anyone else who had already declared United the official airline of the patriarchy. It is the current year, you see, and in the current year, “appropriate attire” means “whatever a woman chooses to wear,” something United should have recognized, it seems.
Likewise, Watts insisted, declaring that leggings are not sufficiently dressy apparel is an attempt to sexualize any pre-teen who wears them, an assertion that would make more sense if we lived in a universe where “those aren’t business casual pants” and “those are prostitute pants” were synonymous.
This Is an Opportunity For All of Us
Normally I would not write about the social media fight over clothing classifications and airline policies, as I’m generally of the belief that a bunch of people yelling about something on Twitter is never news. However, the argle-bargle did bring to light an issue of greater societal importance.
United never would have booted the young ladies from the flight if they had worn more professional attire. The reason they didn’t is most likely because nobody else wears such clothing on a flight. We Americans, you see, have developed a bad habit of dressing like slobs while flying, and it’s high time we experience some national shame over this.
We’ve seen them sitting across the aisle, the young women in baggy shirts and pajama pants who put their bare feet up on the seat back as though they’ve boarded their own airborne celebrity rehab facility. We’ve witnessed them in the security line, the bros sporting sleeveless T-shirts, their armpit hair brandishing deodorant clumps and acting as though it has some constitutional right to assault our eyeballs. We’ve sat next to them, pasty-thighed men in jean shorts and flip flops who inch their fungus-covered toenails closer to us with every page-flip of SkyMall magazine. But not only have we seen these people, we have been these people.
The time has come to stop treating the airplane cabin like a locker room or a slumber party, and to start dressing like the exemplary people we are. Chuck Yeager didn’t break the sound barrier so his fellow Americans could wear yoga clothes aboard the Concorde II. Jonas Salk didn’t cure polio so we could cover our healthy legs with sweatpants while traveling from New York to Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan didn’t defeat communism so we could dress like Leningrad hoodlums on our flight home to Topeka for Thanksgiving.
And whoever invented spray-on cheese didn’t toss his accomplishments atop the mountain of American exceptionalism so we could board first-class in the attire you’d normally wear while, you know, eating spray on-cheese. Get your pumps and your sport coats ready, ladies and gentlemen of America. It’s time to class up the friendly skies.
Air Travel’s Degradations Are No Excuse
Defenders of schlub apparel will insist that airlines have done nothing to earn a crisp suit or a cocktail dress from us. In 2014, for example, Madeleine Davies of Jezebel argued that airlines offering you cramped seating and nonexistent customer service don’t deserve anything better than flu apparel. “Treat me like a sky peasant and I will dress like a sky peasant,” she proclaimed.
While I agree that both airlines and airports have a tendency to treat travelers poorly, in the end, the gym clothes protest doesn’t harm those in power. It harms those in your proximity. The CEO of United isn’t sitting beside you as you fly coach back to Chicago. I am. He doesn’t have to dodge your pit stains as you pull your bag out of the overhead compartment. I do.
Please don’t punish me because some stingy flight attendant wouldn’t give you the whole can of Schweppes. Instead, tie a clean-dimpled half Windsor around your neck, gentleman. Polish your Johnston and Murphy’s, strut onto that cramped cabin like you own the place, and you just might remind the airline that you’re a dadgum real American who deserves all 12 ounces of that ginger ale goodness.
Others will argue that dressing with sophistication while being relegated to an economy seat would be an act of insanity and betrayal of your socioeconomic station. “Why wear the clothing of the upper crust when you’ll never enjoy their luxuries,” some may ask. But embracing class immobility is the vice of the British, not the virtue of Americans.
So, ladies, do your hair, don your Sunday best, and occupy your tiny spot with grace. Dress for the seat you want, not the seat you have and, one day, when airlines regain their sanity and begin kicking customers out of first class for wearing cargo shorts or jeggings, you will have your reward in the form of that recently vacated, fully reclining seat.
Your Comfort Is Less Important than Your Dignity
Many others will simply insist that the issue is purely one of comfort. Even if you can afford to fly in style, they argue, you should still fly in rags. “When I’m crammed into a seat and can’t even get up for three hours,” one tweeter put it, “I generally want to be comfortable.”
But the point is that you aren’t comfortable. Banging your knees on a tray table is tortuous. Stewing in the recycled air is stifling. Fighting the guy next to you for the armrest is tedious. In every conceivable way, flying is insufferable, so there’s no point in wasting your vegging clothes on an environment where you won’t be able to perceive the benefits they offer you. Wearing comfy clothes on an airplane is only slightly less irrational than wearing them to your execution.
But more importantly, shoving your sharpest duds in the face of hardship is the American way. If your ancestors dressed up for the 1918 flu pandemic and the Great Depression, you can do likewise for a four-hour flight next to an overly chatty stranger with a lack of self-awareness and an abundance of body odor.
We are Americans. We are a people who break through barriers and eradicate diseases and overthrow tyranny and aerosolize cheddar. We are a people who accomplish great things, or at least we did before we got sidetracked yelling about imaginary sexism on the Internet. It’s time to remember who we are. It’s time to ditch the leggings, put on our big kid slacks, board that 747, and seize our destiny once again.