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How To Dress For Air Travel - What To Wear

IT'S the beginning of another summer travel season, and passengers at some of the busiest airports look little different than if they were shopping at a mall, their increasingly casual wardrobe of T-shirts and shorts having eclipsed any remnants of the golden era of travel, that time before airline deregulation led to cheap tickets, when dressing for the airport meant dressing up.

But take a closer look, and it's apparent that many travelers are even less well dressed than if they were at the mall. Savvy passengers have discerned the subtleties of passing hassle free through the Transportation Security Administration's checkpoints. Chic at the airport this summer means no lace-up dress shoes, no belts, no heavy-metal jewelry, no jackets required.

Dressing up isn't worth the effort when it is likely to lead to the sort of indignities experienced last week by Donna Repko, a business traveler at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. After passing through security in the late afternoon rush on her way home to Boston, Ms. Repko suddenly turned to a screener and said with a sense of urgency, "I think my jacket got caught in your machine." A moment later, a gray plastic bin poked its way through the X-ray machine. Scrunched beneath it was a ball of white pleated cotton, smudged with black streaks. "This is why I don't dress up for travel," Ms. Repko said.

For decades, the old fashioned have lamented the way young people - and now most people - dress for air travel. The advent of more stringent security measures in the nearly four years since the 9/11 attacks might have been expected to usher in a return to formal dressing, as a way of appearing respectable and drawing less scrutiny. But in fact the opposite seems to have happened.

"If you have on a fine suit, you don't want to fold it up and put it through that machine," said Richard B. Lanman, a medical lecturer from Los Altos, Calif., who travels at least three days a week. "I think there is generally an incentive to be more casual. I'm more inclined to dress down. There has been a continual degradation of any fashion sense in the past decade. You can't believe what you're seeing." Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the security administration, said there was no style of dress or item of clothing that led screeners to single out passengers for extra scrutiny.

Among the 50 or so passengers interviewed this month at airports in New York, Atlanta and Chicago, there was no consensus about whether any clothes attracted extra attention. But there was wide agreement that the simpler and more dressed-down, the more efficient the experience.

On its Web site, the security administration advises against wearing metallic jewelry, belt buckles and hidden body piercings and says passengers who set off the metal detector will be subject to hand-wanding or a pat-down that includes the torso. "Screeners do have some discretion and can refer a passenger to additional screening if they notice any irregularity to a passenger's contour, or if it appears there is an item protruding underneath their clothing," Ms. Davis said.

At Kennedy Airport in New York last week , passengers who would normally consider themselves fashionable were willing to commit a faux pas to get through security. John Robshaw, a textiles executive, wore a denim shirt tucked into denim jeans, but no belt. Sarah Flood, an oncology nurse, was in white short shorts, a green T-shirt and blue hoodie that matched her carry-on bag. "This is not my fashion day," she said, a newly purchased bohemian cotton skirt, the look of the season, packed in her checked luggage.

As they have become conditioned to the intrusiveness of modern security measures, undressing and redressing in front of revolving casts of strangers, travelers have developed new routines of composure, evolving their wardrobes to speed them along. And clothing makers have come up with innovations to meet their needs. Shoe companies like Florsheim, Clarks and Rockport sell "airport friendly" shoes without steel shanks. Underwear makers promote support bras made without an underwire, as even a small bit of metal can trigger a sensitive alarm.

"Americans have simplified the way they dress for travel," said Valerie Steele, the chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "It's not a question of dressing better or worse. It's about dressing in a way that is more transparent."

At the USAir terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York, the sartorial adaptations to modern air travel played out with a sense of theater. After collecting their boarding passes, a handful of businessmen stepped over to a ficus tree and rested their briefcases on a concrete planter as they patted themselves down, checked their pants pockets for keys, coins, pagers and cell phones, which they transferred to bags or jackets, then removed the jackets and merged into the line waiting to pass through security.

Without being told, they took off their shoes and placed them into gray plastic bins. They neatly folded their jackets - the pockets now full of the metal objects of everyday necessity - on top of their bags.

"People travel a lot differently today than they did 20 or 30 years ago," said Joanne Smith, the president of Song Airlines, Delta's discount division. For professional women, wearing a jacket now means wearing something underneath that won't cause embarrassment when the jacket is removed. Those who will only wear high heels sometimes have to make other concessions.

"I usually wear dress heels, and I take them off to avoid further screening," Ms. Smith said. "I don't like to be barefoot, so I put a pair of socks in my bag or I always try to wear hose. I know. I'm a glamour don't. But I feel very old fashioned that way."

Bishop Cheen, a financial analyst, said he had to dress up for business, and after a meeting in Manhattan on an unseasonably hot and humid spring day, Mr. Cheen, 56, was wearing a slightly disheveled suit, which he paired with an overstuffed Jansport backpack to keep his hands free while fumbling with his boarding pass and ID for his trip home to Charlotte, N.C.

He had it down to a science: he pulled a plastic identification holder from the backpack and slipped his driver's license inside, displayed on a string of metal beads around his neck.

"If I wasn't traveling for business, I'd be in a T-shirt, and I wouldn't be wearing these shoes," he said, pointing to his lace-ups.

Men like Mr. Lanman, the medical lecturer, have another secret: wearing a dress shirt with a pocket to store their boarding passes and identification, although it didn't appear to be much of a secret on a recent Delta flight to Atlanta, where business class resembled a nerd convention, recalling the days of pocket protectors. "I'm in a constant feud with my wife over this," Mr. Lanman said. "She says it's not cool."

The most obvious difference in the way people dress since security measures were increased is the popularization of easily removable footwear like loafers, flip-flops and sandals. More than a quarter of the people traveling that afternoon at LaGuardia wore flip-flops. Having slipped out of their footwear to be screened, they looked like members of a religious pilgrimage.

On its Web site, the security administration pointedly says passengers are "not required" to remove their shoes before entering a walk-through metal detector. Screeners, the site says, might "encourage" them to do so if they are wearing boots, platform shoes or the many kinds of dress shoes that contain metal. But even the casual traveler seems to suspect duplicity in this policy. The widespread assumption is that refusing to remove one's shoes is a red flag to screeners.

Doug McNamee, who works for a pharmaceuticals company, bought a pair of loafers specifically designed for modern air travel last month. He said he was told the shoes had no metal in them. But the first trip he took, the shoes caused Mr. McNamee to become the subject of additional screening.

"It may have been an overzealous salesman who said these shoes did not have a steel shank," Mr. McNamee said. "Or maybe it was a sensitive scanner, but I would try anything to get through security faster. I get frustrated standing in line watching people in boots that lace halfway up their legs. I am desperate to get a high-speed lane for business travelers. I'll give my fingerprints, hair samples, saliva, anything."

As most passengers have gotten used to the new security administration procedures, security delays have decreased significantly across the nation in the past year, the agency says. At many airports the majority of wait times recorded by the security administration now approximate its targeted goal of under 10 minutes, meaning all that travelers like Mr. McNamee have to do is wait.

from the NYT - by ERIC WILSON

 

 


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