Maybe it’s just because of a slow news cycle while the Republicans recover from their health care fiasco and the Democrats await the next big revelation about Russia or something helpful, but that flap about the two young women who didn’t get onto a United Airlines flight because they were wearing “leggings” is still getting a lot of attention. It’s a story with legs, as we used to say back in the newspaper days, and plenty of what used to be called sidebars.
By now you probably know, thanks to the diligent efforts of United’s crack public relations team, that the airline does not impose a dress code on its customers but does enforce one for its employees, and the two young women were attempting to board on company benefit tickets. There was nonetheless the predictable and understandable feminist outrage about women being told what to wear, and the usual fuddy-duddy but still-reasonable arguments about companies having a right to enforce dress codes, and a plausible counter-argument that the dress code in question is more restrictive of women’s choices than men’s, and a counter-counter-argument worth considering that there are practical reasons for that. The story mostly has legs, though, because it’s being argued across a generational as well as ideological divide.
Way, way back when we were in the early years of elementary school our beloved Pa used to fly almost constantly on business trips for his very big-time aerospace company, and our beloved Ma would often drive us out to greet his return at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, and it’s hard to describe how it overwhelmed our childhood imaginations. You could could walk right up to the exit gates without any hassles back then, and Pop would always come through the door in slightly wrinkled but otherwise impeccable business attire with all the weariness and slight smile of someone has just solved a high-tech problem or swung a very big-money deal, and pretty much everyone else looked pretty impressive. Even the returning tourists had a prosperous and classy look about them, which was hard for us to maintain on the long car rides that our family vacations entailed, and it inspired a certain inspiration to be part of what was then called the “jet set.”
By the time we were grown up enough to buy an occasional airline ticket things had changed, though, and the people we found ourselves standing in line with at the departure gate looked pretty much like the people at the nearest bus stop. The “airline hostesses” weren’t nearly so hot as those R-rated “stewardess” movies at the drive-in had promised, the food was just as awful as all the standup comedians said, and “jet set” had somehow been dropped from the popular lexicon. Then came the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after that airline travel joined dental appointments and colonoscopies on our list of most dreaded activities, and of course the standards of what people were now being forced to undress had also further declined.
Meanwhile we started noticing people showing up at funerals and weddings and Sunday morning worship services and all sorts of places in shorts and t-shirts and ball caps, and a perhaps related decline in public civility, as well as a general lack of aspiration for anything like our childhood yearning of a “jet set.” We’re not so old that we didn’t notice when almost all the young women started wearing those skin-tight pants, although we are old enough that we put “leggings” in quotation marks because it’s still a neologism to us, and we have mixed feelings about that. Some of the young women look quite good in those pants, there are others we’d advise to try something different, but in no case do we feel it’s our place to offer either compliments or advice, and we just try to be civil. Neither do we offer any comment on those young men wearing shorts on the coldest day of winter or wool sherpa caps on the hottest day of summer, even if they do look damned ridiculous, and we always appreciate when no one comments on our slightly wrinkled and decidedly fuddy-duddy attire.
Still, we can’t help yearning for that “jet set” of our childhood imagination, and can still see ourselves seated in suit-and-tie on a carefree flight to an exotic location next to an attractive woman of a certain age attired in a loose but revealing-in-a-flattering-way dress, drinking some well-mixed cocktails and sharing some screwball comedy flirtations while a comely “stewardess” re-fills the glasses, and we’re free to gallantly light her cigarette should she desire one, and a world of elegant possibilities still awaits. If the kids prefer their “leggings,” even the ones who really don’t have the legs to pull it off, we’ll not deny them the choice, but they don’t know what they’re missing. We hope that United Airlines will continue to impose a reasonably fuddy-duddy dress code on its employees, and that a free-market will somehow reward its decision, and that a certain dignity will return to both the airports and the bus spots, but mostly we’re in favor of freedom and will accept its results.
— Bud Norman