Sitting in an airport terminal on Monday afternoon waiting to get on my flight from Boston to Los Angeles, I found myself watching a parade of college kids wearing pajamas, slippers and oversized sweatshirts as they hoarded themselves through the gate and down the jetway onto my plane. They were clearly on a trip together, God bless them all, and they were texting and jabbering and crawling all over one another, as college kids are wont to do.
I had begrudgingly accepted that they might be loud and cause a ruckus while I was trying to finish “The Hunger Games,” but what I was having a harder time accepting was the fact that because I had seen them all in their jammy-jams, I felt, in the short period of time that had allowed me to become acquainted with them from afar, that I already knew them better than I ever wanted to.
See, I feel like we should all dress reasonably respectably on a plane. Because as your plane mate, I don’t want to be sitting next to you and feel like some unspoken boundaries between us – the ones that exist when I don’t know what you look like when you’ve just woken up in the morning – have been broken.
For the record, I see myself typing these words, and I recognize that I kind of sound like I’m 90, or at least 50, with a shawl draped dramatically across my shoulders, tsk-tsk-ing the youth and their slovenly styles. But I am, in fact, neither 90 nor 50. I’m not even 40, although I think that should prove a glorious age to be. And I don’t have a shawl draped around my shoulders.
I’m also not suggesting that we should hearken back to a time and place when women were expected to wear gloves and skirts on airplanes. I don’t have some idealized notion of flying in the 1950’s and an accompanying urge to make everybody around me a character in my own, crazed period drama.
But when we travel together, you and I, being strangers and all, I don’t want to have to bear witness to the fact that your Scooby-Doo pajama pants have a hole in the crotch of which you were not aware. When you curl up in your aisle seat next to me to take a nap, which you will do and to be fair I might do too, I don’t want to feel like I’m inside your bedroom when I doze off or when I open my eyes. In fact, I don’t want to feel like I’m inside your bedroom ever.
And when you sit next to me wearing your Paul Frank jammies and your sister’s USC hoodie, that’s exactly how I feel. Like I know you in a personal moment, a moment in which I don’t want to know you, and that I don’t totally understand why you’re OK with letting me — or any strange plane passenger — into.
So, in other words, I would like to ask you to dress like you’re out in public when you’re on a flight.
Because you are.
To be clear, my opinion doesn’t have anything to do with how I think other people should see themselves. My mission is not to make anyone have more self-respect, or be more prepared to run into someone they know or might want to work for or might eventually fall in love with. None of that is my business.
And I understand that everyone wants to be comfortable, I really do, and that all of us have long distances to travel, and that we’ve come a long way since the days when we had to give a shit about how we looked on various modes of public transportation.
But there’s a certain level of intimacy involved in wearing in your household finery – and let’s just get real here for a moment. That intimacy isn’t just felt by me: it’s felt by you, too. Because when you’re wearing pajama pants, or even ratty sweats, there’s always that moment where you become suddenly but clearly aware that you might not be totally dressed. Maybe a cold breeze blows past you and you wonder if you’re actually wearing bottoms at all, because it sure doesn’t feel like it. Or maybe you walk past someone your own age who is dressed like an awake human and you feel fleetingly like a thirteen-year-old.
Whatever it is, there’s a moment where you know you should be wearing pants, but for some reason, you disregard that moment. And all I’m saying is: adhere to it. Remember it the next time you have to get dressed to fly. Throw on the jeans instead of the flannels. Your fellow passengers will thank you.