Debate rages over call for 'fashion police' on planes to stop 'scruffy' travellers

Fashion vs comfort on planes.
Where should airline passengers draw the line between fashion and comfort? Photo credit: Getty Images

A new opinion piece in an Australian publication has reignited the age-old debate about acceptable attire for air travel.

Dressing comfortably is important for long-haul flights, Lee Tulloch acknowledges in her editorial; but she bemoans the "lack of glamour" and asks, "has the sense of occasion disappeared from travel all together?"

The Sydney Morning Herald article headlined 'Do we need the style police to stop scruffy travellers?' has generated fiery backlash on social media.

"I know that the idea of looking nice seems like a throwback to the 1950s, but being comfortable and dressing smartly (another '50s term) aren't mutually exclusive. Elegance didn't go out the window with the invention of Lycra," writes Tulloch.

"It's time for the style police. Perhaps the introduction of a style tax along with the bed tax and day tripper tax that they're now charging in Venice?"

Tulloch, the founding editor of Harper's Bazaar Australia, also claimed it's "disrespectful" to wear Hawaiian shirts or fluoro tracksuits at some destinations and called out shorts, T-shirts and Crocs as offending airport attire.

Of course, there is a balance one must strike between their own comfort and that of the people around them - it would be wrong to get a little too comfortable on a long-haul flight, especially in economy class where there's not much room for privacy.

But Tulloch's message has divided social media: while some commenters on Facebook have thrown their support behind her, others have sharply disagreed.

"Who gives a stuff if it offends the snooty stuck up section?" raged one man, who added: "If you are going to be crammed on top of each other for hours on end then at the very least you should be allowed to dress [comfortably]."

"If you care about what other people wear, you need to reassess your life and where you went wrong," said another.

Among the commenters seemingly agreeing with Tulloch, one argued: "Cheap $29 airfares allowed the bogan and feral mob access to air travel." 

"If you don't respect yourself you likely wear comfortable clothing," added another.

Other commenters agreed the "sense of occasion" had gone from travel, but blamed airlines for downgrading the experience.

While dressing up for several hours on a plane might seem unusual, it is said to be a way of increasing your chances of an upgrade.

Speaking to WhoWhatWear last year, an anonymous former cabin crew member said the key to a free upgrade was looking "smart but understated".

"You should look like you travel often, but don't be dripping in designer clothing," they said.