Air travel style: from glamour to practicality in one lifetime

In Singapore Airport T1,I was admiring the confident, relaxed travellers all around me and remembering my first trips on a commercial airline, in the early 1960s. At the time, air travel seemed impossibly glamorous and we were all strongly aware that these journeys were changing the world of travel forever.

We bought special outfits or at least wore our Sunday best. (Don’t ask.) For my first trip I wore my “going away suit”: Mrs McAlpine ascended the steps to the entry dressed in a sage green two-piece suit, with a short straight skirt and a perky shaped jacket with collar and bow. Her outfit was topped off with a multicoloured raffia hat to hold her golden hair neatly in place for the long journey to Australia. Her handsome husband Grant wore a crisp navy reefer jacket with silver buttons, a polo necked sweater, and classic trousers in khaki wool gaberdine.

One turned at the top of the steps to wave farewell to the sniffling relatives left on the ground, then one disappeared into the bowels of the plane. As the plane taxied on to the runway, a uniformed official ran ahead waving a red flag to shoo stray cattle off the tarmac … just kidding. Then we were in the hands of the Air Stewardesses, the most glamorous, modern job available to ambitious young women.

Jump ahead 50 years. Comfort rules, and most travellers wear jeans, shorts, T-shirts or sweatshirts, and sneakers. Backpacks and roller cases and rolling tracks and golf-carty-things make carting luggage around a fairly simple business. One tiny device acts as portable phone, map, ticket, boarding pass, camera, wallet, newspaper, book, movie theatre, games room, insurance policy, address book — oh stop me or I’ll go on all night. Coffee comes in a cardboard cup. Airports unrecognisable.

You know what I mean. We moan and groan about new inconveniences around travel (security checks, cancelled planes, bad this, bad that, jet lag, leg room not…) — fair enough. But it’s good to remind ourselves of those long ago days, when every air trip was noisy and slow and wildly exotic, and we knew exactly how great was our privilege.

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