As we pack our suitcases for cross-country train journeys and flights further afield this holiday season, it might be time to examine our tried and tested travel attire.
“The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”
These words by Walt Whitman are from an era when glamour and travel were dual expressions of man’s desire to be all he could be; representations of us at our absolute best. They precluded a time when people donned suits and hats to disguise their sense of wonder at their imminent ascension into the clouds and maybe because they thought they might get to wave to the gods as they passed. The look of the traveler was polished, debonair, optimistic and triumphant.
Down to earth
At a crowded La Guardia airport this week I watched as a gentleman’s leather case was unceremoniously pulled out from the others and rummaged through before the latex-gloved TSA officer extracted from its cavities a small tan leather fob. It opened up into a miniature survival kit, a cork screw, and self-grooming tools such as a nail file and clippers. As I buckled my belt I heard the traveller object with righteous indignation exclaiming that he had carried the treasured possession in his hand luggage for over two decades without incident. The officer shrugged, separated the components, removed the Lilliputian munitions from it and handed him the empty leather fob.
Think of Bette Davis’s Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager cruising off in her wide brimmed hat to embark upon an affair in Rio de Janeiro with the mysterious stranger, Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance. Or what about the grand dames of Murder on the Orient Express whose current adaptation in cinemas features lavish costumes by Alexandra Byrne? Would we be as interested in tracking down the journeying murderer if the individuals under suspicion weren’t such an intriguing bunch of mustachio-ed, veiled, bejeweled characters? Then there’s Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart as she selects her wardrobe to look her most captivating for her crossing to Europe, and belie her near-destitution; or Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg trailing foulards and fur, in low slung belts and oversize sunglasses under a funnel of cigarette smoke; or Mary Poppins and her parrot-head umbrella as she rises above the rooftops of Edwardian London, toes pointed outward, hat affixed with flowers, carpet bag in the other hand, arriving unflustered, and requiring no adjustments or refastening. Practically perfect in every way!
If formalities aren’t your style let’s look to the late 60s counterculture travel attire of Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider or Marianne Faithfull’s Girl on a Motorcycle which embody the philosophy behind their traveling experience. A reimagining of the stereotypical masculine biker jacket, Faithfull’s head-to-toe zippered leather bodysuit wasn’t about comfort. But it was designed by Lanvin.
The 00s arguably marked the moment when travel fashion ceased to soar, falling to earth in an ungodly mess of velour, logos and Uggs. During the preceding decades as the world opened up, travel became available for all budgets and therefore commonplace. We no longer treated it with the respect it deserved. Items in the overhead bins might get shifted around during the flight, they warned us but forgot to mention it could apply to clothing too.
Soar to new heights
Finally increased airport security stripped our travel ensembles of every last paillette and pendant. The aforementioned frisson of adventure is absent in modern airports now that our heroism from defying gravity has been replaced by our cowardice before body scans. We steel ourselves for a series of small indignities as we shuffle shoeless like inmates towards someone in uniform. But terrorism needn’t stop us dressing to kill. It’s a falsehood that peacocks can’t fly: they can strut their way through a metal detector with the best of them if their feathered headwear is momentarily nestled within the confines of a plastic bin. So this holiday season wear velvet not velour; choose epaulettes over elastane; and draped lamé over denim and leisurewear. And if you’re still struggling to get in the spirit and are passing through New York City pre-flight, pop into the Louis Vuitton exhibition, Volez, Voguez, Voyagez to inspire you to pack the vogue in your valise. Bon voyage!
By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Photos: Cropped publicity still of Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in the 1942 film Now Voyager. Created: 31 December 1941 commons.wikimedia.org; us.louisvuitton.com, other images authors own.