On May 18, Maggie McMuffin pulled on her gray tiger sweater, black-and-white striped volleyball-style shorts and thigh-high socks, then boarded a JetBlue flight from New York to Boston.
According to McMuffin, a burlesque dancer who uses that as her stage name, the trip was “lovely.”
But as she prepared to hop on her connecting flight back home to Seattle, a member of the flight crew stopped her at the gate. Her clothes were inappropriate, she was told. She’d need to find something else to wear or find a different flight.
McMuffin had just two small carry-on bags, and inside them nothing she could swap with the now-problematic shorts.
“I could tie a sweater around my waist,” the dancer told KOMO News she said to the flight crew. “I could get a blanket from you guys.”
The crew wouldn’t budge. She had no choice.
McMuffin darted to a store in the airport terminal, where she found a pair of $22 XL floral women’s pajama bottoms that would provide “proper coverage” to satisfy JetBlue, she told NBC affiliate King 5.
She returned to the gate and was allowed to board.
It wasn’t until that night that the dancer, who’d been on the East Coast for a performance, tweeted at the airline about her experience.
In the weeks that followed, a photo that McMuffin took of herself in the suspect shorts has circulated online, drawing criticism from people who side with the airline and say the dancer’s shorts weren’t appropriate for public. Those who admonished her called the shorts “skanky” and McMuffin “trashville” and a “clown.”
She thinks those people — and the airline’s policy — are sexist.
“Really, aside from my hands and my face, I had four, maybe five inches of skin showing,” McMuffin told NBC affiliate King 5. “Everything was covered, I was not breaking any laws.”
But among those who support her, also sharing the photo alongside hashtags like #BootySolidarity and #BootyShortSupport, the incident has become another symbol of what some call an unfair policing of women’s bodies in the public sphere.
In mid-May, female TV meteorologist Liberté Chan became the center of a controversy the Internet called “Sweatergate” after she appeared on air in a black beaded cocktail dress because her original outfit clashed with the screen behind her. Her shoulders were bare during the broadcast, and viewers started sending the station emails saying she needed to cover up. A producer chidingly handed her a sweater on air, and until she later clarified the circumstances, many online took the gesture as the fashion police unjustly coming after her only because she was a woman.
A Canadian fitness club drew ire after an Ottawa woman was told her black racer-back tank top was making other gym goers uncomfortable. In a Facebook post, Jenna Vecchio wrote that she felt discriminated against and humiliated for being singled out because of her larger chest.
“THIS IS DRESS CODE DISCRIMINATION,” she concluded. “DIFFERENT FIGURES DOES NOT MEAN DIFFERENT RULES!”
In London, a receptionist working for a temp agency wore flats to work, a more sensible shoe than the high-heeled variety required by the company. When she was told she must comply with the rules — and pointed out that a male employee would not be held to the same standard — she was dismissed. So she created an online petition to get her grievances in front of Parliament.
McMuffin told several news outlets that she thought her treatment was equally unjust.
A JetBlue spokesperson told KOMO News that it supports the crew members’ “discretion to make these difficult decisions.” The spokesperson added: “Our contract of carriage allows JetBlue to deny boarding to any customer whose clothing may be offensive to the viewing public.”
JetBlue has apologized to the dancer and offered a $162 flight credit, the TV station reported, but the dancer said she just wants the airline to offer sensitivity training and be more clear about its in flight dress code. Her issue, she said, is with its obvious subjectivity.
“I’ve flown JetBlue before,” she said. “I flew in that exact same outfit the same day, and also if they can rebook me on a different flight, that means it’s not any type of company policy. It’s very subjective.”