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By The Way
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Why you should dress up for your next flight

An airplane isn’t a gym, so ditch the elastic pants

(Min Heo/for The Washington Post)

Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s new series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.

We know travel isn’t as glamorous as it used to be. It’s striking to watch old films in which passengers are handed a proper cocktail and look as if they’re genuinely enjoying themselves. We look longingly at photos of Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman, striding purposefully off a plane with a small, tasteful valise. They had a good thing going.

Those days are gone. Where there was once the Concorde there is now security agents yelling at us to empty our pockets. Champagne is served in a glass if you spend a small fortune on a first-class seat, but mostly it’s brutal white wine in a plastic cup.

So, yes, the good days of travel are behind us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part. That means making an effort to bring some dignity to the travel, even if everything around us feels more depraved. By which I mean: Dress your best. Well, if not your best, then at least slightly better than you are.

Travel may be the gauntlet, but it wouldn’t hurt any of us to dress up. Why is that? Because you’re communicating to your fellow passengers that you’re trying — a good habit any time you’re in public. When I see somebody dressed up, I know they are making an effort as opposed to doing the bare minimum.

It helps to keep a few things in mind: An airplane is not a gym, so don’t dress as if you’re going to work out. If there’s elastic in your clothes then those clothes don’t belong any place where other people are not breathing heavily on purpose. Similarly, an airport is not a park, so why spread across the floor as if you’re having a picnic? And is the floor of an airport really a place you want to have extended contact while eating?

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My personal travel wardrobe isn’t complicated: a sport coat, a tie (if I’m going to a big city) and fabrics that can handle some wear without getting wrinkled, such as Oxford cloth shirts and corduroy trousers. And loafers — easy on, easy off. Think editor of a British literary magazine with a declining readership.

If the flight is long, I loosen the tie. If the flight is really long, I ditch the coat. It’s true that I can’t relax unless I’m overdressed, but nothing about these clothes is antithetical to comfort.

Yes, flights are long, delays make them longer, but a little effort goes a long way. For the gate agents and flight attendants — they’re doing all this in suits, incidentally — and for your fellow passengers, it’s refreshing to look nice. To greet people with eye contact, a smile and a kind word.

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Now I imagine you saying, “Get with the modern, informal world, man!” I realize this is a losing battle, but it’s still a good fight. If a sweatsuit is your truth, then there’s nothing else I can say, other than nobody has looked good in a sweatsuit in the history of the world.

But if that doesn’t sway you, then remember this: An article a few years ago revealed that one airline told their gate agents that they could upgrade people who were dressed attractively. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but even the mere possibility should inspire you to dress above the fray.

David Coggins is the author of “Men and Style.” His current book is “The Optimist: A Case for the Fly Fishing Life.”