Fashion How Nigel Farage became the last well-dressed man in...

How Nigel Farage became the last well-dressed man in the skies

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The golden age of fashion at 35,000 feet

As your (grand)parents will tell you, there was a time when Nige and I wouldn’t have been at all out of place. The “golden age of travel” from the Fifties to the Seventies is fondly remembered (by the few that could afford it) as a time of glamour: Krug and caviar, smoking and leg space.

It coincided with the dawn of the jet age, ushered in by aircraft like the de Havilland Comet, which took the great and the good over the Atlantic for the first time. The airlines were competing with cruise liners and so focused more on amenities than extra seats. At one point, stewardesses for Air France were kitted in Chanel and Dior. Turning up in long johns or flesh-coloured lycra might have been a little gauche.

So when did dressing up for a flight take a nosedive? My uncle, a long-serving British Airways captain, tells me there was no definitive moment. Though he can pinpoint the harbinger: “When Boeing’s 747 Jumbo Jet arrived in 1970, it tripled the amount of people you could get on a plane,” he says. So while there were still ice swans and foie gras in first class, hundreds of seats were now reserved for economy travellers.

“The price of flying plummeted and everyone started going abroad on holiday. In some respects that was great – but not so good for fashion,” he says. Plurality and glamour, as ever, were inversely proportional and the extra seats being crammed into these bulbous sky ferries were smaller and less comfortable. A new utilitarian tone was set and the ticket price – along with lower levels of comfort – simply didn’t justify the bother of wearing one’s glad rags. “It’d be like dressing up to catch a bus.”

But we hadn’t gone from ball gowns to Birkenstocks just yet. The coup de grâce for mile-high glitz would be ushered in with the advent of low-cost air travel. But way before Easyjet and Ryanair slung us to Crete for a tenner, a British entrepreneur called Freddie Laker set the standard. His Skytrain – which first crossed the Atlantic in 1977 – offered no free meals, drinks or frills. Laker Airways fares – Gatwick to Miami for £99 return – were a fraction of those charged by the big American carriers.

“For the first time, people would turn up to fly in swimming shorts and sombreros,” my uncle remembers.

The last first-class fashionistas

Bucking the trend right up until the early noughties was Concorde, a supersonic jet that only did first class. The high-countess of glamour herself, Joan Collins, was a regular, and photos abound of her sitting at the front with a glass of champagne grafted to her hand. When Concorde had its wings clipped in 2003, she said it was a “travesty of civilisation”. Fast forward 20 years and you realise she may have had a point.

Of course, you know what low-cost-flying looks and feels like. Perversely early starts, purgatory terminals, osteopathy-sustaining seats. It makes sense that one might want to wear self-swaddling comfortwear.

But what about those who avoid the farrago by flying first class? That so many couture labels now collaborate with sportswear brands (à la Gucci x Northface) offers a view of trickle-down trends in general. But a theory that resonates – postulated by my other uncle, also a captain for British Airways – relates to the explosion of celebrity culture in the early noughties.

“Smartphones and selfies increased the need to go incognito and so stars wore the most unassuming clothes possible – along with the obligatory cap,” he says. “Their acolytes copied them and so a new kind of functional flywear emerged – even in the front of the plane.” Kanye West’s ‘airport sweater’ is a case in point.

In the case of some airlines, formality of any kind has been actively renounced: Virgin Atlantic’s latest ad campaign promotes the pierced and tattooed individuality of their staff. Of course, it stands too that our choice of clothes relates to the new reasons we now travel. As Uncle number two puts it: “You’re not going to wear your Sunday best if you’re going hiking in the Alps – particularly with today’s baggage restrictions.”

“Aren’t you?” I replied. While the trend for flying in your jim jams shows no sign of abating, I remain on Nige’s side: swerve the slacks and fly in something a little snazzier. Mainly because it adds sparkle to proceedings. And, well, as Victoria Beckham once said: “The airport is your runway.”


Chic travel companions: for her

Smart flats

Once, it was customary to wear high heels on a flight. These days there are more safety regs – we’ve all seen the poster warning that your shoes could pop the emergency slide. Instead, go for supple leather pumps – still smart, but totally comfortable.

Pumps, £350,dearfrances.com

The non-crease dress

Certain traditionally smart fabrics, like linen, will crumple when you go long haul. Brands like Cefinn specialise in fabrics that are equally cooling to wear, and give the same look, without any of the creasing. Layer up with jackets and cardigans.

Dress, £216, Cefinn atnet-a-porter.com

The structured bag

Don’t be the person with a stuffed and spilling canvas tote. Keep your carry-on neatly zipped and structured – just don’t forget to check the size against your chosen airline’s requirements, as a solid bag can’t be so easily squashed into the EasyJet measurement box.

Midori bag, £105,charlesandkeith.com

Chic travel companions: for him

A soft-structured blazer

The travelling gentleman’s best friend, a blazer in a more fluid cut and material marries comfort with a sense of uprightness. Forgo upright suiting varieties and opt for a knitted or jersey version; the shape looks smart but the fabric is easy for long haul.

Harris Wharf jersey blazer, £171,yoox.com

Driving shoes

If you’re the sort of fellow for whom trainers are gym attire, the driving shoe is a sweet spot, particularly when flying. The exude a certain Italian sprezzatura style, but can be slipped on and off with ease.

Pierson suede loafers, £49,jonesbootmaker.com

A collapsible hat

If you’re more Savile Row than Stansted Express, a pristine hat brings to mind the golden age of travel. Evoke a first class stance, even on Ryanair, with a sleek Panama, but crucially opt for one that’s designed to fold and be creased for when the overhead situation gets a little fraught.

The Folder hat, £84.95,borgesandscott.com

By Caroline Leaper

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