Sar­to­rial Ad­ven­tures in the Age of Mod­ern Travel

Whether you are in a bil­lion- dol­lar air­port or a jun­gle in Bor­neo, mind­ing your man­ner of dress mat­ters.

Esquire (Philippines) - - STYLE - BY CAR­LOTA DIAR

“IT’S THE FILIPINO IN ME,” ex­plained the male model some­what de­fen­sively of his dress­ing smartly to get on a flight. He was talk­ing to his girl­friend-team­mate on the re­al­ity TV show The Amaz­ing Race. It was a rev­e­la­tion that he was Filipino be­cause he was very tall, very fair and spoke like an Amer­i­can. But it made per­fect sense that a Filipino up­bring­ing would com­pel him to dress with care when on the way to the air­port.

I think it’s be­cause the sense of oc­ca­sion in air travel—par­tic­u­larly international flight—took a longer time to de­part from us. There was a time of course when that sense was universal, in the be­gin­ning, when com­mer­cial flights were new and the priv­i­lege of the lucky few. For me an iconic im­age of the era is of my grand­par­ents pho­tographed on a tar­mac with a Pan Am rolling stairs be­hind them, she in a stole, he in a shark­skin suit and fe­dora. Flight was such a spe­cial thing, peo­ple could ac­tu­ally make a liv­ing tak­ing photographs of passengers get­ting off planes. It was a lux­ury; you dressed ac­cord­ingly.

That was a long time ago. To­day, flight has be­come mass tran­sit. Could any­where be more unglam­orous than Ni­noy Aquino International Air­port? Each ter­mi­nal has its own unique hor­ror ( although the do­mes­tic de­par­ture gates are, for me, the most panic- in­duc­ing). With­out a doubt it is the nadir, but I would just as well apply “unglam­orous,” as well as “de­press­ing,” to Heathrow in Lon­don,

JFK and La Guardia in New York, Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, and Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Bara­jas in the Span­ish cap­i­tal (where you might imag­ine your­self in the tragic de­noue­ment of an Almod­ovar film—and weep). I have only once flown di­rectly to Paris, ar­riv­ing at dawn, and I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of Charles de Gaulle air­port other than the sight of a Filip­ina so­cialite, with whom I was on the same flight (she in first, I in coach) wait­ing at the lug­gage carousel with her

yaya. I’m quite sure her ex­pe­ri­ence of international air­ports is en­tirely dif­fer­ent from mine. When you have en­trée to the first/ business-class lounges of the world’s top air­lines, there’s noth­ing de­press­ing about air­ports (ex­cept maybe NAIA).

Be­cause international travel is of­ten in­con­ve­nient, frus­trat­ing, and phys­i­cally la­bo­ri­ous, it seems just added bother to have to dress for it. First peo­ple be­gan wear­ing track suits, then it be­came sweats, jog­ging pants, and sneak­ers, and now some peo­ple go so far as to board in tank tops, shorts, and flipflops. That is of course the ex­treme. Most peo­ple just travel in jeans. A lot of Filipino guys dress by de­fault in the de facto call-cen­ter uni­form of a hoodie and jeans.

But there are air­ports that have cre­ated spec­tac­u­lar set­tings res­ur­rect­ing the ro­mance and glam­our of travel. They’re mostly here in Asia. Ar­guably the paragon is Changi in Singapore. Parts of it are breath­tak­ing. The ex­otic gar­dens that in­ter­rupt the gleam­ing moder­nity of the ar­chi­tec­ture ex­ult in the beauty of the trop­ics.

Those gi­ant mon­u­ments of myth­i­cal guard fig­ures that loom over the de­par­ture con­course at the Bangkok air­port re­mind you that you aren’t just any­where. Dude, this is not Amer­ica. One of the most lauded air­ports in the world, In­cheon in South Korea makes a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from typ­i­cal air­port moder­nity with wood floors in some ar­eas.

In any of these places it would be a dis­grace to show up in flip-flops. Or even just mind­lessly dressed. There is the stage that has been set for you, rise to the oc­ca­sion.

You do see many in­di­vid­u­als who have made the ef­fort, whose man­ner of dress ar­tic­u­lates their ex­cite­ment at travel. Some in par­tic­u­lar will stand out for the si­mul­ta­ne­ous stylish­ness and ev­i­dent com­fort of their out­fits, the ease the clothes lend to move­ment and at the same time an ap­par­ent ef­fort­less­ness in their putting to­gether. I can’t help but re­mem­ber this blonde, blue-eyed kid, per­haps 15, trav­el­ing alone, walk­ing down an air­port’s shiny white cor­ri­dor, clad en­tirely in black, a com­bi­na­tion of knits and weaves, coun­ter­pointed by a pair of bright yel­low Adi­das run­ning shoes. The bal­ance be­tween youth and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, in­no­cence and world­li­ness, was just so stun­ning. Come to mind is an­other kid, Asian, who stood out from his gang. It was just a T-shirt he had on—but it was Dries Van Noten, with an ikat pat­tern (spring 2010 col­lec­tion). He com­bined it with a base­ball cap, slim trousers, and sneak­ers. Here the drama was in the ad­mix­ture of lux­ury and the evo­ca­tion of cul­ture with the at­ti­tude of ca­su­al­ness. Then there was this el­derly cou­ple I boarded a plane with some­where in South­east Asia; I don’t re­call ex­actly where. His hair was com­pletely white and he had round black-framed spec­ta­cles. He was in a cream cot­ton suit with a blue-and-white striped shirt and a knit tie. It was such an el­e­gant en­sem­ble, I promised my­self I would one day travel in such style. I have yet to do so.

But it isn’t just the mint bil­lion-dol­lar air­ports that make the jour­ney it­self worth dress­ing up for. I re­mem­ber fly­ing on one of those scary pro­pel­ler planes to some­where in north­ern Palawan. As we de­scended, we seemed to graze precipices, vividly emer­ald in fo­liage, like ti­tanic vel­vet cur­tains clos­ing be­hind us. The deep red dirt of the run­way to­ward which we were lan­guidly low­er­ing was flanked by rows of bougainvil­lea in full bloom. The “air­port” was a thatched-roof pavil­ion.

And while the be­he­moth air­ports in the US and Europe are of­ten aes­thet­i­cally bru­tal and alien­at­ing, many of the train sta­tions, some­times in the most un­ex­pected places (Los An­ge­les, for ex­am­ple), can be ex­quis­ite. (The Estación de Atocha in Madrid has a trop­i­cal jun­gle in it.) Points of tran­sit such as these should in­spire an ap­pro­pri­ate sar­to­rial re­sponse from you.

Then there is the des­ti­na­tion it­self. Not too long ago, I was in a lodge far up Kin­abatan­gan River in the deep­est jun­gle of north­east­ern Bor­neo. A few days after, a young Ital­ian fam­ily ar­rived, the par­ents, a hand­some cou­ple, dressed per­fectly for the set­ting. He was in olive and khaki, she in an el­e­gantly cut bush jacket. They were out­fit­ted most stylishly for the sa­fari ad­ven­ture we were all there for, to en­joy in their nat­u­ral habi­tat the en­demic orang­utans, pygmy ele­phants, pro­boscis mon­keys, macaques, and this en­tire other uni­verse of be­ings that thrive where peo­ple are scarce. Next to the Ital­ian cou­ple we all looked like bump­kins. It seems they were reg­u­lars at the lodge. While the rest of us dined on bare boards, the white linen was brought out for them.

And here is an­other rea­son you ought to dress well when you travel. Some­times it eases the jour­ney. A great tragedy is that to­day many peo­ple re­main prej­u­diced against peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from them. One would have thought that in­creas­ing ex­po­sure to each other would have cul­ti­vated greater amity among peo­ples. Sadly, the op­po­site has hap­pened. The vi­sion of the world in which peo­ple like Cap­tain Kirk, Leonard McCoy, Uhura, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and even a be­ing so alien as Spock could fly with such a sense of unity did not come to fruition.

Be­ing thought­fully dressed may not al­ways spare you the con­de­scen­sion of an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer, the ru­de­ness of a flight at­ten­dant, or the gawk­ing of na­tives, but some­times it does, some­times it in­vites oth­ers to re­con­sider what they think they know about you as a mem­ber of a par­tic­u­lar group. Oh, yes, there are peo­ple who will see noth­ing in you but the color of your skin, what­ever the heck you’re wear­ing, yes, there are a few bad en­coun­ters you can­not evade; all the more rea­son to al­ways have your best foot for­ward.

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