Keep yourself nice in the air

Sheila Scotter, the former Vogue Australia editor who famously wore only black and white, once told me her secret for having a trouble-free passage through customs and immigration - always wear a hat. (Her steely gaze might have had something to do with it, too.) While I've never taken her advice, I can see her point.

The right hat worn confidently (we're not talking beanies) might suggest a certain status to a harassed immigration official who has just processed a hundred scruffy travellers ahead of her. But Sheila is no longer with us and neither are the old ways of processing visitors.

With face-recognition technology and computerised immigration records, it's unlikely anyone behind the immigration desk pays much attention to your style.

In fact, the objective these days is not to stand out; otherwise, you risk being perpetually delayed by security people wanting to test you for explosives. But that's no excuse to wear pyjamas at the airport, which is the standard travelling outfit of many of my fellow Australians.

There they go - lining up for immigration in flannelette pyjama pants with pink pigs on them, wearing thongs, a hoodie and clutching a pillow. And they're not even flying to Bali! They're going to London in midwinter.

While the practicality of this is undoubted (I hope they have socks in their backpacks, though), I can't help feeling that arriving at your destination wearing flannelette pyjamas isn't the best psychological approach to take to travel. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to arrive how I intend to continue - with a certain amount of dignity. Even if I'm crumpled from a long night of the black soul in economy, I always have some fresh clothes packed and a good coat or cashmere shawl to cover the whole sorry mess.

I was once in the first-class cabin on a flight from Malaysia to Sydney and a female passenger plonked down in her leather seat wearing a halter-top, minuscule hot pants, bare legs and six-inch heels. Far be it from me to suggest what profession she might have been in - she was alone - but not once did she ask for a blanket even though the airconditioning was chilly. The cabin was almost empty of eligible businessmen so I think the poor girl (or maybe, just maybe, boy) froze for nothing.

I'm not suggesting you dress like you're going to a job interview, although it's also surprising how many women board a long-haul flight looking this way, in a neat suit, pantyhose, heeled shoes and full make-up. Common sense would suggest that it's not healthy to travel in Spanx.

It's true there aren't that many inducements for arriving at check-in looking like Elizabeth Taylor in The VIPs. Airports aren't glamorous places and no amount of Bally shops will compensate for the time spent shuffling through security in our post-September 11, 2001, world. And dressing smartly in the hope of getting a cabin upgrade is a fool's dream these days. I'm not sure it ever did work, although my husband claims it was his linen suit that once got him that upgrade on an Air France flight from Paris to New York - and a seat next to Charlotte Rampling.


But what about dressing "noicely" because flying is a special occasion? I've never lost the rush of excitement and apprehension I got when I first boarded an international flight, UTA to Paris. A plane might be like a bus to some but, for me, boarding one is still an event. So why not dress for it?

Stylishly comfortable is what we're aiming for here. Dark colours, because drinking red wine during turbulence is not conducive to wearing white or pastels.

Wear slip-on shoes so that you don't have to undo laces at security checkpoints. Men often do better in the stylish traveller stakes because they wear tailored jackets that can be hung up during the flight and put back on, nice and crisp, upon arrival. Women should do the same - stretchy underneath, tailored on top.

My secret is my cashmere wrap. It's a scarf when it's cold. It's a head covering when I go into a mosque. It covers up food accidents. It's an effective blanket when I'm stuck in a seat with Arctic airconditioning. And I can wrap it around my head, burqa-like, when I don't want to talk to the stranger beside me.

Don't need a hat.

What do you think? Do you make an effort to present yourself well when flying? Leave a comment below.

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