Is This Normal? “I Have a Weird Fascination With Celebrity Airport Style”

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Jan 3, 2019

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In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?


I’ve written before about my obsession with fancy clothing, but that obsession has a more slovenly twin: airport fashion. It’s an extremely niche style, yet it has breadth. It can range from the bizarre, to the the chic, to the schlubby, to the trashy, but it’s all united by the belief, by the person wearing it, that that particular outfit will see them through hours of travelling at breakneck speed through the sky, amid the cramped and climatically variable confines of what is essentially an overgrown tin can.

At first glance, the explanation for caring about celebrity airport style seems obvious: celebrity and fashion are both about status. According to
Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, humans have evolved, and still live, in an hierarchical social structure, one in which it’s advantageous to pay attention to those on top.

“There’s a few different reasons for that,” Kruger told LiveScience. “One is just learning what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one, and two, it’s basically political. Knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you’d be better able to navigate the social scene.”

You can only navigate the higher-status social scene if that scene is reachable — which, thanks to rising incomes and cheaper airfare in the past couple of decades, air travel and fast fashion are.

“It’s a lot easier for a fan to achieve Sonam Kapoor’s airport look as opposed to her red carpet, Ferragamo gown,” says Malini Agarwal, aka Miss Malini of missmalini.com. “Now that influencers and fashion bloggers are such a big deal, they spend a lot of time recreating those looks. A lot of fashion brands are interested in showing people how they can create the same, probably 30,000 rupee-look in under-5,000 off Myntra by using different brands.”

But I enjoy scrolling through round-ups of photos of random celebrities’ airport style, not just the celebrities I follow and am interested in emulating. And while I’ve certainly bought a pair of comfortable (yet stylish!) black sweat pants, with an eye to wear them when I fly, I can’t say I did it based on a photo of a specific airport outfit or travelling celebrity.

For me, celebrity airport style — at the intersection of self-expression and idolization — seems more about my personal aspirations and actualization for a lifestyle than an emulation of an individual celebrity’s look. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that travel is something I value highly. And the airport looks I appreciate most are the ones that I could see myself in — comfortable, yet stylish; understated, yet subtly speaking to a ‘jet-setter’ lifestyle that I dream of more than I actually have. In that way, celebrity airport fashion for me is little more than a way to try on the clothes of status, without actually having it.

Of course, imagining myself in a celebrity’s airport look means I also apply the rules of my life to the outfit — and to the celebrity — even if it’s unlikely those rules apply to either. For instance, any outfit that includes short sleeves just seems impractical for plane travel, when I always feel about half a degree away from hypothermia. And any shoes with heels seem masochistic for walking the ~10 kilometers it takes to get to any gate.

This opens the possibility of a judgmental aspect to my enjoyment of airport fashion. Human minds are wired to make snap judgments about others, as a sort of shortcut in processing the world around us. This feels accurate to my consumption of airport fashion, too; I generally find myself flipping through these photos late at night, mindlessly, when my energy and inclination for thinking deeply are at their lowest points.

While celebrity airport style, in its current iteration documented by paparazzi and social media alike, might be relatively new to celeb and fashion culture (Agarwal says in India, airport style and airport photography has become ‘a thing’ in only the last three to four years), it’s actually been around for much longer. “In the early years of air travel, the curiosity about what celebrities wore in airports was inextricably tied to the novelty and glamour of air travel itself, ” writes Jess McHugh for Man Repeller.

Which leads me to believe that while the motives in my own, and the public’s, interest in the phenomenon might be complex, they’re nothing new — and undoubtedly normal.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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