AN ODE TO THE AIRPORT OUTFIT
Fashion, friendship and sisterhood: step into the world of fashion rental.
WORDS: MARNI ROSE MCFALL
Viral moments, A-lister style and the ultimate off-duty fit, the power of airport style is infinite. Welcome to a whole new kind of runway…
The airport is a strange place. One where time ceases to exist, and we sit around for hours on end, flicking through glossy magazines and drinking bad cups of coffee. It’s also a gold mine for mile high style. Why, you ask? Because of the airport outfit. Victoria Beckham said it best, when she declared (via her first ever Tweet) that “the airport is my runway”. Iconic if you ask us.
And she was on to something. #Airportoutfit currently has 361.4 million views on TikTok. We’re all obsessed with what everyone is wearing to the airport, from celebrities to our humble selves. And it’s hardly surprising. Since as early as the ‘50s, the airport has been a veritable gold mine for celebrity style moments and iconic looks.
From the ultimate A-lister airport outfits to how our obsession with the style began and how to dress for the airport in 2023, this is everything you need to know.
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The beginning of our fascination with airport style, can be traced all the way back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Back then, flying was a novelty. And a glamorous one at that. It might be hard to imagine now, as airports conjure up images of sweatpants, delayed flights and cups of burnt coffee, but flying used to be an event. A reason to don your Sunday best, and a reason to get excited, instead of a means to an end. It also used to be, one of the few times celebrities would be seen out and about.
Again, it’s hard to picture now when we live in an age of ubiquitous celebrity. But one of the few times A-listers would be spotted, was when they were stepping off a plane. And instead of hiding behind inconceivably large sunglasses as the Olsen twins later would, celebrities appeared at the airport ready to welcome the paparazzi with open arms. And serve some next level looks.
Back in 1955, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Lorraine Day arrived in New York, all dressed to the nines in dresses-and-heels ensembles that put our 2023 sweat sets to shame. Marilyn Monroe epitomized the term ‘starlet’ as she was spotted at an airport in London, bouquet in hand alongside then husband Arthur Miller. Audrey Hepburn looked impossibly chic in an all-white skirt suit, stepping off a flight in Switzerland back in 1960.
And as the Golden Age of Hollywood faded into the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, the celebrities changed but the setting stayed the same. Rock royalty Mick and Bianca Jagger emerged from a flight in near-matching suits at Heathrow in 1970, with Bianca sporting a feathered necklace and oversized sunglasses. Brigette Bardot donned a matching leather ensemble. Marianne Faithful peers out from underneath heart-shaped glasses. Twiggy sits at the terminal in a fur coat. Later, Jane Birken would strut in heeled Mary Janes, toting a straw bag and, of course, her signature fringe, alongside Serge Gainsbourg at London Heathrow in 1971. With each A-lister seemingly donning a chicer ensemble the last, the airport was becoming home to a totally different kind of runway.
But the decade that really propelled the airport style phenomenon? The ‘90s. Sure, fashion always looks to the past for inspiration (read: the Y2K resurgence and our current obsession the ‘70s), but the ‘90s is different. In Vogue, fashion journalist Hamish Bowels describes the decade as the moment “the world took ownership of fashion”. The ‘90s is fashion’s favourite decade, and for good reason. From the birth of the supermodel to iconic collections at Gucci, Prada and Alexander McQueen, the ‘90s represented a shift in the fabric of the fashion industry. And the looks? Yeah, they hold up. Today, the ‘90s is a treasure trove for style inspiration. Particularly when it comes to airport outfits…
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And the list goes on. Julia Roberts embodies the spirit of the cool girl in jeans and a white top, paired with an oversized blazer. Matthew Perry slouches over an airport trolly in an (equally slouchy) grey tailored suit. Pamela Anderson appeared arm in arm with then husband Tommy Lee, grinning in a sky blue co-ord at Tampa International in Florida.
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Airport fashion is a signifier of many things. But mostly? It’s an indication of change. A phenomenon since the early ‘50s (at least), airport style has spanned over 70 years in culture, and as such, has been an indicator of changes in our culture, from style to travel itself. But the main thing it gives us insight into? Is the changing face of celebrity culture.
As the noughties began, celebrity culture was shifting into unknown territory. From the advent of reality TV to gossip columns and the emergence of online blogs, the way we consumed culture was changing. And so were celebrities. Where celebs were once rarely sighted, they were becoming increasingly accessible.
See, celebrities have to travel. And they’re inclined to serve looks while they do so. And this created a pop culture gold mine. Thanks in no small part, to the plethora of paparazzi stationed at airports. See, it’s not a coincidence that airport style has become the phenomenon it has. It’s often down to career airport photographers who will spend more or less their entire year at airports like LAX, ready to snap a pic and create a pop culture moment. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, TMZ had a videographer stationed at LAX seven days a week. Airport style is more than just covetable fits, it’s a business.
But, aside from our fixation on the pop culture caviar that is the airport fit, what’s behind our fixation with the actual clothes? It’s simple really. They’re incredibly easy to replicate. Emily Ratajkowski’s most recent Met Gala outfit? That’s going to be a little tricky to pull off. But her airport fit? That’s an easy winner. Airport style is often celebrities at their most undone and unassuming, so the looks are much more accessible.
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So, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… what should you wear to the airport in 2023? In essence, there’s three tiers of airport style: tailored, tracksuits and tank tops. From easy fits by way of jeans and tank tops to relaxed suits and comfy sweatpants, there’s a whole host of ways to dress at the airport and look great doing so. The key is to keep it simple: easy separates that will look good on and off the plane. Really, there’s only one non-negotiable element of the airport outfit: a slick pair of shades to hide those missed hours of beauty sleep. From Miu Miu to Saint Laurent, we’ve curated an edit of the ultimate airport looks below. All you need to do now? Cop your favourite and get ready to join the mile high fashion set.