I’m waiting at baggage claim at LAX, snuggled up in an oversized hoodie and having a hell of a time people watching. I’ve never been to Los Angeles before and already just the selection of inhabitants roaming through the terminal have fascinated me more than anything else. You’ve got all sorts here: the wannabe Rasta white dude, the airbrushed twenty-something with her girlfriends laughing about something they just saw on her phone, a few exquisite specimens that are definitely models or else goddesses walking on earth, some guy wearing three hats, the suits who look as thrilled about their next upcoming meeting as my puppies do when it’s time for a bath, and of course the weary travelers who are more interested in getting back into bed.
I’m more of the latter as I strongly debate whether or not the party coming to meet me will be able to find me curled up on this slightly wobbly bench. I opt not to in the end for sanitary reasons, but also because I blend in with the rest of the unkempt regular travelers who just flew across the country at 6AM. While my hair may be large and a frizzy ginger beacon, that’s all that sets me apart. Very much unlike the person I’m about to meet.
I know finding Alston isn’t going to be hard once he gets to baggage claim. He stands out. For as much as many LAers make themselves look nice (as for as equal many as do not give a shit), there’s making yourself look presentable when traveling, and then there’s dressing up… and then there’s Alston Stephanus.
Alston Stephanus is a fashion and accessories designer with Alston Stephanus Accessories. As such, his life has a great deal of fashion in it, and so it’s natural that he wants to look good every day. But there’s also the fact, this is wholly who Alston is. He lives and breathes the vintage fashion lifestyle with a heavy side dish of geekery. We’re collaborating with him for Disney Adventures actually! But for now I want to concentrate on how this star of the Indonesian and Singaporean fashion world travels in style. Literally.
There are no sweatpants and pullover hoodies. Instead there’s pinstripe pants, boater hats, and ties.
Why does he dress up to travel? “It makes me feel like I’m worth something.” He explained to me a few weeks ago. He doesn’t do it for other people, though the reactions and comments from people even in baggage claim are steady; he does it for himself.
When I travel my first question is: can I wear a hoodie with this? For Alston, he’s deciding between watch chains and cufflinks. What will make his travel a more pleasant experience? We’re world’s apart in this, but I can’t help but admire the way he travels. I wish I could pull it off and he’s more than once told me that I could if I want to, I just need to try.
The fact is, there’s benefits to being put together when you’re traveling beyond just not looking like you crawled out of bed and decided to stay in your pajamas.
People will think you’re important
Okay, maybe not if you’re crammed into economy with the rest of the plebeians, but then again more than one famous person has been spotted in coach. The fact is we all make rash assumptions about someone based on their appearance; don’t tell me you don’t, because you do. If you’re dressed in a nice dress or suit and have actually brushed your hair and done something with yourself, your fellow passengers and maybe even the staff is going to treat you with a little bit more respect, or maybe at least slip an extra packet of peanuts your way. Gotta get those extra peanuts.
You may get free stuff
This isn’t as true as it used to be with all the extra charges now on planes, but sometimes you may just fool the desk attendant into thinking that you’re deserving of a free upgrade. A lot of the time it’s honestly being at the right place at the right time, but looking less grungy and more prim won’t hurt your chances.
And it’s not just upgrades you may get. “One place thought I was royalty…” Alston recounted to me as we talked. He had been doing a bit of traveling in Asia and based on what he was wearing, the staff had made an assumption and let him into an exclusive tea room that he really shouldn’t have been allowed in to. Like, this tea room is only for old school upper classes and actual royalty.
So, you never know what will happen!
No one else does
Let’s face it, as a society we prize being comfortable. And really, I can’t blame us. With yoga pants that look like dress pants and jeggings becoming the norm, why would any lady throw on spanx and a dress or any gent bother with a tie when you could just throw on a sweatshirt and your bottoms of choice? Standing out can be a good thing when the reason is that you’re looking swank as hell.
You’re not going to see too many Alstons roaming around the airport. With his three piece suits, collection of hats, and more watch chains than I think I have pairs of shoes, he is a decidedly unique looking traveler. And that’s interesting. He prefers the vintage styling of the 1930s and 40s himself, back when air travel was a total luxury and it was a special event. Everyone dressed up back then- when did we lose that? Air travel is still a special event, we’re still able to FLY through the air in a metal tube. But with the commercialization of anything, things change, and now seats are more cramped, you have to pay for extra leg room, and it’s generally not seen as a pleasant experience. It became commonplace for us, maybe we even take it for granted. By dressing up nicely, you sort of put yourself in a different mind frame, even if you are sitting next to Smelly Guy in Flip-Flops.
You’ll feel better about yourself
This is one of the reasons Alston dresses the way he does, it makes him feel great about himself. It’s the same feeling one gets when you’re dolled up for a special event, you feel great. But why save it for weddings and soirees? I actually took this challenge upon myself after talking with another friend of mine who always makes sure she’s looking fabulous when she flies.
A friend had bought me a first class ticket and I figured, well, I can’t fly first class looking like a bum. But I’m also the sort who doesn’t have a ton of non-formal nice clothes. But what I managed did make me feel good. Instead of sludging through security and the terminal dreading being kept in a plane for hours, I felt a bit… peppy? I felt really nice, my make up was done, my hair was behaving, and I looked like a put together young professional. I was looking forward to my first class experience, of course, but I also kind of liked looking nice?
So when I met Alston and afterwards when we talked about travel fashion, I thought back to when I did this and have since dressed up a few more times. Not always, but ever so often. It was a relatively small thing to get up a little earlier to actual put my face on and do my hair, and it had a huge pay off personally. Give it a try!
It’ll make the flight more enjoyable
Alston does admit, “…sometimes I dress like a normal person… because I’m tired.” We can’t really fault him for that. When it comes to long haul flights, Alston recommends bringing a second outfit with you in your carry on that you can change into during the flight.
Chances are you don’t want to keep to your dress pants, skirt, etc for fourteen hours, plus you’ll want to look nice and refreshed when you disembark. The trick to that is to change during the flight. Okay, yes, changing in the tiny lavatories isn’t the greatest of experiences, but it breaks up a long flight in a way.
Changing into different, perhaps more comfortable clothes, will signal to your brain it’s time to relax and rest. Sleeping on planes is hard, there’s no doubt about that, unless you’re one of those people who can sleep immediately and in that case I hate you. But letting yourself change clothes will help, even subconsciously. Once you’ve awoken, then it’s time to change back, and that’ll help you wake up and get ready to carry on with your day post-travel.
Dressing up to travel is fun, because it’s different. Planning an outfit for travel can be like a game, what kind of person do you want to feel like? Do you want to feel Old Hollywood glam with red lipstick and loose curls? Do you want to feel like an important business exec in a nice suit? Or do you just want to spice up a regular outfit with a few accessories that make you feel fancy?
While it’s routine for Alston, because his personal style is vintage clothing and looking dapper as hell on a daily basis, for most of us it’s still a bit foreign. But it doesn’t have to be. What I really love is the fact the main reason he dresses up to travel and why I’ve started to every now and again, is because it makes us feel great. And honestly, that’s the core reason.
If this hasn’t convinced you, that’s fine. I still crawl out of bed and put on my comfiest clothes for many a flight, and that’s OK. Comfort with traveling is a big deal, but dressing nice can be comfortable too.
So try and take a page from Alston’s book and be dapper for a flight. Travel is usually a celebration, so dress for it!