What the 747 Taught Us About Dressing for the Occassion
Or: can restaurants still inspire the same reverence as the Jumbo Jet once did?
Boeing’s final 747 rolled out of the factory earlier this week, ending the commercial airliner’s storied five-decade production run as arguably the world’s most recognizable aircraft. Like PanAm and the Concorde, the 747 exemplified air travel at its jet setty zenith. Consider the details: the unmistakeable humped silhouette, the 225-foot wingspan, the twin aisles, the four Rolls Royce engines — the 747 didn’t do subtle. Aviation insiders dubbed it the Jumbo Jet. The Queen of the Skies. Fat Albert. Earth, Wind & Fire sung about it. So did Kiss, Prince, Dr. Dre, Tom Petty, Motörhead, Joni Mitchell, and Paul McCartney, to name a few. James Bond flew in it. Snoop Dogg piloted it. Harrison Ford saved it. President Biden still has two of them.
What’s perhaps most interesting about the 747’s legacy, however, is how we, the public, responded to it. Here was an aircraft whose sheer size and lower fares finally brought flight to the masses, and we were duly smitten. The Jumbo Jet captured our imagination, it demanded our respect. For children of the 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear your parents gush on the eve of a transatlantic trip: “We’re flying on a 747 tonight.” A hushed reverence would fall over the family. That one would need to comport oneself with a certain sense of decorum while aboard such a marvel of engineering was a given. This was an airliner, after all, with a second floor, a flying duplex for Christ’s sake(!), whose upper region — accessible only via spiral staircase — housed an elegant cocktail lounge, one which American Airlines had the audacity to put a piano in. Taking a 747, especially in its heyday, wasn’t a means to an end but rather the main event, and many passengers dressed accordingly. Coat and maybe even tie for men, something chic for the ladies, and the kiddos had better comb their hair. Back then the world still had a little pizzaz to it, and we hadn’t yet regarded air travel as a necessary nuisance, snubbing our noses at the miracle of flight as if we all possessed PhDs in jet propulsion.
Reminiscing over the 747’s legacy got us thinking about what other experiences demand that their participants meet them halfway in order for the vibe — so to speak — to be complete. Reading is the best example. Getting lost in a novel is no passive endeavor. Black lines on a white page conjure images in our mind, and the better our imagination and the deeper our commitment to the story the more wholly the author’s world is rendered. The same can be said of entertainment and hospitality. Going to The Metropolitan Opera, for example, isn’t simply an impressive experience due to the production on stage, but also due to the audience’s attire, with gowns and black tie in abundance. In other words, clothes you don’t see every day, meaning their very appearance heightens the experience itself. Movie premieres can still inspire such a sartorial response, award shows, too, and there exist a handful of five-star hotels in the world that demand their guests don proper threads — blazers after 5 p.m. in the lobby, good sir.
“The same can be said of entertainment and hospitality. Going to The Metropolitan Opera, for example, isn’t simply an impressive experience due to the production on stage, but also due to the audience’s attire, with gowns and black tie in abundance. In other words, clothes you don’t see every day, meaning their very appearance heightens the experience itself.”
But what of restaurants? For decades, going out to dinner presented perhaps the easiest excuse to get dressed up. And yet, as style and social mores have changed and evolved over the years, so too has the concept of getting gussied up for dinner out. This is true even of fine dining, which feels like an antiquated concept these days, at least from a visual standpoint. The best restaurants no longer adhere to some narrow or stuffy idea of decor and vibe, and so they don’t demand you do, either. For evidence look no further than Le Bernardin, which abandoned its jacket requirement during the pandemic. It can be argued that this is a good thing. Society is becoming less and less binary, and dress codes — which can be exclusive rather than inclusive, implicit with racial and gender biases — might feel like a thing of the past; a Hobbesian social contract that’s no longer needed, especially in an era that celebrates individuality, an era when fashion can be pulled off with the same eclectic, high-low mix of ingredients as the inventive food on one’s plate.
And yet there are some restaurateurs who disagree. Last spring, The New York Times ran this piece on the proliferation of restaurants across the country requiring that their clientele arrive in a certain style. From Manhattan’s Les Trois Chevaux to Catbird in Dallas to LA’s Olivetta, dress codes ranged from the specific to the vague, yet all were enforced. Rather than a means of gatekeeping, these policies — on paper, and according to those behind them — had more to do with upholding a legacy of style, and the restaurateurs asked that their guests join them in helping complete an atmosphere where the food might be Michelin starred and the wallpaper from Gucci.
“We revere the style and finesse that can only be attributed to having New York swagger,” [a text message from Les Trois Chevaux] said. “We expect our guests to arrive in proper dinner attire, and for you to celebrate the style that downtown New York City can bring.”
We’ll leave such prescriptive manifestos up to the restaurants themselves. The last thing we want to do is enforce style, especially when contemporary style can be such a subjective thing and the world becomes increasingly casual. (The New York Times has forecasted a future in which neckties will be cringe.) Still, there’s something to be said about looking your best when you go out to dinner — whether that means wearing a vintage designer dress, the latest Aimé Leon Dore fit, or Japanese denim, hypebeast sneakers, and all other manners of fire drip. As with nearly everything in life, our attitude often determines the experience. There was no dress code aboard the 747. Blazer or no blazer, it still took six+ hours to cross the Atlantic, and a red-eye was still a red-eye. But by getting dressed up, passengers conveyed to everyone their own happiness to be there, they signified their good fortune, they became part of the experience itself, and thus the experience became all the more memorable. Sometimes it’s ok to bring that same attitude to the dinner table. If the 747 taught us anything, it’s that a little pageantry here and there is a good thing, especially when great restaurants and great company are involved.
Blackbird Labs, Inc.
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