The Good Eye
Austin airport couture
I know from airports. As a former six-year resident of Chicago and hater of winter in the Midwest, the hours I've spent in O'Hare during peak holiday flying times beggar description. Huddled next to a pillar with a Snickers wrapper balled in one fist, cheap earbuds jammed painfully into my ears, and a stern J.M. Coetzee novel balanced on my knee, I would occasionally look up and make little fashion shows in my head, scored to Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely."
Judging by paparazzi pics, which I know are how most things are measured, we are obsessed with celebrity airport fashion: Victoria Beckham floating down the moving walkways in lizard-skin pants and needle-thin heels, Emma Watson striding to her gate dressed like a 40-year-old French woman. Rihanna wears sweatpants with heels, because she can. And close-ups of Gwyneth Paltrow at LAX always reveal a single, perfect diamond made of a frozen unicorn tear somewhere on her person.
These are the professionals, however. How cute, I wondered, does Austin fly? I set out to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to find out.
Stylewise, I figured ABIA would start out ahead of the game, inasmuch as it's a live music venue with five stages, and packs in additional free performances at Christmas time to soothe passengers antsy from standing in the security line. But would the calming tones of the Austin Jazz Workshop and local roots-pop vocalist Sherah coax Austinites out of their flip-flops? UT had just let out for the semester. I feared bunny slippers.
The first thing I learned was that the most fashionably dressed folks at the airport spend the whole time talking on cell phones. As I do not take candids and did not want to disturb their business transactions and/or fights with significant others, some of the very best outfits slipped through my fingers. Other women, invariably looking gorgeous, refused to be photographed unless their faces were literally cropped out of the picture, corroborating Beyoncé's assertion that pretty does, indeed, hurt. (Given this trend, I'm surprised the Benefit cosmetics vending machine, that mysterious pink bus to nowhere, doesn't get more traffic. Maybe it's the mirror.)
My first victim, a black-clad traveler with a sleek blond pixie cut, had no such qualms. She was eager to show off the airport-friendly rubber soles of her simple but sky-high earth-toned wedges from Margiela's MM6 line. With her giant Hervé Chapelier tote and black-and-gold bangles from local antique jewelry store Bell and Bird, I was starting to guess that she was a pro. I told her so, and was surprised to discover my fashionable flyer was in fact Marianne Malina, president of Austin advertising agency GSD&M. "Well," I said, feeling a little relieved, "that explains why you look so put-together."
"Thank you," she said. "I just found a pair of my son's pajamas in my purse." There was no son in sight, so I didn't ask further questions.
My next prey stood in line at the gate in a bold zigzag dress accessorized with a shiny aqua belt and knotted-rope necklace. Was she conscious that by queuing up in spike heels, she was making the rest of us look bad? Did she set out to kill it at the airport? "This is just how I dress," she said, looking bewildered. I moved on.
I was relieved to stumble across more casual examples of stylish airport wear farther down the hall. A French exchange student returning to Paris rocked florescent Nikes, an army backpack, and pigtails with a baggy gray sweatshirt, and Kari Shrode, a student headed to her native Chicago for the holidays, wore stretchy burgundy corduroys, slip-on chukka boots, and a big, fuzzy sweater, eschewing accessories – "They just get in the way," she said. Bright flats with textured socks were another creative way to introduce security line-friendly chic.
By far the most popular style for women, however, was tall boots with tucked-in leggings or jeggings topped by an oversized blouse and a coordinating scarf. Men, always a little in arrears in the fashion-over-comfort department, came through with the occasional natty scarf or crisp, colorful button-down – a little rumpled, perhaps, but then again, it's all about the journey.
My own airport style can be summed up by Katie Presley, a writer for Bitch magazine who, while awaiting a flight to Seattle, looked up from the book she was reading long enough to say: "I dress for comfort, but I don't show up in my pajamas anymore. That was more of a college thing."
For a photo gallery of Austin airport couture, see austinchronicle.com/photos.