We’ve all seen that one airline passenger before. You know the one I’m talking about. He’s probably wearing flip flops or a pair of loose pajamas, and looks downright sloppy. There has been much discourse over whether or not it’s appropriate to dress for a flight like the plane is your own personal bedroom, but sometimes airline dress codes aren’t so cut and dry. Take the case of Olivia Culpo, who recently discovered there’s a line you can’t cross when it comes to appropriate airline attire – and apparently crop tops are on the wrong side of that line.
According to an Instagram story posted by her sister Aurora, the two of them were waiting at the gate to board their flight to Cabo with Olivia’s boyfriend, football player Christian Mccaffrey, when she was called up to the flight attendant desk. The flight attendant on duty then informed Olivia that she would need to “put a blouse on” her ensemble or she would not be allowed to board the flight (Matador Network reached out to American Airlines for comment, but haven’t heard back as of publish time). Olivia then steps into the video’s frame to reveal her outfit: A pair of black biker shorts paired with a plunging black crop top (otherwise known as a bralette) over which she wore a floor-length black open cardigan.
While no belly button or nipple is revealed by the outfit, the former Miss USA apparently didn’t feel like arguing. She borrowed Mccaffrey’s sweatshirt and boarded her flight without further incident. But on her Instagram story, Aurora calls the incident “f*cked up.” Another passenger then approaches the pair to compare her outfit to Culpo’s: A similar style crop top which actually exposes much more cleavage than Culpo’s ensemble and a pair of leggings – except this other passenger was not asked to cover up.
The dust up seems to reveal that airline dress codes seem to be randomly enforced and based on the whims of who is on duty that day. According to the American Airlines conditions of carriage, passengers must “Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed” — a rule that comes right after “Be respectful that your odor isn’t offensive (unless it’s caused by a disability or illness).”
It’s still a mystery why Culpo was targeted and publicly embarrassed, but the slew of passengers who pass through airports in pajama pants and fleece onesies are never called out for wearing inappropriate attire. If the issue is that Culpo was showing too much skin, it seems like these rules unfairly fall harder on women – which seems to suggest that some airline attendants believe women’s bodies are inherently offensive or inappropriate. While it doesn’t seem like this is the message that any airline would want to send to its passengers, this sort of incident is unfortunately common. Women are constantly told their totally regular outfits don’t meet airline standards. For instance in 2020, Southwest flight attendants told a woman traveling with her son that her outfit was “lewd,” while just last year flight attendants forced a model wearing a crop on her flight to wear a neon vest designed for the flight crew, telling her “You can’t wear a bikini” on a plane.
Arbitrarily enforcing a dress code that seems to be based not on an established code but the tastes of the flight crew comes off as sexist, and it’s not okay. If airlines want their passengers to dress “appropriately” then they need to be much clearer about how they define “appropriate.” And more importantly, airlines need to make sure those standards don’t disproportionately shame or punish women in particular or dressing comfortably for a flight.