Airport Clothing Etiquette for Sports Fans

I find myself in Chicago’s lovely O’Hare International Airport for the second time in a span of five days.  Two things about ORD that I find consistent: (1) The temperature is essentially at 75+ degrees at all times, and (2) every concourse I have stepped foot in is dimly lit.  Like suspiciously dim.  Either one of these things would generally make me a bit uneasy, but both of them together is just a special experience I can’t begin to describe.

I have actually traveled quite a bit this year (relative to any other year of my life, but not necessarily a lot compared to the average person).  One thing I have constantly noticed about airports is the amazingly high percentage of people who are wearing some type of sports jersey, college t-shirt, or other memorabilia to basically let every stranger they pass exactly where they are from and/or which city / school they are representing.  I’m all for team spirit, school spirit, city spirit, etc., but I feel at times the amount of ‘representing’ becomes a bit over the top.  With that said, I believe it’s time to set some ground rules.

First, in order to lay out the basics of airport travel clothing etiquette, we first need to appreciate each of the various types.  Without further ado:

(1) The College / University T-Shirt, Sweatshirt, or Sweatpants Combo

This look is generally displayed by college students, especially younger ones who have just recently realized, renewed, or rekindled the love for their college of choice.  I can completely understand the rationale behind this.  To this very day, I still own approximately 26 University of Wisconsin or Badger-related shirts (give or take 3-5).  When you’re in college and trying to save money – and, let’s face it, not doing your laundry regularly – I get that you have a lot of [inset your school or university] shirts at your disposal, and I’m totally fine with the being used for airport travel.

One of the only notable exceptions to this that I can think of is the parent, non-recent alumni, or person from the area of the country where a school is located donning the school’s t-shirt, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc., on a non-game day.  As is discussed in #3 below, we all know the sole purpose of wearing such attire is to show everyone else at the airport where you’re from.  And to be honest, as much as I would love everyone to know that I went to the University of Wisconsin, nobody traveling in the same vicinity of me at the airport really cares.

Overall, I’d say it’s completely fine to wear your college or university gear, but just don’t over-do it or abuse it.

(2) Sports Team Baseball Cap

Personally one of my favorites, as it can complement a solid jersey choice (on game days, see below), but is also great on its own.  It stands out, is easily recognizable, but isn’t too flashy.  It’s lets people know where your allegiances lie without making it look like you’re over-compensating for something.  In addition, because of its modest nature, the baseball cap is appropriate on any day of the week, any time of the year.

For example, check out Robert Pattinson completely killing the subtle baseball cap look with this timeless San Diego Padres cap:

Rob Pattinson not over-doing it with the baseball cap + white v-neck tee.

Rob Pattinson not over-doing it with the baseball cap + white v-neck tee.

Any cap will do, really, but if I’m forced to choose, I like the New Era 59Fifty collection. Not only do they have a great selection of styles / colors, but the fitted flat brim look is so sweet.  Moving on…

(3) NFL / MLB / NBA Player Replica Jersey

This one is kind of tricky in that it depends on the day of the week.  More specifically, if your team is playing a game ON THE DAY you’re traveling, I think repping a jersey of your favorite player is acceptable.  In general, the player replica jersey really only seems appropriate on game days anyways, whether you’re traveling or not.  Think about it, nothing screams ‘I want strangers to know exactly who my favorite team is’ more than strutting through an airport in your Peyton Manning jersey.  Peyton Manning doesn’t wear his jersey on non-game days (unless, of course, he is shooting a Papa John’s commercial).  If you’re not playing in a professional sports event, cheering for someone playing in a professional sports event, or shooting a professional sports-related commercial, it’s best to leave the jersey in your suitcase.

Just today (a Wednesday, for the record), I saw two young gentlemen charging through the airport concourse with their Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl XLV jerseys (one green, one white) and, wait for it, Santa hats!  While I appreciate the holiday spirit, and really dig the A-Rodg love, the attire (at least the jersey) is inappropriate as there are no games being played today.

(4) Matching Couples Pro or College Sports Team Shirts or Jerseys

Okay, so I’ll admit once again that I know how / why this is so prevalent.  It’s a combination of numbers 1 and 3 above.  People are proud of their school, professional sports team, and/or area of the country they are from.  They want to put this pride on display, especially while traveling.  Since buying the same article of clothing is more convenient, and likely more cost-effective, why not splurge on matching tees, jerseys, onesies, etc.?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s the same reason why it’s unnecessary for parents to dress their identical twins in the same outfit.  Just like we can tell they’re twins without them wearing the same exact outfit, we can tell you and your significant other / friend / travel colleague are from the same place or love the same sports team if you’re each wearing various articles of clothing stating such.  You don’t need to be dressed identically for us to get the point.

(5) Zubaz Pants

How did I almost forget about this one?  Thank you, random guy sitting within earshot of me talking to your sister about these very pants!  Thank you very, very much!

Even Dan Marino found out that when you wear Zubaz, the joke is ALWAYS on you (literally).

Even Dan Marino found out that when you wear Zubaz, the joke is ALWAYS on you (literally).

While Zubaz are incredibly entertaining and help multiply the effect of team spirit, I don’t believe these pants are acceptable in any circumstance outside of the comfort of your own home, circle of friends, or sports venue filled with several drunk individuals.

In Conclusion

Please note that the above points should be looked at more as guidelines as opposed to rules, and are completely based on my opinions and observations from airport travel.  I do not mean to offend anyone or make anybody feel uncomfortable in any way.  Take every point above with a grain of salt, but know that if you break the airport clothing etiquette, you’ll only make yourself look silly on your day of travel.  Then again, that will just make you fit in with the rest of us.

Happy and safe travels!


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