A Travel Essential For Women: The Little Black Dress

Even though the seasons are shifting to spring, I’m still dressing in wool. I’ve said before that I’m crazy for the newer merinos; they’re not just for long underwear anymore. And because they’re made of natural fibers, they breath well making them surprisingly versatile for those transitional seasons. It’s a little counter-intuitive to think that wool is okay in warmer temps, but the lighter fabrics work well for winter, spring and fall, and I’ve worn my merino skirt in summer, too, because it’s got so little weight to it.

For my spring travels, I’m packing the M2 dress by Nau. It’s a drape-y, flattering boat neck, three quarter sleeve piece that shakes out nicely after it’s been crumpled up in your bag. You can dress it up with whatever shiny extras your packing – a pashmina (because you always have one with you, right?), or some sparkly flats, or a pair of cute tights, or just wear it with sandals and go casual. A pleat at the hip gives it a little bit of swish, so even though it’s “just” a black dress, it’s got a bit of style.

The M2 is the medium weight merino so it provides some warmth if you’re wearing it in chillier places (or overly air-conditioned restaurants. I throw all my merino in the washing machine, have done for years, and it’s washed up just fine – but it’s best to keep it out of the dryer, it lasts longer that way and has less risk of shrinking.

I’m a lazy dresser and I don’t like to pack single use only items. I’m also a sucker for anything that makes me look stylish but feels like something I could wear on a long-haul flight. You might be thinking it’s a little late in the season for buying wool, but depending on where your travels take you, it might not be, plus, off-season pricing applies to clothing, too. Get your little black three-season dress directly from Nau; it’s on sale as I type this.

[Photo: Nau]

Packing Notes For Summer Travels

Did anyone else totally screw up their packing for TBEX, the recent travel blogger’s conference in Denver? I did, egregiously. Having deferred to the Rocky Mountain location at Keystone Resort, I completely overlooked the fact that it was in the 90s in Denver. I packed as though I were summering in Seattle – a raincoat, jeans, long underwear, and layers, you know. As a result, I ended up wearing the same skirt and rotating through my T-shirts for the entire trip. Oops.

I departed for a week in the south of France just two weeks later, determined not to make the same mistakes. My destination: Bordeaux for the wine festival – Le Fete de Vin. There were to be some fancy evening dinners, a fair amount of walking, two events on boats. The weather was forecast to be hot with some chance of thunderstorms. I might need to clean up – the cliche of French style is a cliche for a reason – but I would also need to cover some ground on my feet. Plus, there were the hours in transit, long-haul flights, lurking around airports.

I totally nailed it, with room to spare, and I still had long underwear and a raincoat.

On the plane

  • Phoebe dress by ScotteVest: While it’s not a particularly flattering cut on me (it’s too blocky, if that makes sense) it’s a nice piece for transit. I liked using the big pockets for my lip balm, passport, podcast-filled phone and wallet. I’d like a more fitted shape, but when you’re spending ten hours folded into an airplane seat, who cares?
  • Striped long underwear by Columbia: I have last season’s version and I wear them as leggings often – they’re totally cute. I get cold on the plane, and they’re a great layering piece.
  • Zip front hooded sweater from Triple Aught: One of my favorite sweaters. It’s warm, has a stylish cut, and has zippered pockets.
  • Cushe Wildrun shoes: Easy to get in and out of at TSA checkpoints, plus, they are great for walking.
  • Dahlgren alpaca socks: Big wooly ones. They’re for skiing and hiking, but also for napping on airplanes.
  • Pashmina scarf: Really? I need to tell you this? Right, I didn’t think so.

Everything else

  • Keen strappy sandals: They dress up beautifully, work for shorter walks and they absolutely make the transition to evening wear. Bonus, they don’t take much space in the bag.
  • Chaco Paradox shoes: I intentionally packed a second pair of walking shoes; my feet like it when I give them something else to live in. Also, they’re cute and a little unusual in style. They felt very appropriate when I was striding about vine-covered properties.
  • Five nice shirts: No particular brand – four of them white. Linen, muslin, silk, cotton. Lightweight – all of them.
  • Two pairs of shorts: Longish shorts. Yes, you can wear teeny tiny shorts while swanning about the south of France. Go right ahead. Mine are just above the knee. I’m a modest dresser, especially when traveling.
  • Two black dresses: One silk for evening wear, one Dharma dress from Aventura. The Dharma dress is a perfect travel piece, fine for summer dress weather in the day, but absolutely makes the transition to evening. I never wore the silk dress, but I was glad I had the option and it takes up almost zero space in my bag.
  • Footless lightweight stockings: Didn’t wear those either; it was way too hot, but I packed them in case I found I needed to go all out with the dress up.
  • ExOfficio rollup pants: Mine are a pale blue/gray, with a white shirt; they look like business. They’re very light, so great for heat or for when you need a little coverage from the wind or sun.
  • ScotteVest Lucy Cardigan: Also new from ScotteVest, this lightweight wrap works perfectly for evenings out and covering up a sleeveless dress. It feels soft, looks cute, and is very nice for summer evenings.
  • Rain shell from Westcomb: (You can take the girl out of Seattle but … ) I didn’t need it, but I always pack a raincoat – always. I can’t help it.
  • The other stuff: Socks and underwear (I wish I’d packed better socks), a swimsuit, an absurd amount of cables and electronica, product and meds.
  • Packing cubes: I’m not brand loyal when it comes to a system, but I actually am a convert to packing this way. My clothing stays cleaner, it’s easier to find things in my bag, and I end up packing more efficiently.

I could have easily traveled for a month or longer with this kit; for a week, it was perfect. The events turned out to be more casual than I’d expected but I wasn’t sorry I’d packed for more formal as the choices I made added little weight or bulk to my bag. I had exactly the right clothes for everything I did and had the weather gone south, I’d have had the pieces I needed to make the transition. And I had room in my carry-on sized bag to spare.

It’s rare I win so completely at the packing game. I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner and I’ll get it this right for all my future trips.

Image: Nancy Packs Her Suitcase via Flickr (Creative Commons). Awesome photo and SO not me.

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.

The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.

The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Seven vintage fashion stores at the Helsinki Vintage Fair

The Helsinki Vintage Fair happens twice a year in Finland, and the next one is right around the corner. On September 27, 2009, nearly 50 vintage and second-hand clothing and décor stores will get together at Kaapelitehdas to sell there goods, and visitors will get to watch a fashion show, live retro music and an exhibition of vintage arcade games. So, whether you’re looking for furniture, clothing, accessories or anything else that’s stylish and bargain-priced, this is worth a gander.

1. Vintage Babushka
New to Helsinki’s secondhand world, Vintage Babushka is the creation of three friends who have a jones for used apparel and accessories. Located in the Punavuori neighborhood, the owners choose wisely and are trying to take Finland “back to black” this fall.
Address: Iso Roobertinkatu 42, Wed-Fri 2-7pm, Sat 12-4pm

2. Green Dress
Green Dress is another new vintage shop, having opened this past spring. In addition to vintage clothing, you can pick up custom-designed clothing, crated from recycled materials. Stylist and handbag rental services are available, as well.
Address: Laivurinkatu 41, Tue-Fri 11am-7pm Sat 11am-4pm

3. Ansa
Ansa specializes in second-hand children’s clothing and boasts a well-decorated boutique.
Address: Fleminginkatu 8, Mon-Fri 12-7pm, Sat 12-4pm

4. Helsinki 10
You can pick up new and used designer duds at Helsinki 10, which caters to both men and women. You’ll find everything from leather jackets to floral dresses on the racks there.
Address: Eerikinkatu 3, Mon-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat 11am-6pm

5. Mekkomania
Look for dresses at Mekkomania – hell, it’s in the name (mekka = dresses). But, you can always go “off menu” and shop for jewelry, shoes, gloves and bags – not to mention wedding dresses from the 1970s.
Address: Mannerheimintie 31, Tue 11am-4pm, Wed-Thu 11am-7pm, Fri 11am-3pm

6. Play it again, Sam
Sam’s been plain’ it for 32 years in Helsinki, with evening gows, accessories, clothes, corsets and even wigs! Some of the goods go back to the nineteenth century.
Address: Rauhankatu 2, Mon-Fri 10.30am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm

7. Penny Lane Boutique
If you need any reason to go to Penny Lane Boutique, how about the fact that a former Miss Finland owns and runs it? She was a flight attendant for more than 40 years, which means she’ll blend with the Gadling crowd’s travel-savvy audience, and lovers of vintage goods will find plenty to occupy them.
Address: Runeberginkatu 37, Mon-Fri 12-5pm, Sat 12-3pm