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Dressed for Stress

Air marshals' fashion dilemmas

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Let's say you're a random super power that's been attacked by extremists from, oh let's say, the Middle East. Let's also say those Middle Eastern extremists have shown a preference for, oh I don't know, hijacking commercial jetliners and using them as missiles. What's a super power to do?

Well, other than the obvious choice of invading a country that's totally unrelated to the extremists, that super power would probably want to put air marshals on its planes to keep them from being hijacked. Not a bad idea.

So, what would you look for in a Brave New Air Marshal? Well, they should be observant, obviously. And be schooled in the motives and methods of terrorists. Oh, and according to memos issued by the Department of Homeland Security and field offices of the Federal Air Marshal Service, they must simultaneously "present a professional image" and "blend unnoticed into their environment." What the hell does that mean, exactly?

According to new regulations, federal air marshals (including those working under cover) must have neatly trimmed hair and men must be clean-shaven. Some of the service's field offices have additionally mandated that male officers wear suits, ties and dress shoes while on duty, even in hot weather. Women must wear blouses and skirts or dress slacks. Jeans, athletic shoes and non-collared shirts are prohibited. After all, we wouldn't want to insult a new guest of the state at Guantanamo by hauling their ass in while wearing a ratty pair of Levis, would we?

The Federal Air Marshal Service acknowledges that a dress code does exist, but wouldn't give specifics (calling it "sensitive security information") other than to say, "In order to gain respect in a situation, marshals must be attired to gain respect . . . If they were allowed to be too casual in their dress, they probably would not gain the respect of passengers if a situation were to occur."

In other words, the Department of Homeland Security has mandated that Air Marshals look so obvious (but professionally mah-ve-lous) that a 14-year-old could pick them out faster than a narc at a Slipknot concert. Yep, I feel safer already.

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