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Boots, indecency, and secular sacred spaces: implicit religious motives underlying an aspect of airline dress codes.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2011
<mark>Journal</mark>Implicit Religion
Issue number2
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)173-192
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this paper I shall draw on the distinction between “decent” and “indecent”, a pair of concepts highlighted in religious studies by Althaus-Reid (2000), and also on the role of ritual in delimiting the sacred in a secular context (Smith 1987, Knott 2005, 2007, Knott and Franks 2007), in order to show how the former can be seen to underlie a small part of the (female) flight attendant dress codes of commercial passenger airlines. It will be my argument that a widely adopted move away from allowing flight attendants to wear knee-high boots, especially inside the aircraft, stems from a growing cultural evaluation of these boots as “indecent,” and a simultaneous conceptualization of the aircraft’s interior as a secular sacred space. Using this case study, I hope to illustrate that at least one aspect of the contemporary culture of air travel can be usefully explored in terms of implicit religion (Bailey 1998), and a spatial approach to the sacred. I shall also suggest that the airline example has clear parallels in some other secular contexts.
In section 1, I shall outline the relevant aspects of the theory of implicit religion and show how they relate to the notions of “decency” and “indecency.” I shall then, in section 2, sketch out a brief history of knee-high boots within airline dress codes, before moving on to argue, in section 3, that they have become progressively entangled in a largely unconscious associative relationship with “indecency.” In section 4, I shall draw attention to the requirement of many airlines that their flight attendants should remove their knee-high boots once they have boarded the aircraft, and I shall argue that this, in conjunction with other boundary markers and rituals, underlines the implicit sacrality of the aircraft cabin. Finally, in section 5, I shall anticipate and respond to some possible objections to this analysis.