Tuesday, December 06, 2011



I’ve decided to become a jet-setter!

With my new retro Pan Am bags, I’m traveling in style. No matter what exotic location I’m off to—the grocery store, garage sales, a visit to the grandkids, a dental cleaning or Home Depot—I’m prepared to take on the world. Or at least look cool running errands.

Seriously, these new repro Pan Am purses are so fun! I discovered them while surfing online for information about the new ABC series “Pan Am”. Based on the lives of an early 60’s flight crew, the show has kept me captivated, especially the stewardess uniforms and their classy retro fashions when the gals are off duty. I did inherit some vintage purses and gloves from my mom, but when I saw that you could actually buy handbags embossed with that iconic Pan Am logo, I just had to have one.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. It was no trouble paying for one of these cute little accessories, but as far as actually holding one in my hands, well, they were all sold out. I guess many others had the same idea as me. So I sat on waiting lists and after a few weeks I finally received two of the “Mini-Explorers”—one white and one blue—for use as everyday purses. Before that, I purchased a blue Malay bag from a seller on eBay, who delivered it to me within two days. This rectangular, cross-body bag is beautiful and functional, and tided me over until my other purses arrived. I’m still expecting an “Innovator” tote in light baby blue, which I learned was back-ordered after I had already paid for it.

Made of durable PU with embossed Pan Am logo zipper pulls and pretty printed lining, these bags aren’t super-expensive, yet they aren’t ready-to-fall apart pieces of junk, either. They’re just nice, well-made purses that I think will last a long time if you take care of them. I learned that they actually were first produced a few years ago in a limited edition by designer Marc Jacobs, who has his name in large letters on the merchandise (which I’m not crazy about). You can still find these on eBay. And now many online stores carry the new repro bags, including the official Pan Am Brands site which offers a variety of other items, from carry-on luggage to passport covers to shirts and belts. Besides their classic style, what also attracted me was the name recognition and nostalgia—seeing that familiar Pan Am globe from pictures and TV clips of JFK, the Beatles and others holding their flight bags which were presented to first class passengers, the Beatles being interviewed on their arrival to America with the Pan Am globe on the wall behind them, etc. It just brings a smile to many people’s faces when they see that blue ball, whether or not they actually flew the airline.

A cultural icon, Pan Am World Airways was the largest international air carrier in America for over 50 years until its collapse in 1991. But I sure never experienced it. I’ve only been on a plane twice—first on my honeymoon in the late 70’s and then with the kids on vacation in the mid-80’s, and both times to Disney World. It was fun but not particularly elegant. My daughter-in-law Connie, however, was privileged to board Pan Am planes as a child in the 80’s when she flew to Denmark and back with her family for her father’s job. Although she was only six or seven years old, the trips left an impression.

“You’re right in the image of glamour,” she remembers. “We had to look nice and be clean—not Sunday best, but nice slacks and shirts, and be well-behaved. It was a grown-up affair verses other planes we flew on. We got real glasses, not plastic. But there was no soda pop, and Mom had to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because there was nothing for kids to eat. It was hard to go that long without any kid-friendly food.”

Children did get little wings, however, and even were allowed to visit the cockpit. And the stewardesses were very kind, with “immaculate hair and makeup,” she recalls.

Like me, eBay seller Ashley from California also has never flown Pan Am, but is intrigued by recollections from her mother who came to the United States in 1971 from Nicaragua.

“Her father died when she was very young, so she grew up impoverished,” Ashley said. “When she was 18, a family she worked for arranged for her to work for them here in Los Angeles. Her very first luxurious experience was that Pan Am flight departing Nicaragua for the United States of America. She has told me how amazing it felt, because flying was such a luxury that she had witnessed but never experienced herself. She said the people on the flight were all dressed up—her favorite part. And she tends to remind us of this when she sees us wearing sweats or yoga pants on our plane trips.”

Unfortunately her mother no longer flies, “but she lives through our travels now, and the Pan Am show,” Ashley adds.

Indeed, Ashley loves both the bags and the show, and travels quite a bit. She knew about the Marc Jacobs items but at the time they were too expensive so she passed. Then she saw pictures online of the new repro bags and fell in love. She now has a Mini-Explorer, its larger overnight partner the original Explorer, and the Secret Agent bag for her laptop, with plans to purchase the passport cover, globe accessory case and a wash bag. She has received many compliments and even offers from fellow travelers. She loves carrying the Mini-Explorer, but admits it is not perfect.

“I use it every day,” she says. “I am super picky about purses; I probably buy one new purse a year and end up going back to my usual Guess purse anyway. So I wish there was a Pan Am bag suited to my exact liking—softer handles, softer exterior, longer handle drops, and medium sized. However, the bags have been quite the conversation sparkers so I’ll keep using them even if they can be hard to carry at times.”

I agree the bags do have their weak points, but the strong points are so worth it! I just love the look of them—they’re sleek and classy looking, even though they’re not high-quality designer leather Coach or Gucci or Juicy Couture bags which I don’t have any of anyway! But they really are stylish, and most of all just “different.” They’re not the same old usual thing you see all over the place. Kinda like my Fuzzy Nation dog purses (see blog article below).

Blogger “Danderma” has plans to buy a blue Orion bag.

“I began noticing this travel bag held by the plane stewardesses as they walked around the airport,” said Danderma, a fan of the TV show. “I thought to myself, ‘It looks so retro and lovely and would make a great travel companion. Lo and behold I went online and there it was!’”

The Orion was given to first class passengers, she explains on her blog.

“Being seen holding a Pan Am bag was actually very in style and dictated the holder of belonging to a certain class. I am going to be brandishing one proudly the next time I go on an airplane.”

Even the actual vintage Pan Am merchandise is highly collectible. Just look on eBay and you’ll see all kinds of auctions for old beat-up (or “well-loved”) Pan Am bags and other items. If I ever spot one at a garage sale, I’m going to snag it! And when it comes to costumes, nothing beats going as a Pan Am stewardess. I’ve seen homemade, thrown-together outfits sell for enormous amounts on eBay, all for women who want to portray that glamorous image at a Halloween party. I love the modest, official looking ones (and there’s even blog articles on how to make your own stewardess costumes) but I’ve seen far too many packaged “sexy stewardess” ensembles for sale that are totally tacky.

And then there’s the show. Oh how I love watching it every Sunday evening. I’m glued to the TV when it’s on, with a Pan Am purse, vintage gloves, and usually a cat or two on my lap. Even my husband watches it. The scenery, the adventure, the characters, the fashions, the romance, the history, the storylines—I like it all (except the parts with the alcohol and premarital sex, but what can you do…). It’s about time a program like this was developed—we’ve needed it.

“I can’t get enough of it,” agrees Ashley, who has a fascination with older eras. “I have never been a big TV-watcher until this season…I wish Pan Am were an hour a day instead of just each week! I hope it lasts. I will be so sad if they were to cancel this sooner than four seasons. There is so much history from that time, there has to be plenty of things they can build on.”

I hope it’s around for a long time, too! Just think, when they’ve exhausted the early 60’s, they can move on to the mid-60’s and the mod era. Oh the fashion possibilities!! And the stories they could tell! My head is in the clouds just thinking about it. In the meantime, even if I’m only picking up a head of lettuce or dropping off dry-cleaning, I will carry my Pan Am purses proudly as a symbol of that golden age, flying from adventure to adventure, no matter how mundane, in my own little world.

For more information, visit:

Pan Am TV Show Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oVdLIvcNRE

Blogger Review of Mini-Explorer: http://sanlive.com/178/review-of-pan-am-mini-explorer-travel-bag

Pan Am Logos history: http://www.panamair.org/History/logos.htm

Pan Am Flight Bags Museum: http://www.everythingpanam.com/Flight_Bags.html