Jet set

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Jet set is a term for an international social group of wealthy people who travel the world to participate in social activities unavailable to ordinary people. The term, which replaced "café society", came from the lifestyle of travelling from one stylish or exotic place to another via jet plane. With the democratization of air travel it has been replaced at least in part by the term "glitterati", reflecting a greater emphasis upon celebrity, including "being seen" and stalked by paparazzi, and less upon mode of travel.

The term "jet set" is attributed to Igor Cassini, younger brother of famed international fashion designer Oleg Cassini and a reporter for the New York Journal-American, who wrote under the pen name "Cholly Knickerbocker".[1] A parallel term that developed during the era was Beautiful People,[2] a period equivalent to today's concept of "glitterati" being "supermodels, celebrities and socialites", where looks, youth, and attractive activities predominated over wealth and high social standing.

Jet passenger service in the 1950s was marketed primarily to the upper class, but its introduction eventually resulted in a substantial democratization of air travel. Although the term "jet set" can still be found in common parlance, its literal meaning of those who travel by jet is no longer applicable as such.[3]


The British international air carrier BOAC inaugurated the world's first commercial scheduled jet service on 2 May 1952, using the de Havilland Comet, followed by the introduction of the Comet 4 in 1958 after a series of accidents in 1953–1954. The first successful service, from October 1958, was the typical "jet set" route, London–New York City. Pan Am followed suit with the Boeing 707, making its first scheduled flight between New York City and Paris on 26 October 1958.[4]

Other cities on the standard jet set routes were Honolulu, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Rio de Janeiro, Athens, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, and Tokyo. Also, jet set resorts, invariably with white sand and salt water, were circumspect by modern standards; Acapulco, Nassau with Huntington Hartford's new Paradise Island (opened in 1962) were taking the place of Bermuda. Meanwhile, Cannes, Capri, St. Tropez, Portofino,[5] and other sea-side towns on the French and Italian Riviera were on the jet set itinerary. Greek Islands such as Mykonos were included in the loop around 1974.[citation needed] Later on other hot spots such as Spain's Marbella on its Costa del Sol also developed a similar reputation.

Not only sun was chased - which extended to African safaris, solar eclipses, and yachting the world over. Skiing generated considerable new allure, and resorts in the French, Italian, and Swiss alps drew jet-setters from all points of the compass, as did emerging "destination" developments elsewhere.

The original members of this elite, free-wheeling set were those "socialites" who were not shy about publicity and entertained in semi-public places like restaurants and in night clubs, where the "paparazzi"—a jet set phenomenon—photographed them. They were the first generation that might spend a weekend in Paris or fly to Rome just for a party. The jet set was celebrated in popular culture, for example, Federico Fellini captured their lifestyle in La Dolce Vita (1960), and many movies and record albums of the era promoted flying to foreign lands for honeymoons and getaways, such as Capitol Records Honeymoon in Rome (1956).[6]

The term was joined in the spring of 1962 by Vogue's coinage of the term "the Beautiful People". This expression initially referred to the circle that formed around President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Readers of the 15 February 1964 Vogue could learn "What the beautiful people are doing to keep fit." The two phrases ran for a time in tandem; in 1970, author and social commentator Cleveland Amory could fear "that the Beautiful People and the Jet Set are being threatened by current economics."[2]

A sign that "jet set" had passed from urbane use was the 1974 country song "(We're Not) The Jet Set", in which George Jones and Tammy Wynette claim they are "the old Chevrolet set," as opposed to leading a glamorous, "jet-setting" lifestyle.

The flagging concept of a literal "jet set" elite gained a second wind with the introduction in 1976 of the supersonic Concorde. Scheduled flights began on 21 January 1976 on the London–Bahrain oil executive route and the distinctly jet-set Paris–Rio de Janeiro (via Dakar) route. From November 1977 the Concorde was flying between standard jet-set destinations, London or Paris to New York City; passenger lists on initial flights were gossip-column material. The Concorde restored the term's cachet: "From rock stars to royalty, the Concorde was the way to travel for the jet set," according to the Nova retrospective special "Supersonic Dream".[7] However, the Concorde was doomed by its sonic boom, limited global fly-over rights because of the boom, its huge thirst for jet fuel, and a disastrous crash. The aircraft was retired in 2003. Meanwhile, the Boeing 747, densely packed with some 400 passengers,[8] was a craft that accelerated the democratizing social changes already brought about by the jet age.

Still, by any term and any mode of travel, the set continues on. Celebrities. Supermodels. Million- and billionaires. Socialites. Movie stars. "Beautiful people". With more media attention than ever through the acceptance of paparazzi, proliferation of amateur-generated smartphone photos and videos, ease of social media posting, and expanding celebrity culture of the 21st century.

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  1. ^ Vallance, Tom (20 March 2006). "Oleg Cassini - Obituaries". The Independent. Archived from the original on April 5, 2008. [Oleg Cassini] and his younger brother Igor (who became the Hearst newspaper gossip columnist 'Cholly Knickerbocker' and coined the phrase 'jet set')…
  2. ^ a b Vogue 15 February 1964:49 and The Ladies Home Journal September 1970:81, noted Barry Popik, "Beautiful people".
  3. ^ Niemietz, Kristian (19 December 2013). "In praise of cheap flights". Spiked. ...air travel has been transformed from a luxury good to a mass-market product.
  4. ^ Swopes, Bryan (26 October 2022). "26 October 1958". This Day in Aviation. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  5. ^ "Portofino has long been fashionable with what we once called 'the jet set'." "History and tourist information on Liguria, Italy". Archived from the original on 2007-04-29. Retrieved 2007-04-27.
  6. ^ Borgerson, Janet (2017). Designed for hi-fi living: the vinyl LP in midcentury America. Schroeder, Jonathan E., 1962-. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-03623-8. OCLC 958205262.
  7. ^ On-line NOVA transcript (18 January 2005)
  8. ^ 366 in the 747-100 inaugurated in 1970; 400 by 1983 in the 747-300; and 467 in the 747-8 of 2010; see: Boeing 747 Specifications

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