It was no crime of fashion, but Wendy Gigliotti's bulky sweater and ankle-length skirt made her a target of airport screeners.
A female Transportation Security Administration officer at Sacramento International Airport told her, "We can't tell if there's something under your skirt." She was then frisked in a way she said felt more intrusive than a physical exam. "I felt not only like a criminal, I felt absolutely violated," said Gigliotti.
Gigliotti is among the travelers feeling mortified or even outraged by the more thorough security pat-downs the TSA began using this month as the holiday travel season begins.
Travel experts say the new scrutiny underscores the need for better airport fashion choices that can help people breeze through screenings with their dignity intact. Clothes loaded with metal studs are suddenly a no-no, as are bras with underwires. Slacks instead of skirts are preferred. Any baggy clothing can require extra inspection.
"It's difficult enough to fly right now, so let's be sensible about it," said Susan Foster, author of "Smart Packing for Today's Traveler." "Let's minimize all the hassle."
Melissa Wood of Marina Del Rey said she prepared for a possible pat-down at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday by wearing tight jeans, a snug sweater and slip-on sheepskin boots. She said she made sure to take out all belongings from her pockets and stuffed them in her purse before reaching the conveyor belt. "I don't want any problem when I reach the checkpoint," Wood said.
Another passenger evoked the Disneyland rule.
"We should dress to the airport like we dress for Disneyland, and by that I mean dressing comfortably with a good pair of shoes," said Aliise Becker, who wore a turtleneck, blue slacks and coat for her flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles. "The days of dressing to the nine to travel is a thing of the past."
The new search technique allows airport security screeners to use their palms and fingers to probe for hidden weapons and devices around sensitive body parts, including clothed genital areas and breasts. In the past, TSA officers brushed along those body parts with the back of their hands.
Opponents argue the more intensive screening violates civil liberties including freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches. Federal officials insist the procedures are necessary to ward off terror attacks like the attempted bombing of a Chicago-bound plane last Christmas by a Nigerian man who stashed explosives in his underwear.
Recently, a San Diego County man who resisted the groin check, telling an officer, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested" became an Internet hit when he posted tape of the confrontation online. On the Alex Jones syndicated radio show, a frequent flier complained that a TSA officer put his hands down his waistband because he was wearing baggy sweat pants.
Gigliotti said she wasn't aware of the enhanced security measures, so she was shocked when the TSA officer ran her hands up and down her legs last week.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said that they have not received any written complaint from her.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn noted the public embarrassment that can come with additional security on Wednesday as she and city officials sought to ease the public's concerns on the issue.
I go through the lines like everybody else. I have to take off my shoes. Sometimes I forgot to check the condition of my feet. I have to take off my jacket. Sometimes I forgot that the blouse I wore wasn't meant to be seen in public. But you know what, these are small inconveniences, these are small embarrassments in light of what we're trying to do," she said.
David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said he has been hearing about women complaining of TSA officers searching under their skirts.
"It certainly is a problem, that's why I recommend going through the scanning machines," Stempler said. "They're well vetted and they should be more comfortable than these aggressive pat-downs." Some passengers and flight crews are fearful the imaging machines emit an unhealthy dose of radiation. The government insists they're safe, but agreed on Friday to let uniformed pilots skip the screening.
An Internet campaign is urging airline passengers to boycott the physically revealing scanners on the day before thanksgiving and insist that any pat-down they receive as a result take place in full view of other passengers.
On Twitter, many joked that they might as well show up to the airport in their birthday suit.
Clothing options that may not be wise are T-shirts selling on the Internet that mock the pat-downs. One provides guidance to TSA officers to "firmly grasp" the buttocks, while others riff off the "don't touch my junk" line, including one for Fondle Airlines, motto: "Fondling junk since 2010."