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What Is the Jet Set?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The jet set is a term coined to describe the socialites of the mid-1950s who, with the invention of commercial jet airliners, would travel around the world to party, relax and entertain. The actual term jet set was used by an entertainment reporter to describe the travels and lavish lifestyle of these rich and wealthy socialites. The original travel destinations of the jet set were New York City in the United States, London, England, and Paris, France. As the 1960s rolled around, the destinations were increased to include Los Angles, California in the U.S., the French Riviera and the Greek Isles. The term eventually evolved to describe the wealthy people who traveled for pleasure aboard their own private jets.

The speed of the newly invented jet aircraft gave birth to an entire new way of life for those who could afford it. Early air travel was costly and reserved for only the rich and famous, in most circumstances. World War II was beginning to fade from memory and the world's elite were beginning to enjoy a pampered lifestyle once again. The generation who had endured war and sacrifice were beginning to flaunt their status by boarding a jet airplane and traveling from New York City to Paris simply to have dinner or attend a party.

Also spawned by the jet set age was the paparazzi. These nomad photographers were beginning to wait in the streets for an attempt at photographing the rich as they exited a restaurant or party. Newspapers and tabloids were prepared to purchase the photos to attach them to a story concerning the whereabouts of a socialite. This eventually became a thriving business as photos of the rich accompanied by someone other than a spouse began to make headlines in entertainment news across the globe. Later, American country-music singers began to include lyrics comparing the jet set to the Chevrolet set, as the distinction between the haves and have-nots began to emerge in popular culture.

As air travel became more affordable, the jet set label began to take on another form. In the 1970s and 1980s, the jet set became known as the socialites who owned their own jet aircraft. Small, private airfields began popping up in the Bahamas and other tropical paradise locations to allow the new jet set society to vacation and play in private locations. The desire to own full-size, jet aircraft began to be traded for ownership and learning to pilot smaller, corporate-type jets.

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