Once upon a time, boarding a plane was such an event that stewardesses took souvenir Polaroids of passengers as if they were sailing on an ocean liner, a first-class meal might have included turtle soup served from a tureen and Chateaubriand was carved seat side. This was the golden age of air travel. A period that extended from the 1950s to the late 1970s.
No group of aviation professionals epitomized the glamour of air travel during those heady times than airline stewardess. They were icons of style that were never duplicated. Flight attendants were expected to have the looks of supermodels. Stewardesses were globe-trotting modern women who always looked professional, capable, and enthused. They were starlets of the skies. People admired them when they walked through the terminal.
Prior to the golden age of travel, in-flight hostesses wore military-inspired skirt suits in bland colors with white gloves and hats. But by the 1950s, top fashion designers such as Oleg Cassini had created new uniforms for TWA that were beautifully tailored and melded classicism with a space-age flourish. In England, British Airway air hostesses wore smart collared uniforms and coifs under their caps. And Thai International Airlines cabin crew fashions reflected the Western fashion for business-suit style uniforms of the day. Not to be outdone, in the 1960s Braniff International Airways hired Emilio Pucci to redesign its stewardesses’ uniforms, creating an eye-catching, geometric print dress with matching tights. Designers Jean Louis also created a mod A-line dress for the stewardesses of United Airlines and accessorized it with an oversized kefi hat. And Delta Airlines pulled out all the stops, using fashion designers, Hollywood costume designers, and clothing manufacturers who were renowned for style.
Soon every carrier’s stewardesses had to have modish uniforms. Hems went up, colors got bolder, and fashion flourished at 30,000 ft. Around the world, stewardesses wore uniforms that were all custom-fitted and sculpted to their bodies. Everybody looked fabulous. By the end of the 1960s, stewardess uniforms had become the height of fashion.
As the decades unfolded, stewardess uniforms evolved with the times.
The 1970s welcomed bright colors, psychedelic patterns, and the high hemlines reflected the decade's fashion departure from a rigidly structured style. Some wore hot pants and Go-Go boots.
After experiencing explosive growth from the 1950s to the mid-1960s, the industry thought the 1970s would be equally as impressive. But with a recession and an oil crisis on top of that, layoffs and cutbacks in service took place and the industry suffered. By 1978, when supersaver fares and no-frills service were introduced, passenger loads increased and service became more minimal and flying lost some of its sparkle. That same year, the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry occurred. Even the term “stewardess” fell out of fashion and was replaced by the more gender-neutral “flight attendant”. The glamour days were gone. While modern flight attendants don’t get a chance to wear uniforms that push the boundaries of fashion, we wonder how they would feel if they could.
For a fascinating read on airline fashions, we invite you to read the book, “Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet” by Keith Lovegrove. Divided into four sections covering fashion, food, interior design, and identity, it shows how airborne culture has changed since the 1920s.
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