When people imagine a flight attendant uniform, they might conjure up images of neck scarves, flattering knee-length skirts, and perhaps a pillbox hat set slightly askew on a perfectly coiffed head. Though these imaginings are hardly false, they’re also not entirely true. We did a little research and found out exactly where uniforms came from.
The first flight attendant uniforms were actually quite plain. In the 1930s, when commercial flying first began, many customers were rightfully fearful of the new technology. To assuage these fears, airlines hired nurses to come on board to help calm the nerves of their passengers. The uniforms they wore were long and dark-colored, most often in shades of hunter green, navy, or slate. Through the thirties, forties, and fifties, uniforms remained simple and professional, with crisp lines, conservative skirts, and practical shoes.
It wasn’t until the sixties and seventies that airlines began using the flight attendant uniform as a springboard for expressing the creativity and personality of their brand. As flying became more popular, and the interior designs of planes became more fantastical, and so did the clothing worn by the women serving customers food and drink. Designers such as Balmain, Halston, and Pucci lined up to design the new uniforms, which were colorful and sexy, and reflected the mod stylings of the time.
During this time, restrictions for hiring flight attendants became stricter, with a large emphasis placed on physical appearance. Airlines crafted minutely detailed guidelines for how they wanted their flight attendants to look and be: young, fresh-faced, thin, single, reasonably attractive. Flight attendants on the most popular airlines (such as Delta or American Airlines) were meant to be as breathtakingly gorgeous as models, which resulted in a highly-glamorous period of flight. The images of flight attendants through the sixties and seventies are iconic and might still be what many people think of when they think of airline stewardesses.
As we enter the eighties and nineties, though, uniforms shifted once again to a more practical and professional design. Colors returned to the dark neutrals of the first days of flight, and though many flight attendants were still considered beautiful, the overall aesthetic was less glamorous. Near the end of the 20th century, flying became a more practical, and commercial, means of transportation, so the luxurious fantasies of early flight dissipated into something that was more mundane and cost-effective.
This has persisted into the present day, where flight attendants mostly look like the people they’re serving in flight. Their uniforms are simple and neutral, and there is less emphasis placed on age or physical appearance. There is greater diversity, too, especially with the number of men who now serve as flight attendants. However, though the everyday coach passenger may never get to experience the ultra-luxe stylings of those early sixties and seventies flights, those with thick wallets or enough frequent-flyer miles can still enjoy the pleasures of airborne fantasy.