|Aus. Gov. airline TAA kept the same uniform from 1946 to '64. TAA Museum|
|American stewardess, circa 49/50. Image by Chaimers Butterfield|
As a career, 'Air hostess" always had a patina of glamour attached, despite the sometimes gruelling work on board and this was particularly true in the 20th century when air travel was a new and exciting adventure that few people could afford.
|Pub sign in Tollerton, England.Image by Kate Jewel|
The Changing Look of the Air Hostess
In the beginning, when air travel was a bit rough around the edges, air hostess outfits were designed to reflect conservative stability and inspire confidence, so they were created along the lines of armed forces or nurses uniforms - 'serious'. The first US air hostess, Ellen Church started the whole air hostess ball rolling when she managed to convince the powers that be at United Airlines that passengers would feel comforted by a nurse on board (prior to that, the only flight attendants were usually a male first officer or pilot). In fact one early airline; Eastern Airlines, did use actual nurses uniforms. They reasoned people would be comforted by the fact that if they crashed there would at least be the suggestion of medical assistance at the ready.
|The first US air hostess, Ellen Church, in a United Airlines plane in 1930. Smithsonian. The uniform was bottle green,|
As time wore on, airlines clued on the sex-appeal value of their female cabin staff and gradually the military-like formality gave way to something a little sexier and more fashionable. Designers, milliners and department store advisors were called on by some companies as early as the late 30s to spice up the uniforms. However, there was a delicate line there and a semblance of calm respectability had to be maintained, so the girls couldn't dress too wildly...'smart conservative' was the theme.
It seemed the industry was keen to overlay a kind of glamorous 'availability' upon it's female flight attendants. Up until the 80s, there was a restriction on married women becoming an air hostesses in the US. If a single hostess marriage, she was fired. In addition to this demand, a hostess had to be a petite size and retire at either 32 or 35, depending on the airline. In the 70s and 80s these sexist discriminations were fought by the flight attendants union, which had been battling for improvements in pay, benefits and working conditions since the late 40s.
While the conservative 'official uniform' look still lingered into the post-war decades, towards the sixties, designers began creating distinctive high fashion looks for individual airlines. These included such trend-setting luminaries as Pierre Cardin (Pakistan Airlines), Mary Quant (Courtline), Balmain (Singapore Airlines) Valentino and Ralph Laurent (TWA) Designer and Bill Blass (American Airlines). In the late 60s, Oleg Casssini created an ultra modern outfit for Air West (the airline was purchased later by Howard Hughes) with a polyester side-buttoned jacket, knee high boots and a funky mini skirt.
|Oleg Cassini's design for Air West|
|PSA grooves it up|
|Qantus 1964 to '69. Image from Qantus website.|
Up, Up and Away, with TAA, the Friendly way to Fly...
Although it was heavily criticised for being sexist, one of the most successful advertising campaigns, especially in the Asia Pacific region, was the 1972 Singapore Girls concept for Singapore Airlines - Singapore girl, you're a great way to fly- which featured attractive hostesses in Asian themed ultra-feminine sarongs and exuding inviting, beaming smiles. They were the hostess with the mostest and it's an image that the airline still retains.
|Seductive Singapore Girls|
|Vintage Air France Uniforms.|
|TAA (Trans Australia Airlines) uniforms circa 1970. Image from Museum Victoria.|
|The new non-sexist Qantas image 1974 to '85. Image from Qantus website|
Vintage Pan Am Bags