100 Years of Flight Attendant Uniforms

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Whilst the role of cabin crew has not changed too drastically in the past decades, what they wear has. Flight attendant uniform has evolved since the very first staff members took flight in the 1920s. This development is what has led to the classy and professional look worn today. Here’s a quick look at the past 100 years of the cabin crew uniform.

Flight attendant UA
How has cabin crew style developed over the years? Photo: Getty Images

The early years: ’30s, ’40s and ’50s

The role of the cabin crew member, above anything else, has always been to safeguard passengers on board. As a result, these staff members require a dress code that allows them to complete various tasks without compromising their safety or that of others around them.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, when commercial airlines really started hiring their cabin crew, the uniform was quite different from what it is today. Clothing was heavy and durable and demonstrated more of a military-style flare. Back then, cabin crew wore large caps that covered their ears, capes, and skirts that fell below the knee. The idea was to instill a sense of professionalism and duty in these cabin crew. However, you can understand why the cape might not have been the most practical piece of attire.

BOAC 1950s cabin crew
In the ’50s, the look was conservative and matched the clientele. Photo: Getty Images

As a result, the flight attendant uniform underwent a bit of a change post-1930s. Airlines became more creative with their dress codes and largely did away with capes. In the ’40s and some of the ’50s, flight attendants wore tailored blazers, midi-pencil skirts, and small heeled shoes. At this time, it was still commonplace for all cabin crew to wear hats. The look was intended to match that of the well-attired and wealthy customers on board and exuded a respectable air.

Refining uniforms to meet a sexualized strategy

However, by the late-50s and well into the 60s, a new gameplan had come into place which utilized the assets of cabin crew employees. At that time, airlines were hiring cabin crew with a specific agenda. They wanted unmarried women who met a particular height and weight criteria in order to boost profits. These women were subsequently sexualized in order to appeal to the largely male clientele at the time.

AA flight attendants
Outfits that accentuated the female figure were popular in the late ’50s and ’60s. Photo: Getty Images

In the ’60s, cabin crew could regularly be seen in tiny hot pants and knee-high boots to boost sex appeal ensuring higher profits for airlines. Of course, not every airline followed this tact even if they did make sure to accentuate a woman’s figure. Belts were used to hug in waists and bright colors drew the eye to the wearer.

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The development of the modern uniform

Thankfully the sexist outfit design didn’t last much longer than the 1960s and a new, more professional look was coming in. In fact, this outfit was more similar to the initial flight attendant outfit design but came with a modern twist.

EA flight attendants
Ethiopian Airlines demonstrates the move towards a more professional look. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines via Wikimedia Commons

These new outfits were designed with the business suit in mind. Whilst small heels were still in fashion, hot pants certainly were not. They were replaced with knee-length skirts and less restrictive items of clothing. In the 1980s, the waistcoat and sleeveless jumper became part of some uniforms.

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PanAm 1970s flight attendant
A well-styled yet modest look came back in. Photo: John Atherton via Wikimedia Commons

Since then, airlines have really added their own flair to what their staff wears. There are very few waistcoats to be seen these days, but many cabin crew will still sport blazers over short-sleeved shirts. For men, the attire is often matching pressed suit trousers and a blazer as well as a white shirt. Some female cabin crew also have the option of wearing trousers.

Fly Level cabin crew
These days the cabin crew uniform is more business-like. Photo: Fly Level Flight Scool via Wikimedia Commons

However, not all uniforms are standardized today. Some cabin crew wear neckties, some wear berets and other hats. More diverse still, airlines that related to a particular culture have their cabin crews wear uniform more akin to traditional cultural dress codes, such as Hawaiian Airlines with floral shirts and a hibiscus behind the ear.

Do you have any cabin crew uniform stories to share? Did you like the uniform during a particular era? Have your say in the comments. 

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