On October 26, 1958, a commercial flight changed the history of aviation: it was the first Boeing 707 that flew from New York to Paris, of the Pan Am airline. This event inaugurated a time where traveling by plane was synonymous with a glamorous life, immortalized in scenes like those in the movie Catch Me If You Can, when Leonardo DiCaprio's character gets out of a limo with six girls on his arm. These perfectly put together airline women became style icons in the 1950s and today they travel hundreds of miles every day, while also holding the responsibility of saving lives in an emergency.
The female role of flight attendant began in the 1930s, when commercial flights in the United States included nurses in the crew to inspire confidence in an emergency. However, a long streak also began in which flight attendants became a marketing tool for aviation, under the completely patriarchal idea that "if a woman can fly, so can you."
Thus, the nurse's uniform began to mark the attire of flight attendants: cap, shirt, skirt, and apron, and during World War II, the military uniform influenced this by turning the cap into a hat and adding shoulder pads to the jacket. Little by little the airlines realized that these women were an attraction for customers and began to demand a very specific profile for this position: single women, thin, not very tall (due to the size of the cabin), under 30 years old, and not wearing glasses. The word "attractive" was part of the requirements and twins were also favored
At the end of the war, competition between commercial airlines soared and thus began the golden age of travel, when glamour translated into gourmet dishes and pianists playing in the air. It was precisely Pan American Airways' first flight from New York to Paris that was the peak of this era.
However, airlines were encountering more and more government restrictions or international agreements, so one of the only differentiating tools between them was the variety of women in their fleet. Advertising for United Airlines, for example, used phrases like: "Getting married is fine, but wouldn't you like to see the world sooner?" It was a great moment of liberation for many girls who wanted to travel the world with a paid job.
By this time, flight attendants were almost like celebrities and turned heads at airports in uniforms by designers like Pucci ,Balenciaga and Dior. Soon these jobs were highly coveted and only 3 percent of the candidates were hired. On the other hand, however, the reasons for dismissal were unfair, such as women who had visible tan lines, scars, or who were not wearing a girdle. In 1953, for example, American Airlines requested the resignation of women over 30 years of age.
The next two decades, the 1960s and 1970s, were characterized by uniforms that reflected the glam of those times, with thigh-high boots and mini skirts or hot pants. However, they also brought the twilight of the golden age and reports of harassment, gender inequality, and wrongful terminations were on the rise.
BUSINESS OR LEISURE?
The aviation industry was booming in the 1980s. Family travel was on the rise and the idea of glamour became less of a necessity than perhaps carrying an extra suitcase. In addition, the growing female presence in the workplace was reflected in the uniforms of the flight attendants, who now wore a jacket, shirt, and trousers, an executive style that has prevailed until now, with some accessories such as a scarf or hat. For color, dark tones are popular, such as navy blue, which is conservative and professional but at the same time ideal for covering stains. Some airlines maintain strict rules about their uniforms. For example, the women of the Fly Emirates crew wear a red hat from which a white scarf hangs and drapes around their necks. The company also has a list of approved red lipstick shades to match the hat and seven mandatory makeup steps.
Historically, flight attendant uniforms have had a close relationship with fashion, as they offer an opportunity for designers to collaborate with airlines from their native countries as we have seen with Christian Lacroix for Air France, Alberta Ferretti for Alitalia, and Macario Jiménez for Aeromexico.
While the journey of air hostesses has a lot of sophistication, it hasn't always been accompanied by Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me" in the background. Flight attendants have been among the first women to travel the world alone, and to denounce the wage gap and labor abuses in the workplace. In the end, they know that the world is at their feet.