Flight Attendant Uniforms Through the Ages: A Photo Essay

From smocks, to go go boots to slinky red dresses: A look into the fashion of airline “stewardesses” from the 30s until today.

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Pictured above (to the right) is Ellen Church, the world’s first female flight attendant. Prior to 1930, women were barred from working as airline crew.
The 1930s and 40s

The world’s first female flight attendant was Ellen Church, who took to the skies in 1930, at the age of 25. She was a registered nurse, as were all flight attendants at the time. Commercial flight was still in its infancy and airline officials felt that passengers would feel less apprehensive about flying if they knew there were medical experts on board. Thus, flight attendants’ wardrobe during this time resembled nurse military uniforms. Excerpted from Wikipedia is the following 1936 description of the requirements needed to become a flight attendant, which appeared inThe New York Times.

“The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years.

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1960s
According to the Huffington Post, the uniforms of the 60s took on a futurist look, thanks to the vision of Oleg Cassini, who designed Airwest’s uniforms during the late 60s. The color choice was meant to symbolize Airwest’s destinations (the Pacific coast and American southwest).

The requirement that all flight attendants be certified nurses was done away with during World War II, when the nation’s pool of nurses were enlisted into the military. By the 1960s, the role of the flight attendant had changed from “caring nurse” to “single, sexy vixen”. As computers, walkmen or portable in-flight televisions hadn’t yet been invented, flight attendants were seen as a source of entertainment for traveling business men in what was typically a long, boring flight.

This 1966 Eastern Airlines ad, exerted from Wikipedia, illustrates this change. The requirements for flight attendants were listed as follows:

“A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5’2” but no more than 5’9,” weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses.”

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The 1970s
One of the airlines’ requirements that seems unfathomable today, was the requirement that all female flight attendants be single. In the 1960s and 70s, that rule was so strictly enforced that if a flight attendent got married at any point in her employment, she was promptly fired.

Flight attendant uniforms of the 70s mirrored the “single and available” image with short shorts, knee-high leather boots and bright fluorescent colors. The uniforms of what is now Southwest Airlines reflected that decade’s disco-theme with loud pinks and oranges and low-slung belts.

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The 1980s and 90s

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After the women’s rights movement of the previous decade, airlines returned to the more sleek, elegant and professional look of the 1940s and 50s. Women were still expected to be well-groomed, however, and makeup and crisply-ironed uniforms remained a strictly-enforced requirement. But gone were age, weight and marital-status requirements.

The 2000’s

For the top-tier airlines like United, Virgin Atlantic and Delta, crews’ uniforms have retained the conservative and polished look of the 80s and 90s but have once again become the focus of some high-end designers. Fashion designer Richard Tyler recently revamped Delta’s Airlines uniforms, adding a sleek red “wrap dress” (pictured below).

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For budget airlines, however, uniforms are designed with comfort and functionality in mind rather than high fashion.
Southwest airlines uniform features a polo shirt, cargo pants and white sneakers. A far cry from their days of mini-skirts and leather boots!

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Flying to Vegas anytime soon? GC Flight offers flights to Grand Canyon from Vegas as well helicopter flights to Grand Canyon and aerial tours of the Las Vegas valley. GC Flight’s friendly (and fashionable!) staff are just part of the reason why GC Flight was rated as Vegas’s top helicopter tour company.
Which decade’s uniforms are your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!


Comments to Flight Attendant Uniforms Through the Ages: A Photo Essay

  • Thanks for sharing. Your post is a useful coutnibrtion.

    Terry July 31, 2016 12:03 am Reply

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