Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Flight Attendant Fashion

by Amanda Toohey

Joanne Entwistle “Fashion Takes Flight”
In this article, Joanne Entwistle examines how fashion and corporate culture came together and created a relationship through the collaborations on flight attendant attire over the years. She starts off by explaining how “fashion speaks of the desires and characteristics of a modern life that is always in flux” but it does not usually feature as an aspect of corporate culture because corporate culture tends to be characterized by a seriousness of purpose and conservatism. However, because the two worlds of flight and fashion are strongly associated due to their dreamlike natures, we see fashion begin to cross boundaries into the world of corporate culture. Whenever airlines feel like they need an updated look they turn to the image of the female flight attendant and her uniform. It makes good business sense for designers to join forces with airlines because it can be a lucrative relationship and help the company obtain cachet and status.

It was during the 1940s that fashion and air travel grew exponentially and thus became more and more intimately linked. The post-war era was a time where more and more people were travelling by plane and the image or idea behind air travel began to become associated with the glamour and romance of modern society. Modernity manifested itself within fashion and air travel because of the forms of production they generated. Both opened up a new occupation and new opportunities for young women. It was during this time that the fashion model and the flight attendant came to represent the ideas behind new freedoms of post-war modernity for women which were very significant in the 1960s. The life of a flight attendant began to take on a glamorous feel and promised a life of freedom with a high chance of finding love and marrying well. Because the flight attendant was a desirable figure, she became what women aspired to be and what men fantasized about thus making her a marketable commodity for airline companies. It is because she is seen as something marketable that the stewardess must manage and maintain her appearance at all times as well as her emotions so that she can project the appropriate image for her job. This leads to stewardesses becoming iconic representations of air travel during the post-war era.

Pucci for Braniff, 1965

Nurse mother or mistress? Above a 1967 ad and the 1967 sensational book about the love escapades of a flight attendant

In the 1930s, the first stewardess was hired, Nelly Diener. During this time, the uniforms were very similar to nurse’s uniforms with the only concession to femininity being the ubiquitous skirt. In the 1950s, the flight attendant began to project an image of sophisticated femininity and in the 1960s uniforms began to be high fashion or couture garments. The most famous evidence of this shift is with the Pucci designs for Braniff International. After the Pucci and Braniff collaboration, the use of fashion designers became constant with designers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix, Nina Ricci, Calvin Klein, etc. all creating designs for various airline companies. The 1950s stewardess had a role much like that of a housewife and the 1960s stewardess became more of a sexual figure much like a sort of mistress rather than a housewife. In the 1970s, a burgeoning female agenda and growing unionization lead to the more traditional uniform making a comeback with designs being made by people like Ralph Lauren and Bill Blass. At this time, tailored dress became popular and the image of a “career woman” began to be prominent among flight attendants.

Nina Ricci for Air France, 1978-87

The transformation of British Airways, before and after designer Julien McDonald

In the 1980s, there was tension among the aims of power dressing, standards of dress and sexuality within the uniforms. Eventually, sexuality diminished from the uniforms and focus was more on dressing professional but always with a feminine touch. Today’s flight attendants try to shake off the associations with sexuality but Entwistle believes that the fact remains that” the changing nature of the images of the stewardesses as well as the changing nature of her uniform…take on elements of contemporary fashion and are the embodiment of the commoditization of sex that’s harnessed by the airlines in their marketing campaigns.” The solid difference between fashion and the world of flight remains to be that fashion has always and continues to have and obsession with sex whereas the flight attendants have grown to protest this sexualization that had previously developed within the profession.

Singapore and Korean Air still hold height, weight and age requirements, above left by Balmain

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