The golden age of air stewardess fashion – from the 1940s to now

From the golden early years of travel, to Vivienne Westwood designing the Virgin Atlantic uniform last year, fashion in the skies has been constantly evolving.

When commercial flying took off in the 1950s, flying was not just for getting from A to B, the flight was a holiday event in itself.

The role of the air hostess was equally glamorised. In her book, Up in the Air, air stewardess Betty Riegel revealed how flight attendants were expected to have the looks of supermodels, the talents of a star housewife and the safety sense of an emergency responder (including knowing how to deliver a baby).

Featuring everything from saris to hotpants, from Hugh Hefner’s private jet to the huge Airbus A380, the skies have seen it all, and rare photographs from Keith Lovegrove’s fascinating book, Style at 30,000 feet, gives us a peek back at the history of life in the skies.

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Striding British Airway air hostesses model the 1950s-style uniform,smart collared uniform and coifs under their caps

Striding British Airway air hostesses model the 1950s-style uniform,smart collared uniform and coifs under their caps

In the ’50s, air hostesses wore trademark white crisp collars and white gloves, with curls under their caps

Adverts promising a 'fascinating jet age career'

In the ’50s, air hostesses wore trademark white crisp collars and white gloves, with curls under their caps (left), a replica of the adverts promising a ‘fascinating jet age career’ (right)

When you think of the ‘golden age’ of travel in the 1950s and 60s, Pan Am and Concorde immediately springs to mind.

These were days before budget travel, and the use of the jumbo jet and although

Passengers would be dressed to the nines, planes boasted three to six inches more legroom, and lobster could be served as a standard airline meal.

When Riegel applied to be an airhostess for Pan Am in the sixties, for a young woman to be considered she would have had to weigh between 110 and 134 lbs, be between the ages of 21 and 27, single and of good moral character.

Riegel beat off competition from thousands of eager British applicants enticed by the prospect of the exciting life of travel.

Her book reveals the strict process involved in her selection, which included translating a passage from French into English, walking about a room to show off her posture and even a public weigh-in.

After six weeks of intensive training, she began her career in the skies.

‘We learned meal service, international customs, geography,’ she told Delaware Online.

‘It was like a finishing school, par excellence,’ about her days in the skies.’

 

The rise of air stewardess’ influence spread in the ’70s and developments in female rights and was reflected in their role in the skies.

Air hostess’ organised one of the most powerful female labour unions, which fought discrimination in the work place.

The first non-white UK-based air hostesses were hired in 1970 for British Midland Airways.

Chic travel was not only limited to the skies, airport terminals have a sleeker look without the hundreds of chain stores and thousands of tourists queuing for security and scanning for gate numbers.

Fashion for air hostesses in the 1980s featured a multitude of plaid, which followed by boxy shoulder pads and big blazers in the 1990s.

Today uniforms still feature the structured, tailored look, and still have a high-fashion feel about them, reflected with Vivienne Westwood designed outfits for Virgin Atlantic in 2014.

For more photos through the ages see Airline: Style at 30,000 feet by Keith Lovegrove and published by Laurence King Publishing.

[“Source-telegraph”]