Blog: Uniforms in the sky

Simon Warburton | 30 July 2010

Sitting on an aircraft the other day on my way back from Scotland got me thinking about airline uniforms as you do.

They're very much the face of an airline much in the same way of course as so many industries and indeed the military, but commercial aviation takes them very seriously indeed.

Anyone remember the British Caledonian stewardesses in their ultra-distinctive tartan or the Singapore hosties - "You're a great way to fly?" The uniforms are the signature of an airline and those front of house need to pull off the 'look.'

The styles of course, are overwhelmingly aimed at women - the blokes hardly get a look in - but the girls can strut their stuff in some pretty imaginative clothing.

And they quite often reflect national characteristics. Christian Lacroix has naturally got involved with designing the simple but hugely elegant Air France uniforms, while the boss of Aeroflot has reportedly been looking at Virgin Atlantic's styles in a bid to upgrade his airline's dowdy image.

Talking of Virgin, remember that recent ad in the UK? The camera cleverly made the background in grey but the hostesses stand out startlingly in their crimson uniforms. The pilot looked a bit naff though.

Even British Airways has had a makeover. I know some BA hosties and they used to complain endlessly about the 'sacks' they had to wear as a uniform. Well, Julien Macdonald stepped in and now they're the epitome of style, harking back to a more traditional era.

American carriers on the long-haul routes tend to have their female members wear trouser suits - and as er, they're slightly older they frequently give the impression they could get down to the engine and change the oil if they had to.

Flight crew are more traditional - passengers don't want outlandish outfits - they want stability and reassurance. One airline's pilots though refused to wear their company's latest uniform wheeze - an all-red jacket and trousers combo that wouldn't have looked out of place in a circus.

And for sheer, world-class style that tells you exactly the provenance of the airline, how about Emirates' fantastic uniform with its hat and scarf.

And for no other reason than I like telling the story, I was once on an internal Tarom flight from Bucharest over the stunning and snow-capped Transylvanian Alps in an ancient Russian Antonov.

Leaving aside the unspeakable lavatory at the back, I settled back for the in-flight 'service,' which consisted of - a cup of water.

There were around 20 of us on board and very nervously the hostess made her way up the aisle carrying - no trolley - 20 plastic cups of water on a tray.

The whole aircraft could sense what was going to happen and sure enough, she tripped and threw the entire tray's contents straight over the passenger next to me. The poor woman turned and fled to the back from where she didn't reappear.

"It's her first flight" confided her colleague.



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