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Fashion in Aviation: Through the Decades

Source: Freepik

Through the decades fashion in aviation has been influenced by both practical considerations and the desire for a distinctive and professional image. Airlines' uniforms serve as a visual representation of the its brand identity. These uniforms are designed not only for functionality but also to convey a sense of professionalism and style. Over the decades, flight attendant uniforms have evolved in line with broader fashion trends. In the mid-20th century, they were often inspired by glamorous and fashionable styles while in recent years, there has been a trend towards modern, chic designs with input from well-known fashion designers, as we will see below.

Pilot uniforms typically convey a sense of authority, professionalism, and reliability. They often include epaulettes, insignia, and badges that denote rank and experience. Pilots' uniforms also have safety features like flame-resistant materials and is designed with practicality in mind considering the time spent in the cockpit and the need for ease of movement.

Airlines from different regions often incorporate cultural elements into their uniforms. This can include colours, patterns, and accessories that reflect the airline's home country. The choice of colours, logos, and overall design plays a role in shaping the airlines' image and helps standing out in a competitive industry. Moreover, the appearance of flight attendants can impact the passenger experience which is why airlines often strive for a polished and professional look to instill confidence and create a positive impression. And this has been the case for decades.

In the 1930s the need for faster ways to travel was growing. National airlines companies were only a few years old, with the first ones being KLM, Avianca, Qantas and Aeroflot. Women were flight attendants, known as stewardesses, and replaced male attendands after the 1920s as the need for nurses in the sky was growing. It was seen as reassurring to have nurses on board and they could tend to ill passengers during turbulences, which occured a lot and were more violent than nowadays. Men were pilots as they were most often trained in the army where only men could serve. This shaped the future of gendered roles within airlines and of course stewardesses and pilot's uniforms' design.


Golden Age of Aviation

1934 - Swissair

Pilots often wore leather flight jackets and leather helmets, embodying a sense of adventure and heroism. The military influence was strong, given the backdrop of World War I.

Stewardesses wore elegant and modest uniforms, resembling fashion trends of the time with below knee-length skirts and tailored blouses.


World War II Era

1940s - American Airlines

Military-style uniforms continued to dominate during the war. Pilots often wore military-inspired flight suits, reflecting the seriousness of the times.

Stewardess uniforms maintained a military influence with structured designs and patriotic colors. Scarves and gloves were common accessories.


Jet Age and Glamour

1950s - Unknown airline

With the advent of commercial jet travel, pilots began to adopt a more polished and professional look. The influence of military attire diminished.

Stewardess uniforms embraced a glamorous aesthetic, featuring pencil skirts, fitted jackets, and sometimes pillbox hats. The emphasis was on sophistication and style.


Space Age and Modernity

1968 - Southwest Airlines

The 1960s saw a transition to sleeker and more modern pilot uniforms. Synthetic fabrics became popular, reflecting the Space Age and futuristic design.

Stewardess uniforms incorporated elements of mod fashion, featuring bold patterns, A-line dresses, and stylish accessories like gloves, scarves and hats.


Casual Chic

1970 - American Airlines

Pilot uniforms became more casual and comfortable, often featuring knit shirts and updated designs. The influence of civilian fashion trends, including the rise of casual wear, was evident.

Stewardess uniforms followed the trends of the '70s with colorful and comfortable designs, reflecting the casual and laid-back spirit of the era.


Power Suits and Bold Styles

1987 - Air France

Pilot uniforms in the '80s often featured power suits with shoulder pads and bold accessories, mirroring the fashion trends of the business world.

Stewardess uniforms embraced the power suit trend, with structured blazers, shoulder pads, and coordinated accessories, reflecting the assertive style of the decade.


Minimalism and Globalization

1990 - Delta Airlines

Both pilot and cabin crew uniforms in the 1990s tended toward minimalism, with streamlined designs and a focus on practicality. Globalization influenced the adoption of more standardized looks. Airlines started hiring not only stewardesses but also stewards.

2000s to Present

Contemporary and Branded

2023 - British Airways

Contemporary aviation uniforms often reflect the branding and image of the airlines. Emphasis is placed on a modern, polished appearance with a nod to comfort and practicality. Some airlines collaborate with renowned fashion designers for a more fashion-forward approach. For instance, British Airways collaborated with fashion designer Ozwald Boateng to change their uniforms for the first time in 20 years. The new uniform includes a skirt, trousers, a dress or a jumpsuit (for the fist time in the airline's history) as well as a hijab and tunic options.

In conclusion, aviation uniforms through the decades have mirrored not only the changing fashion and society of the times but also the evolving roles and expectations within the industry. Today, uniforms continue to blend functionality with a touch of fashion, contributing to the overall image and identity of airlines worldwide.

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