Flight Attendant Uniforms Through the Years
We’ve come a long way since the early days of flying, from the rough-ride commercial airliners in the early 1900s to the glamorous, smoke-fogged flights of the 1960s. Now, flying has lost some its sparkle. Whether traveling for work or vacation, we no longer see it quite like the special treat it was for those before us. But in the past, flying was a full experience—and was treated as such. Travelers wore their Sunday best on flights, with cabin bars full of tailored suits and cigarette smoke. Stewardesses were globe-trotting modern women who always looked professional, capable, and enthused. The uniforms of stewardesses, now mainly referred to less glamorously as flight attendants, evolved with the times. Sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. (We’re looking at you, 1980s shoulder pads.)
The first in-flight hostesses during the 1930s and 1940s wore military-inspired skirt suits in bland hues with white gloves and matching hats. Femininity and glamor took reigns in the 1950s and 1960s, with bouffants, pillbox hats, and funky mod looks making waves. The 1970s welcomed bright colors, psychedelic patterns, and a time when short skirts and Go-go boots were not uncommon to see walking the aisle with refreshments. The 1980s and 1990s were not kind in terms of flattering silhouettes, with oversized ties and shoulder pads being go-to accouterments. But flight attendant uniforms started hitting the fashion scene in a new way in the 2000s, as couture designers collaborated on fashion-forward uniform collections for major airlines. From Christian Lacroix to Emilio Pucci, these designers now create flight attendant uniforms you’d be tempted to wear. From the 1930s to modern day, here are some memorable flight attendant styles throughout history.
Do You Recognize These Looks?
A century of flying in high style.
One of the earliest stewardesses on a European flight appeared on this airliner. The Swissair flight attendant uniforms featured traditional silhouettes in plain colors, often with added accents like hats and panty hose.
The American Airlines uniform was subdued and traditional in the 30s with thick, military-style fabric and conservative silhouettes.
These thick cinched-waist dresses were a popular 40s silhouette, often paired with the traditional hat.
Delta introduced in-flight refreshments and snacks in 1940, serving in uniforms that still favored the early nurse-inspired looks.
An airline stewardess with a Pennsylvania Central aircraft glows in a classic white uniform with matching hat, showing the slow abandon of the dull colors common in the uniforms of the 1930s.
Spectator pumps and light uniforms were the go-to for American Airlines stewardesses in the late 40s.
Classic suits with exaggerated collars were seen in every color among the airlines during this decade. Curled bobs and red lips were also the signature stewardess style.
Early uniform styles like this ultra-traditional one were common of many airliners. The style was heavily influenced by miltary and nurse uniforms at the time.
A trio of Scandinavian flight attendants shows the sleek, tea-length sets that were popular in the 50s, while hats and white gloves were still worn by most stewardesses.
Delta flight attendants wore pillbox hats with skirt suits and white gloves during flights throughout much of the 60s.
Known endearingly as 'space age' uniforms, exotic smocks with space helmets and boots were unveiled by Braniff International Airlines for its stewardesses in the mid-1960s.
A United Airlines flight attendant in a mod 60s style (complete in a bright red hue and with an oversized hat)—making it definitely one of the bolder uniforms used by the airline during the decade.
Designed by couturier Pierre Balmain, the new Trans World Airlines uniforms in the mid-60s were simple, crisp, and French-inspired.
A trio of American Airlines stewardesses posed on an airport tarmac in the new tri-colored uniforms that caught the public’s eye with a wide-reaching national campaign.
Southwest Airlines flight attendants in Texas wore the array of feminine silhouettes favored during the turn-of-decade, with popular styles beginning to incorporate Go-go boots and belted mini skirts.
American Airlines introduced new cold-weather uniforms, including a plaid fall-winter ensemble that sported a fur hat.
The mod style with white gloves, clear visors, and high bouffants was a popular statement for the decade. These National Airlines flight attendants were aboard a hijacked plane to Cuba in the 60s.
Air Canada went with a red, white, and blue scheme, but made a statement with a variety of uniform options. A collection of distinct uniforms have become the norm for most airlines today.
Delta flight attendants in the brightly hued 1969-1970 summer uniforms that were popular in the turn-of-decade.
American Airlines attendants wore a cozy plaid and fur winter ensemble with rubber boots in the late 60s-early 70s.
Southwest Airlines debuted bright uniforms with tall white Go-go boots for their stewardesses at the beginning of the 70s.
Southwest Airlines embraced the flamboyant 1970s color and silhouettes with its striped pant ensembles that were a major hit with domestic flyers.
British Airways embraced a more elegant 70s style for their uniforms with trench coats, pinstripes, and classic pumps.
After a bright 1970s, Qantas returned to a more classic color palette with these loose-fitting looks with pops of its signature red.
Air France flight attendants went pastel in the late 80s with a summer uniform dress by Louis Féraud complete with shoulder pads.
Delta flight attendants rocked thick navy suits adorned with large bows and ties, ringing in the 90s in true 80s style.
Finland Air revisited conservative suits with only small touches of color, such as the silk scarves.
Christian Lacroix revived Air France's signature look with all-new couture cabin crew uniforms in the early 2000s.
Inspired by the Qantas logo, designer Martin Grant created a fresh and contemporary range of uniforms that features the Qantas' red, ruby red and fuchsia palette.
Delta (in navy) and Virgin Atlantic (in red) flight attendants walking in representation of their domestic flight partnership—each new collection was designed with style and functionality in mind.
Two American Airlines flight attendants model the modern, sleek uniform that allows for individualization with collars and scarves.
Designer Zac Posen was the force behind Delta’s new high style, high function uniforms that incorporate rich purples, bright reds, and the classic navy.