Judging by the Society section of this web site, there is not too much doubt as to the enduring potency of the fixation that we men have with airline stewardesses (or to give them their modern politically correct title, flight attendants). Yet on the face of it, the allure of the “trolley dolly” should be in decline and there is no doubt that the profession has lost much of its glamour over the last 20 years. Thanks to the dead hand of political correctness, few airlines dare select their stewardesses on looks alone these days and uniforms are seldom as overtly sexy as they used to be. Nowhere is this development more apparent than in North America, where you are now more likely to be served your coffee at 35,000 feet by an octogenarian woman in trousers than a 20 year-old beauty in a skirt and stockings.
But despite all of this, a trip on the majority of the world’s airlines still represents something of an odyssey – a journey not only to your ultimate destination but back in time to a halcyon and largely bygone era. While the rest of the female world has embraced dress down and the remorseless advance of trouser wearing, the majority of airlines, have to date largely resisted these developments. From check-in until you leave the aircraft at the other end, you enter a twilight world surrounded by women with prim hair and immaculate make-up, dressed in sharply tailored skirted suit uniforms, regulation hosiery and court shoes.
Needless to say this final bastion of proper feminine dressing, where trousers and bare legs are still largely forbidden should be a rich environment for stocking wearing, but I must confess that I personally have so far been denied much first hand evidence of this reality.
About 10 years ago I was flying on some now defunct charter airline (I believe it was called Air Europe or something). The stewardesses were all wearing clingy black skirts and I managed to convince myself, rightly or wrongly, that a couple of them were wearing stockings and suspender belts. However, I recently flew with British Airways and am 99% certain that the stewardess who was serving me that day was wearing stockings, as every time that she bent or knelt I could see the outline of her suspender belt and clasps under her tight blue pencil skirt. More about this lady later.
Regardless of my relative lack of airborne stocking spotting success, the outfits alone are usually enough to send me into rapture. My current favourite would have to be the Virgin ensemble, with those delightful red skirt suits, so simple and yet so elegant. One of my all time favourites was the old British Caledonian tartan uniform which I always thought had a timeless sophistication about it, rather like the Singapore Airlines dresses. Perhaps the skirts were too long for some of the aficionados who visit this site but I always used to have great fun pondering whether the Caledonian girls wore their kilts the same way Scottish men are supposed to wear them i.e. devoid of underwear! By the way, Caledonian now operate under the name JMC and I wonder whether anybody can confirm if those tartan uniforms are still around?
Another of my favourites was a small Irish airline called Citijet, who had lovely jade green skirt suit uniforms, worn by some very pretty young Irish stewardesses. I think that Citijet were absorbed into Jersey European Airways, who on reflection also have some rather fetching dark blue uniforms with orange trim. And talking of the Irish connection, I was recently surrounded by a bevy of Ryanair girls at Stansted airport, who all looked ravishing in their tight light blue jackets and matching skirts. For something a bit different, Buzz stewardesses wear some quite staid but very professional looking grey flannel skirt suits, rather more like office professional wear than stewardesses apparel, but still extremely smart.
Moving further afield, if you want really sexily dressed stewardesses these days you need to go to the politically incorrect Far East. I recently saw a group of Cathay Pacific stewardesses, all dressed in beautiful cherry red suits with yellow flashes, their skirts rather erring on the short side. One of their colleagues was dressed differently, wearing one of those fabulous calf length Asian skirts with a slit on her left leg that extended all the way up to her thigh (stockings definitely not an option with this outfit!). I can assure you that this particular lady would certainly have raised some heart rates amongst the businessmen in First Class.
But alas gentlemen, enjoy this paradise whilst you still can. Having regularly flown with Lufthansa, I have seen the future and it is grim, consisting almost exclusively of stewardesses dressed in baggy trousers and clumpy shoes. Until now the majority of British airlines, including BA, British Midland, Britannia and Virgin have retained a skirts-only policy, but all that is about to change. BA will be introducing a new uniform in 2002, which will include a trousers option for ladies, following a survey in which 70% of their female staff said that they would prefer them to skirts. As one of our other site contributors said on the subject “It matters not whether they are stockings or tights either are far preferable than bloody trousers”.
On a brighter note a Buzz stewardess told me that they had requested trousers and been refused, but surely it will only be a matter of time before other airlines follow BA’s example, thus bringing down the curtain on this pristine feminine world that we men still love to frequent.
To return to that stocking wearing BA stewardess to whom I referred earlier, I asked her whether she will be wearing trousers when the new uniform arrives and suffice to say, I was disappointed by her answer. I am aware that at least one BA Girl has contributed to this site and told how she loves to wear stockings under her uniform and I am intrigued to know what she, or for that matter any other stewardesses from any airline think about this nasty trouser situation?
– I can only agree with everything you say. Having flown Air Canada so often in the past 10 years or more it seems that slacks and clunky or flat shoes are becoming the order of the day. There are times when I can understand this given the type of work they do, but just because I can understand it does not mean that I like it. At least some wear nice mid-heeled court shoes until take off and then switch.
One bit of joy in the Canadian airline scene is Canada 3000. A smartly tailored black suit, with skirt, white blouse and black hosiery and usually black court shoes is the norm. Quite honestly I fly them any chance I get.
– While I’m an utmost believer in female equality I must say I have one or two little spots of political incorrectness when it comes to the opposite sex – calling them ‘stewardesses’ and not the hateful ‘flight attendants’ is one. Stewardess is a word that has taken on a life of its own (I don’t take it to be the lesser counterpart of steward) – perhaps defined by the post war popular culture – where elegant and lovely beauties of the sky created a luxurious almost fantasy world for travellers above the clouds. It’s a shame such a real life fantasy seems to be slipping into the asexual world of the bland and practical.
– I recently came back from a holiday in America and travelled with Virgin Atlantic. I must say that there were a few tell tale bumps under the Red Skirts. I will definitely travel with Virgin again!
– Like train travel before it, air travel has on many levels become the norm for a goodly portion of the great unwashed. Due to de-regulation, almost anyone with a few hundred bucks in their pocket can hop on a plane and go. Instead of the ‘getting there’ part being the adventure, we dismiss it like a trip to the corner market for a gallon of milk. Why be on your best behaviour? It’s just a three hour flight to Disney, and that’s really more important!
I still look upon air travel (and train travel if you’re in Europe) as being a situation where you should dress up – it makes the excitement of the journey so much better! I grew up in a very rural area, where the nearest ‘real’ shopping mall was over an hour’s drive away. We rarely went, therefore going that once or twice a year was a big deal. We all got dressed in good clothing, and made an event out of it. Now, if I were to go to the mall, it’s usually in shorts and a T-shirt because I’m just running errands.
– Virgin are my great hope for the continuation of the skirts and hosiery tradition. Virgin still seem very keen on retaining the image of the stewardess as a sexy, iconic figure. Furthermore, their current uniform is quite new (only a couple of years old I believe), hence it might be considered quite surprising that the airline so recently took the politically incorrect decision to retain its trouser ban.
– I don’t fly much in Europe (I live in the US) so I can’t speak for intra-European flights. But in the US, I fly AA (American Airlines) frequently and I have to say most of the stewardesses wear nylons as part of their uniform. There are a few that wear trousers but that’s only a few. so we still do have nylon clad stewardesses in the US
I’ve flown JAL (Japan Airlines) several times and there the stewardesses are 100% in skirts and nylons. Now before everyone starts salivating, these girls are wearing pantyhose (Gasp!). I know Japanese culture pretty well and it’s pantyhose there only.
I did fly Cathay Pacific once and I was absolutely delighted to see that not only did the stewardesses wear dresses and hose, they wore RHT hose! ALL of them! it must be some type of dress code for them. Even the girls behind the counters had RHT. I tell you I was in heaven! You could see their RHT when they dangled their shoes.
Finally I’ll say that though I’ve never flown Lufthansa I’ve been told that its stewardesses wear RHT hose.
– Maybe the difference is that air travel in the US has become an everyday mode of travel for any-and-everybody, much like travelling by Greyhound bus used to be. (Incidentally, bus travel now seems to be the exclusive domain of the homeless and just-released prison inmates).
I think this is not the case in other parts of the world, where air travel is still largely the mode of travel of the elite. That’s perhaps why people in these countries still dress up to travel and the flight attendants still dress immaculately.
Here in the US, the attendants are mostly in slacks and the passengers wear, well, they wear whatever. Another reason for this is that, thanks to the government deregulating the airline industry, most of the carriers have seriously downsized the amount of space allotted to passengers resulting in a long flights that resemble being trapped in a particularly nasty form of Dark Ages torture rack. Who wants to wear nice clothing if they’re going to be crammed into an uncomfortable chair next to smelly fellow passengers in a poorly ventilated passenger compartment for four or five hours?