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A matter of hemlines and air hostesses

September 19, 2007

The other day when I came across this article which said that air hostesses of Air Deccan will have to start wearing short skirts, so that their uniforms would be similar to the girls in Kingfisher Airlines, the new owners, I could not help wondering whether they would willingly step into shorter skirts, knowing how conservative our country is!

Indian Airlines hostesses wear saris. Dr.Vijay Mallya, Kingfisher’s owner, has certainly broken with tradition. Not that short skirts are perforce an international trend. For example, KLM, Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines and even Australian Airlines have hostesses with knee-length skirts (these links will lead you to a picture of the uniforms). Thai and Malaysia Airlines sport ankle-length uniforms.

So where are the short-skirted gals? Well, they can be seen on Air Philippines, TWA (which is closed now!) and Cathay Pacific to name a few. The girl in the red mini is/was a TWA air hostess.

What I found very interesting is that hemlines in most airlines have ridden up and down over the years, almost as if in tandem with people’s sentiments?

Turkish airlines hostesses had hemlines which reached mid-thigh in the nineties, but now their hostesses wear longer skirts.

KLM hostesses on the other hand graduated from a long skirt in the sixties, to a short one in the early seventies to a knee-length one from the mid-seventies onwards.

Cathay Pacific seems to have had a lot of second and third thoughts about the uniforms of their flight attendants! From below the knee in the forties, ankle length in the early fifties, knee-length in the sixties, the uniform changed to a short skirt in the early seventies! But by 1974, the airlines made another change and had their girls wear knee length skirts. Now the girls are back in their minis!

No pants please, we are girls!
What is clear however is that few airlines have short-skirted air hostesses. But what intrigued me even further was that there are hardly any airlines which dress up their air hostesses in pants. Canadian Airlines did use pants for its hostesses in the nineties but the uniform has changed now. Actually, even TWA hostesses, who now wear short skirts, wore pants from 1971-78. About Air France, I am not clear whether the girls wear pants nowadays, but they did wear them as part of their winter uniform in 2005.

Considering that the job of an air-hostess requires freedom of movement, and in emergencies even real action, I wonder why more airlines don’t use pants as an uniform. Men certainly seem to be dressed more comfortably. Or maybe skirts and dresses are comfortable, I have no idea because I don’t wear them! But I am sure that a tight skirt is not comfortable. Some airlines tend to dress their air-hostesses in clothes that inhibit movement and that includes sarees and sarongs. I always thought uniforms are supposed to be functional not fashionable, but I guess where air-hostesses are concerned, fashion seems to be paramount! This blog post has an opinion on this:

In the in-flight environment, the trapped and sometimes angry or scared crowds need to be reassured and guided by visible authority figures. I don’t want to look up through my oxygen mask for help at a team kitted out by Urban Outfitters…other professions seem to manage a balance between environmental practicality and maintaining their authority and professionalism: lifeguards for example, or the fire services.

I wonder if airlines feel that people choose their airline on the basis on how fashionable the hostesses are – I doubt it highly. Or perhaps it is a factor? If I don’t think so, it could be because for me good service is more important while flying than a hot dude. It would be interesting to find out what guys think about this.

Interestingly, airlines try very hard not to give the impression that their girls are ‘sexy’ or ‘provocative.’ The incident of an US airline attendant who “was suspended over postings on her blog” is a case in point. She worked for Delta Airlines and was suspended for ‘inappropriate’ images on her blog even though she had not mentioned the name of the airline she worked for.

Ofcourse, what is provocative or not varies from culture to culture. In India a skirt may be termed ‘sexy’ because the public is not used to seeing women dressed in skirts, but this is not so in western countries. Women there traditionally wear dresses. And in India women wear sarees…and in my opinion, sarees and sarongs restrict movement too.

The uniform of a flight attendant is also related to whether the airline is plying on the domestic or international sector, but I have not analysed this in any great detail.

However, it would indeed be a pity if air-hostesses become victims, either of fashion or of tradition.

(All photos have been linked to the originals)

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. oemar permalink
    September 19, 2007 9:55 am

    Good observation…. back in college, many a times I had selected costlier airlines to go back home because of shorter skirts… so I think at least in India, they do bring business. But yes the debate about ethics and morality can always rage on…. now what matters more to me is a good service and no-delays… anyway, internationally, I dont think skirt lengths depend on tradition. But if you can, try to collect data for some airlines too see if skirts went up when no. of customers went down or not. I mean, just a wild guess, but after all, men will be men…. (Looking at current trend of Turkish govt., I am sure we ll see an airhostess dressed in a burqa. Will be hard to differentiate between hijackers and crews then 😉 )

  2. September 19, 2007 11:02 am

    Or this latest incident regarding a passenger (not a flight attendant):

    I always thought uniforms are supposed to be functional not fashionable,
    Tell that to the guy who thought up the brilliant idea of a tie for men.

  3. Shefaly permalink
    September 19, 2007 12:11 pm

    Why not skirts?

    My experience shows that airlines do not quite know how to keep temperature on an even keel. Skirts (and sarees) are well-ventilated and can be teamed with tights to keep warm; while trousers will mean one has to roast and roast if the temperature is too high.

    I say even male attendants should be made to wear skirts; Scottish men do, they call them kilts and nearly all of them look fabulous! But then I rarely saw a scrawny Scottish man.

    Of course in my gym, I see enough men whose arms were pumped up with all the iron, but whose legs look like someone transposed Popeye’s arms to them. Tsk Tsk! So a bit more balanced workout will be required. But why balk at preparation? Women spend hours and not to forget, pounds and dollars, depilating so that the misogynists do not call them ‘butch’, or worse, an easier tag ‘lesbian’.

    So let’s get some gender equality, eh?

    Recently Ann Coulter criticised Hillary Clinton’s “chubby legs”. With the genders all equal in their skirt-wearing, the criticism may divert well away from women’s legs to men’s. And what a change that will be!

    So bring on the skirts I say. Even make them compulsory for all airline staff – male or female – and if there are doubts or even lack of ‘tehjeeb’ of wearing skirts, begin by introducing men to the skort!

  4. September 19, 2007 4:06 pm

    oemar, thanks for that candid reply. 🙂

    and Amit, thanks for that link! and yeah, the tie is really a pain to wear for most guys i think and so are suits…specially india because of the heat….

    Shefaly, some people have told me how comfy skirts can be…but somehow never got down to wearing them! and yeah, it will be quite entertaining to see guys in skirts! 🙂

  5. rednivarn permalink
    September 19, 2007 4:53 pm

    Taking the “men in skirts” through a little tangent here – would it be considered “hot” – if the male airhosts were to be dressed in Shorts, Half sleeve Shirts, high Socks, Black Leather shoes – like in a school boy uniform

    If there was a vote on this, may I request the ladies here to caste your vote below 🙂

  6. September 19, 2007 5:36 pm

    Thanks for the link!

    I think that it is important to put the culture of air travel into historical context. Early commercial airlines did use their sexy flight attendents to pull in business, and to emphasise the glamour of international travel. It was also the way they recruited flight attendents – by offering travel and adventure that was unavailable for women elsewhere in the jobs market

  7. Shefaly permalink
    September 19, 2007 8:55 pm

    Kate S-B’s note on the historical context gives a new meaning to “Pimp My Ride”* !

    * Before anybody gets cross this is the name of an American TV programme where they take old bangers – cars – and fix them up with new colours and kit to make them look shiny and attractive.

  8. September 19, 2007 9:38 pm

    Nobody is actually coming out and saying so, but it does look like hemlines and er…bottomlines (pun inintended) are related! Like Oemar suggested, I did find some sort of informal survey but let it go as it didn’t seem very authentic.
    But overall, I think a pretty airhostess can be but an add-on. Its the airline’s solidity which will count more. And not to forget the discounts and schemes which attract people to airlines.

  9. Shefaly permalink
    September 19, 2007 10:00 pm

    Nita, some of my male colleagues many years ago (this is mid-to-late 1990s) used to seek out Seat 13 in Jet Airways because that is where the jumpseat for the chicklets (Sorry!) was.

    None made a permanent arrangement but many a date came out of this system.

    The air-hostessing thing changes with time. In Britain, it used to be a glamorous profession for rich but clueless girls to find a husband (in days when only wealthy people flew). Now it is considered a downmarket job and they attract random people (except in BA, where relatively older women still serve as trolley dollies). Recent brouhaha about Prince William’s now-on-now-off girlfriend Kate being a trolley dolly’s daughter was cited as one of the reasons for the breakup. They were not ‘classy’ people…

    I also think girls in their 20s do not realise how some rights were won. My some-time reader wrote this post which had me jumping up and down with anger:

  10. September 20, 2007 3:53 pm

    higher the pay scantier the clothes
    why are fashion models paid so much

    plus why do trolley dollies earn much more than their 3/5 star hotel counterparts ?

    i do think that there is some correlation..

    hey Prax. thanks. 🙂

  11. zendenizen permalink
    November 28, 2007 10:45 pm

    Rednivarn, funny idea but I personally can’t stand the sight of men in shorts!

    I’m actually surprised the term “air hostess” is still used.

  12. Nick permalink
    June 12, 2008 11:30 pm

    I think the job of an air hostess is not only to show her assets n her beauty..But much more than that..Eq safety of people.N those who have the potential bcomes 1.

  13. Ajay Xavier permalink
    July 5, 2010 12:02 pm

    Why not skirts? Saree , salwar is Indian culture but its too uneasy. Nowdays schoolgirls and nurses are wearing miniskirts. Its necessery to wear short skirt for all the airhostess .

  14. Sanjay Bannerjee permalink
    April 13, 2011 9:22 pm

    Why not skirts ? Indian Men are wearing shirt , pants , not Traditional Dhoti or kurta , beacuse its uneasy . So why for too many rulles for girls and women. Its must be mandetory that schoolgirls , nurse , corporate lady proffetinals and airhostess must wear knee lenth skirt , or above knee skirt , its need make comulsury.

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