Fashion in Flight at SFO – a history of airline uniforms

Braniff International Airways hostesses in uniforms by Emilio Pucci 1965 Photo credit: Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas [Fashion in Flight exhibit at SFO]

Braniff International Airways hostesses in uniforms by Emilio Pucci 1965 (Photo credit: Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas)

The exhibit “Fashion in Flight: A History of Airline Uniform Design,” is  currently on display at the SFO Museum in the international terminal of San Francisco International Airport until Sunday, January 8 (go to Departures, Level 3, pre-security). If you live in the Bay Area, it’s worth a trip to the airport to see this free show, which showcases uniforms from the 1930s to the present, including many created by fashion designers. My favorite uniforms were from the 1940s to the ’60s.

If you can’t get there, you can see some of the uniforms on the SFO Museum’s website here and in this post. I saw this exhibit last month with a Bay Area Sewists member and took a ton of photos. But it was tough to photograph most of the uniforms because they were in display cases behind glass and there was a lot of glare to contend with, as you can see in the photo below.

Fashion in Flight - outerwear

I was able to avoid some of the glare by putting my phone directly on the glass but that limited what got in the shot because I was so close to the mannequins. The ensembles are: TWA Poppy Orange duster raincoat and head covering; Braniff International Airways Gemini IV uniform, overcoat and bubble space helmet by Emilio Pucci; and Hughes Airwest hooded cloak in Sundance Yellow and Universe Blue.

Here’s my photo of the green coat and space bubble hat, taken with my phone on the glass. According to the info in the case, Emilio Pucci designed this outfit for Braniff International Airways. The coat is in “reversible absinthe and apricot” and has a “welted ring collar to meet the bubble space helmet,” which was made from Perspex thermoplastic acrylic. Apparently it was called a “rain dome” and its purpose was “to protect the wearer’s hairdo.”

Braniff International Airways Gemini IV uniform, overcoat and bubble space helmet,

Braniff International Airways overcoat and bubble space helmet designed by Emilio Pucci (1965)

However, the helmet was fragile and not exactly easy to store so it was only worn to greet passengers before they entered the plane and for publicity purposes, such as the first photo of this post. Look closely, the woman on the far right is wearing this coat and helmet.

I’m just going to include a few of my photos and the rest will be courtesy of the SFO Museum. You’ll know which ones they are because they will include photo credit information in the caption from the museum, plus they will be so much better than my photos!

This is one of the uniforms from the 1930s, which also had a hat to go with it. Sorry you can’t see all of the hat. It’s similar to the Transcontinental & Western Air uniform of 1939 worn by the ladies in the photo just below this one. I didn’t note the info on this uniform but it’s likely another version of the 1939 uniform but with welt pockets.

1930s airline uniform

Transcontinental & Western Air uniform

 

Transcontinental & Western Air hostesses 1939 Photo credit: SFO Museum/ TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc.

Transcontinental & Western Air hostesses 1939
(Photo credit: SFO Museum/ TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc.)

Here’s a lovely “air hostess” uniform from the 1940s and comes with a matching hat. Transcontinental & Western Air was the precursor to Trans World Airlines, better known as TWA. (As you can tell, this photo is from the SFO Museum.)

Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer 1944 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc. Photo credit: SFO Museum - Fashion in Flight exhibit at SFO

Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer 1944
Collection of SFO Museum, gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc.
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

Here’s a closer look at that jacket! Check out the princess seams, buttonholes and fish-eye waist darts.

Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer 1944 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc. Photo credit: SFO Museum

Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer (1944)
Collection of SFO Museum
Gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc.
Photo credit: SFO Museum

The 1950s also had some very nice tailoring. Here’s a 1955 TWA uniform designed by Oleg Cassini.

Trans World Airlines hostess uniform by Oleg Cassini 1955 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc. Photo credit: SFO Museum

Trans World Airlines hostess uniform by Oleg Cassini 1955
Collection of SFO Museum, gift of TWA Clipped Wings International, Inc.
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

And no exhibit on flight attendant uniforms would be complete without one from Pam Am. There are lovely details on this uniform in “Fashion in Flight.”

Pan American World Airways stewardess uniform by Don Loper 1959 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of Jane Luna Euler/Beatrice H. Springer/John J. Dunne Photo credit: SFO Museum

Pan American World Airways stewardess uniform by Don Loper 1959
Collection of SFO Museum, gift of Jane Luna Euler/Beatrice H. Springer/John J. Dunne
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

The ’60s had some wildly varying looks. The early ’60s still had some of the elegance of the 1950s. I like this Air France uniform by Christian Dior. I love cropped jackets and A-line skirts.

Air France uniform by Christian Dior (courtesy of Air France)

Air France uniform by Christian Dior (1963)

And then uniforms got a bit more colorful. Check out those boots!

Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci 1966 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of Sandra C. A. Thomas in memory of Anne Karin Walker Photo credit: SFO Museum [Fashion in Flight exhibit at SFO]

Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci 1966
Collection of SFO Museum, gift of Sandra C. A. Thomas in memory of Anne Karin Walker
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

Northwest Orient Airlines 1967)

Northwest Orient Airlines 1967

 

United Air Lines stewardess uniform by Jean Louis (1968)

United Air Lines stewardess uniform by Jean Louis (1968)

As you may know, Jean Louis was a Hollywood costume designer. You’ll see his name in many film credits, oftentimes the credit will be “Gowns by Jean Louis.” He’s famous for designing Rita Hayworth’s black strapless gown in the 1946 film Gilda. And he was the costume designer for classic films such as From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958).

United Air Lines stewardess uniform by Jean Louis 1968 Fashionaire, a Division of Hart, Schaffner & Marx Hat by Mae Hanauer Collection of SFO Museum Gift of United Airlines Historical Foundation Hat insignia: Gift of Georgia Panter Nielsen Photo credit: SFO Museum

United Air Lines stewardess uniform by Jean Louis 1968
Fashionaire, a Division of Hart, Schaffner & Marx
Hat by Mae Hanauer, Collection of SFO Museum, gift of United Airlines Historical Foundation, hat insignia: Gift of Georgia Panter Nielsen
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

I love this uniform. Doesn’t she look happy to wear it?

United Air Lines stewardess in uniform by Jean Louis 1968 Photo credit: United Airlines Archive

United Air Lines stewardess in uniform by Jean Louis 1968
(Photo credit: United Airlines Archive)

This Air France uniform was designed by Balenciaga.

Air France stewardess uniform by Cristóbal Balenciaga 1969 Courtesy of Air France Photo credit: SFO Museum

Air France stewardess uniform by Cristóbal Balenciaga 1969
Courtesy of Air France
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

Uniforms seemed to get more casual in the ’70s. This is a photo I took of the photo on display and of the uniform. The jackets are made from synthetic leather and came in pale pink, red and powder blue. I was surprised to see such casual jackets in “Fashion in Flight.”

Union de Transport Aeeriens uniform designed by André Courréges 1973)

Union de Transport Aeeriens uniform designed by André Courréges (1973)

This is a fun micro mini-dress that was worn with red shorts.

Pacific Southwest Airlines 1973 - micro mini dress worn with red shorts

Pacific Southwest Airlines 1973 – micro mini dress

The 1980s were not so interesting. Check out this uniform designed by Yves St. Laurent for Quantas, which seems rather dowdy and dated now.

Qantas Airways female flight attendant uniform by Yves Saint Laurent 1986 Collection of SFO Museum Gift of Suzanne de Monchaux Photo credit: SFO Museum

Qantas Airways female flight attendant uniform by Yves Saint Laurent 1986
Collection of SFO Museum, gift of Suzanne de Monchaux
(Photo credit: SFO Museum)

I’ll end with a look at some of the shoes on display. These were the official shoes worn with various uniforms.

Shoes worn by flight attendants - Fashion in Flight exhibit - SFO Museum

The black shoe is an oxford from the 1030s. The spectator pumps are from the 1950s. No. 2 is a TWA shoe from 1955 and No. 3 was worn by United Air Lines stewardesses in 1957. The kitten heel shoe is from the 1980s and was worn with the Eastern Air Lines uniform.

What’s your favorite fashion decade?

If you do make it out to SFO to see “Fashion in Flight,” I recommend looking at the work chronologically. The older uniforms are in several display cases in the international terminal. Then there’s a museum room with more recent uniforms on display.

Pan American World Airways stewardess uniform by Don Loper 1959 Collection of SFO Museum, gift of Jane Luna Euler/Beatrice H. Springer/John J. Dunne (Photo credit: SFO Museum)

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3 Responses to “Fashion in Flight at SFO – a history of airline uniforms”

  1. January 7, 2017 at 2:37 am #

    Thank you for the heads up. I’ll be coming through SFO airport early February, and will be in the international terminal so I’ll get to see this! I always enjoy seeing the museum display at the SFO international terminal, but this time it’s going to be a very special treat!

    • January 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

      Micki, unless they SFO Museum extends the show, the uniforms will no longer be on display in February. It closes this weekend. Sorry!

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