Before drab sweatsuits and comfortable shoes came to define the image of American fliers, there was a time when glamour ruled the skies. Airline stewardesses, as they were known, commanded attention with fashion-forward uniforms and polished looks during the 1960s and ’70s, when high-fashion designer Emilio Pucci started working for Braniff International Airways.
Thanks to the revival of the “Mad Men”-era style, a yearning to revisit the glory days of air travel has emerged on television — and on the runway. ABC’s show “Pan Am” has intensified the nostalgia for the age and a thirst for memorabilia like the iconic bags, which have been selling on auction sites such as eBay for a hefty sum.
To see whether the job is in fact as glitzy as portrayed on ABC, Post travel writer Andrea Sachs went to Virgin Atlantic’s training center in London.
“Virgin Atlantic is a rare peacock in the airline industry, which over the years has morphed into a flock of mostly tired old birds. The British company, founded 27 years ago by swashbuckling entrepreneur Richard Branson, defies the norm, encapsulating a golden age of air travel when elegance and professionalism prevailed,” Sachs says in her article for the Travel section this Sunday.
The airline’s form-fitting red skirt suits are reminiscent of the structured jackets featured by Pucci during his reign as designer for Braniff from 1965 to 1974. The Italian designer also created a plastic bubble helmet to protect hostesses’ hair from the dangers of breezy tarmacs.
Pucci is not the only high-end designer who has created looks for the air. Costume designer Edith Head created pieces for Delta, Christian Dior worked with SAS, Balenciaga for Air France and Ralph Lauren and Valentino for TWA.
In 2003, Delta consulted Kate Spade on the uniforms for its now defunct Song airline. And Air France retained couturier Christian Lacroix in 2005.
Despite some of these newer collaborations, the high-wasted pencil skirt and structured or swing jacket of the 1960s is the look that tends to define the pinnacle of flight-attendant style.
The pairing has seen a renaissance in recent seasons. In his fall 2011 collection, Marc Jacobs matched polka-dotted skirts, blouses and jackets to create tailored, ’60s-inspired ensembles. Retailer Banana Republic also joined the trend, launching its “Mad Men” capsule collection this fall. The line includes form-fitting dresses similar to those worn by Joan Harris, as well as the simple A-line shapes worn by Betty Francis on the AMC series.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s fall 2011 collection contained the same silhouette, constructed in tweeds and fur-trimmed coats.As did Moschino’s fall ready-to-wear pieces, which in addition to the skirt suits with cinched wastes, included several shifts with high necks and peplums characteristic of the era.