From the very beginning of British Airways’ legacy, the brand has maintained a level of style and decorum that’s seriously enviable by other airlines. They made up for the clunky, noisy flights of the first commercial airlines––like Argosies, Atalanta, and HP42s, if you’re into aviation––with high service standards. In the beginning, women were not cabin crew members, so the service (along with the uniforms) of the all-male crews was rather militaristic. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the first female crew serviced a flight, and it was with them that quintessential flight attendant glamour was born.
British Airways has since collaborated with a multitude of celebrated designers to create what are now iconic uniforms through the years. Each decade came with its own flare and each ensemble reflected this in its aesthetic and functionality. Let’s take a trip, if you will, back in time and explore the perpetually stylish British Airways cabin crew uniforms, starting from the 1940s and ending with the airline’s latest (and arguably most exciting) fashion designer collaboration.
British designer Maurice Helman designed the first notable cabin crew uniforms against the background of World War II. Uniforms were meant to be practical and while they still mirrored the militaristic style they stemmed from, they were designed with elegance and modernity in mind. As British European Airways, British Airway's sister brand, began a steady relationship with Paris, this stylish grey barathea suit came into play.
As fashion became more mainstream and the unavailability of rations and supplies became less of an issue, the stylish stewardess was born. Pleated skirts, cockade hats, and, that's right, more grey barathea––inspired by Dior collections of the time––met to create the most fashionable uniform yet. Just before the 60s hit, the BEA's Chairman's wife moved to have the stewardess' skirts shorted to just above the knee in the spirit of the swinging 60s.
In 1967, the stewardesses serving flights between New York and the Caribbean wore these flower-power, fire-proof, customized length dresses. The same year, British European Airways introduced another new uniform––one with a brilliant red cape to compliment the red wings of the airline's new aircraft livery.
Designed in 1970 by Clive Evans, the turquoise and pink terylene and cotton twill dress brought new, colorful life to the uniform. However, in 1972, Hardy Amies created a uniform that expressed more individuality than have been able to before. The colors of the uniform's blouses and scarves were interchangeable based on the signature red, white, and navy blue colors. in 1977, Baccarat Weatherall sought to design a uniform that was "elegant enough to appear in Vogue."
British Airways made a change in its formerly formal approach to service and uniform in 1985 with the introduction of these rather casual and approachable ensembles. In 1988, British Caledonian Airways, another one of BA's sister airlines, introduced these Scottish-inspired tartan suits, which were indeed one of the liveliest and most unique uniforms to date.
Quintessentially 90s and playfully elegant, this Paul Costelloe design experiments with different pattern applications of British Airways' signature colors. Costelloe uses an "aztec" pattern as well as various scarlet dots and pinstripes to create this instantly recognizable look.
The turn of the millennium came with this contemporary pinstripe suit. Designed by Welsh designer Julien MacDonald, this ensemble was created with British heritage in mind. Streamlined and modern, this suit has become symbolic of British Airways excellence.
Ozwald Boateng, British designer known as the "man who's modernized the traditional suit," will be creating the next iconic uniform in the British Airways series. He will be designing for over 32,000 individuals, a challenge he is excited to take on as it gives him "a chance to demonstrate [his] skills as a designer." We can't wait to see what he comes up with.