The airline industry has seen massive upheaval over the last 18-months but flight attendants are still expected to stand out from the crowd as walking marketing for their airlines. And that’s why the flight attendant uniform continues to be so important for so many airlines.
Getting it right, however, doesn’t always come so easy. Especially with pandemic measures meaning some cabin crew are expected to wear surgical gowns all the time. In 2021, these are our picks of airline uniforms that still manage to turn heads for all the right reasons.
- SkyUp Airlines – Ukraine
New entry: This little known low-cost airline from Ukraine generated loads of headlines in August 2021 when it unveiled a new bright orange uniform that combines a pantsuit with Nike Air Max sneakers.
Marianna Grigorash, SkyUp’s head of marketing explained the radical new look, saying: “Times have changed, women have changed, so in contrast to the conservative classics, heels, red lipstick and a bun, a new, more modern and comfortable image of a “champion” has appeared.”
The silk scarf, which is now worn on the shoulder, is a nod to tradition but female flight attendants no longer have to wear a skirt or high-heels as part of the more practical and active uniform.
- Alitalia – Italy
New entry: This uniform makes the Top Ten in part because it might not be around for much longer. Alitalia will shut down on October 15 and is due to be replaced by a new airline known as ITA.
That is unless ITA buys the rights to Alitalia as is expected – in which case, Italian fashion designer and dressmaker, Alberta Ferretti’s Alitalia uniform will carry on flying for some time to come.
The uniform was launched in 2018, just two years after Alitalia unveiled another uniform Italian Haute couturier Ettore Bilotta. That uniform, however, was hated by cabin crew so, Alitalia brought in Ferretti with a mission to go back to basics.
The uniform comprises a wide range of wardrobe classics so that staff can mix and match what they want to wear. Alitalia describes the uniform as “classic and elegant”.
- jetBlue – United States
New Entry: jetBlue’s current uniform is now seven years old but as the airline goes transatlantic, a whole new audience is beginning to see jetBlue’s flight attendants strutting their stuff for the very first time.
While not the newest uniform on the block, jetBlue’s Stan Herman-designed wardrobe still looks fresh. Perhaps it’s the splashes of orange that give the uniform a pop of colour.
Let’s hope jetBlue’s flight attendants are still happy with their threads as it might be a long time before they get a new look. This is only the second uniform in jetBlue’s history and the first iteration was around for 14-years.
- Lufthansa – Germany
New Entry: Another new addition to the Top Ten but this entry isn’t for Lufthansa’s standard uniform, which let’s face it, is a bit drab.
As part of Germany’s world-famous Oktoberfest celebrations, Lufthansa has a special group of Trachtencrew who dress up in traditional German folk costume and work on flights in the run-up to the main event.
But while the pandemic has upended Munich’s normal Oktoberfest event, Lufthansa has still had its Trachtencrew out and about in both 2020 and 2021.
The uniforms are designed and tailored by Angermaier, a Munich-based specialist for traditional Bavarian clothing. The female outfit is called a dirndl, while men, of course, wear short lederhosen.
- Finnair – Finland
New Entry: Finnish design is renowned around the world for its effortless chic and the same can be said of Finnair’s uniform which, if you can believe it, has been around in its current form for nearly 10-years.
Designed by the Finnish artist Ritva-Liisa Pohjalainen, the uniform was intended to fuse tradition with the modern. Pohjalainen says she went with dark blue as the main colour in the uniform because it invokes feelings of safety. The white accent colours are treated in order to repel dirt.
- Hainan Airlines – China
The conglomerate that owns Hainan Airlines might be in serious financial difficulty but the flagship airline of the HNA empire continues to fly and cabin crew are still outfitted in one of the most glamorous airline uniforms ever.
Launched in 2017 and designed by Haute Ciuriter Laurence Xu, the uniforms “combine elements of classical, time-honored Oriental aesthetics and the silhouette of a modern Western suit”.
The female uniform is built around the Cheongsam – a traditional Chinese dress normally worn on formal occasions. The sleeve is cut at three-quarter length to denote simplicity, modesty and the cabin crew’s “high level of competence”.
Over 1,000 blueprints and 100 sample garments were created before Xu and his team were finally happy with the design.
- Turkish Airlines – Turkey
This is yet another Ettore Bilotta-designed uniform that follows on from his work with Etihad Airways and Alitalia (a short-lived uniform that Alitalia’s workers found uncomfortable).
The uniform debuted in late 2018 and Bilotta says his inspiration came from Istanbul.
“I wanted to bring elements from traditional calligraphy and mosaics together with the new interpretations of Turkish motifs, which emphasize modern lines, into foulards and ties to reflect a contrast and duality,” Bilotta said of the uniform.
In 2013, Turkish Airlines nearly launched another new uniform but it proved so controversial that the airline abandoned the designs altogether and waited until Bilotta came along.
- Aero K – South Korea
New Entry: Shooting up the rankings is this androgynous and gender-neutral uniform from a little known start-up low-cost carrier based in South Korea.
While South Korean airlines are known for traditionally reinforcing gender stereotypes, Aero K has shaken up the industry with its ultra-modern utility workwear with gender-neutral pants, shirts and jackets.
The aesthetic design no doubt appeals to Aero K’s target demographic.
“The practical uniform of Aero K was created based on caring and respect to perform various jobs better than age and gender,” the airline said of the designs. “In the end, all this concern is to perform the most important mission of passenger’s safety.”
- Virgin Atlantic – United Kingdom
This Vivienne Westwood-designed uniform has been around since 2014 but it nearly became another pandemic casualty as Virgin Atlantic struggled to stay afloat last year.
Thankfully, ‘the Viv’, as staffers affectionately refer to the uniform as remains very much part of reality.
In 2019, Virgin Atlantic updated its uniform guidelines to reflect wider changes in society and allowed female crew to go makeup-free for the very first time. Female crew were also permitted to wear trousers for the first time.
- Singapore Airlines
Originally designed in 1968 by Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain, the distinctive sarong Kebaya worn by Singapore Airlines’ female flight attendants still stands out from the crowd.
The Singapore Girl is a questionable marketing device nowadays but for Singapore Airlines it represents the “symbol of Asian hospitality recognised the world over.”
The Kebaya comes in several colours which denote different ranks: The common purple colour denotes a normal flight attendant while emerald is worn by lead flight attendants and ruby is for the chief flight attendant.
Indigo is worn by the in-flight manager
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.