I’m obsessed with vintage travel. I love every thing about it—old suitcases, vintage travel posters, retro airports and I love love love old stewardess uniforms (yeah yeah, I know…“flight attendants”). The other night Miss Dottie and I were out for dinner with The Dames (our retro supper club) and she mentioned that there was a new TV show on the books called Pan Am—all about a group of stewardesses in the 1960s. While I know this show is clearly pandering to the Mad Men craze, I can’t help but say, lawdy I’m excited!
I’ll post the trailer for the show at the end of this post, but first I wanted to share with you some of my favorite old skool airlines!
Back in the day flying was much more glamorous. Taking a trip was an event. People were genuinely impressed with the miracle of flight (“Holy smokes! We’re FLYING through the air in a metal ship!”) Everyone got dressed up and wore “traveling outfits” when they went on vacation. You ate food on real china with real silverware. You didn’t have to pay for drinks. You were a jetsetter! And stewardesses were like super models, tall, chic in stylish uniforms. Becoming a “stew” was considered quite prestigeous…and dating one? Well it was the ultimate status symbol.
Of course I know it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. The ladies had to maintain strict weight requirements and “grooming standards” in order to fly—not to mention leering drunkards pinching their pert lil booties. But at its most basic, it was a pretty glamorous lifestyle. My favorite “vintage” airlines were Braniff, Pan Am and PSA. Lemme show you why.
First up, Braniff. These guys had it going on. In 1965 they famously hired graphic designer Alexander Girard to revamp their brand. He launched a campaign called “The End of the Plain Plane,” which introduced a bold color scheme that was applied to everything from the lounges and ticket counters to the aircrafts themselves. Check out the fleet of “Jellybean 707s” in their brilliant candy colors!
Of course the other reason I love them is that Girard convinced top execs to hire Italian designer Emilio Pucci to redesign all the Air Hostess uniforms. Pucci, as we all know, is the master of the colorful, crazy print. He revamped their uniforms in his iconic patterns, adding a flair to air travel that had never been seen before.
One of his most infamous creations was the space bubble helmet (officially called a “rain dome” by Braniff) which protected your coiffure in windy/rainy weather. He also came up with a multi layered, inter-changeable wardrobe, which was dubbed the “air strip” because flight attendants would peel off various parts of the uniform (jackets, scarves etc) during flight to mix it up. Oooh lala!
In the 70s they even had Alexander Calder paint a design on the planes to make them even more whimsical and fun. Oh Braniff, how we miss you!
Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) might not have had the space bubble (although that turban up there is prettttty darn close) they DID have what I think is quite possibly the best logo in aviation. This iconic airline was known a pioneer in transocean and intercontinental flying—they travelled to every continent except Antarctica. They are also credited with numerous innovations including the Jumbo Jet.
I have many happy memories of flying via Pan Am to Europe with my parents in the 70s. For some reason it always represented the ultimate in classy travel to me. It’s no wonder that they are the topic of this new TV series!
Back in the 90s I scored a Pan Am flight bag at the thrift store and its always been one of my prized possessions.I went through a phase where I tried to dress in a “60s stewardess” inspired way—neck scarves and tailored little dressies. Ahhh, those were the days!
PSA (or Pacific Southwest Airline)
Let’s face it folks, PSA was the total swingin’ 60s/70s airline. I discovered their crazy, colorful stewardess uniforms many years ago and was forever hooked. Mini skirts with hot pants and sassy go-go boots?? Sign me up! From 1970-1976 the ladies wore these amazing orange and pink or red and pink ensembles:
And one bonus shot, from a vintage Southwest Airlines crew. WOW. Look at those lace up go-go boots! A far cry form the khaki shorts and polo shirts flight attendants wear these days, eh?
I know we’re all about “being comfortable” these days. Most travelers wear sweats and sneaks or (shudder) shorts and flip flops. We charged for everything from peanuts to water. We bemoan the delays and try to cram colossal rolling suitcases into the tiny overhead bins. But every now and then I’ll spy an older couple on a flight, beautifully dressed, sitting serenely. And I know they remember. To them, air travel is still a miracle of modern science. An exciting adventure. I always try to catch their eye and smile, as if to say “Hey! I remember too.”
image: julia davila
You are now free to move around the cabin. Or watch the trailer for Pan Am. Hee.