The world’s best and worst cabin crew uniforms

From Hawaiian Airlines’ bold capes to Lufthansa's dirndl-chic approach, the styles are innovative, colourful – and sometimes bizarre 

Natalie Wilson
Monday 10 July 2023 06:55 BST
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Related video: Top 5 Best Airlines In The World 2023

Air travel entails certain basic truths: the defiance of gravity, the company of strangers and the ups and downs of the in-flight menu.

But when it comes to cabin crew uniforms, all bets are off. While some airlines favour the everyday, others go all out when it comes to what their staff can, can’t or must wear, and iconic designers, including Vivienne Westwood are often drafted in to have a crack at flight attendant style.

In recent years, there’s been a trend for rejecting tradition as comfortable trainers replace high-heels, and gender-neutral uniforms such as jumpsuits and trench coats take to the sky.

And as airport outfit debates on jeans and open-toe shoes rage on, what better way to pass time waiting for a delayed flight than by playing Gok Wan with flight attendant fashion?

So join us on a tour of the good, the bad and the downright dated when it comes to cabin crew outfits...

Read more on fashion:

SkyUp

In 2022, Ukranian airline SkyUp said goodbye to a conservative classic – tight-skirt and stiletto uniforms – and welcomed loose orange trouser suits and white Nike trainers to the cabin.

Accented with a blue silk scarf, the statement new look is a fusion of style and comfort. Marianna Grigorash, head of SkyUp Airlines marketing, described the bright uniform as the image of “freedom, natural beauty, individuality, no patterns and sneakers in which everyone would like to fly.”

Wizz Air

When launching a business, one of the key decisions to be made is whether to go sleek and subtle or big and bold. Wizz Air went for the latter when it launched in 2003 and the results are very, very pink. Anyone who’s travelled with the low-cost Hungarian airline will remember its crew members’ eye-wateringly bright shirts with calming purple cuffs to take the edge off.

In 2015, the company’s uniform was rebranded, with Wizz Air allowing staff to vote on the new style of uniform. This resulted in the introduction of a new item of clothing – the full dress.

British Airways

In its first uniform shake-up in 20 years, in January 2023 British Airways overhauled its Julien MacDonald uniforms to kit out cabin crew in modern jumpsuits, tunics and hijabs designed by Ozwald Boateng, a Saville Row tailor.

BA’s new sleek navy designs acted as a counterbalance to its notoriously traditional dress code. The new uniform was developed in trials that included 1,500 employees. One of the workers consulted on the designs, Emma Carey, said: “It’s been a real honour and responsibility to help test the new uniform and put it through its paces at 35,000 feet to make sure it’s fit for purpose, with thousands of my colleagues counting on me.”

Hainan

The elegant uniforms were designed by Laurence Xu

In 2017, Hainan took things up a notch style wise with a new range of crew uniforms. The Chinese airline teamed up with designer Laurence Xu to create an haute couture-style collection of elegant cabin wear, taking inspiration from a traditional Chinese dress called Cheongsam.

The new look was launched at Paris Couture Week to wide acclaim with Xu’s coats, hairpin, beret-style hats, and high heels created to show “full respect” to passengers.

Lufthansa

With Munich Oktoberfest comes the Lufthansa dirndl crew

For the last 16 years, the take-off of Munich Oktoberfest has sent Lufthansa cabin crew to the sky in a dirndl, a Bavarian dress with a tight bodice and full skirt.

In 2022 a subtle and sustainable design was debuted; the blue and white traditional uniform, designed by costume specialist Angermaier, brought a Bavarian flair to flights bound for Munich for the beer-centric festival.

Qantas

The vintage Qantas fusion of sporty-chic and business casual

Yes, yes, yes. Between 1974 and 1985, Australia’s Qantas boasted clashing colours, wild prints and no cohesive theme between any of its cabin crew outfits. While male get-ups towed a fine line between golf-caddy chic and Sunday best, the women’s range featured a green blazer and floral dress. Sublime.

These days, a 2023 uniform shakeup saw Qantas ditch mandatory heels and embrace make-up for flight attendants of all genders for the first time in the carrier’s 102-year history.

Singapore Airlines

Sarong kebaya-inspired uniforms dress Singapore Airlines cabin crew

Singapore Airlines’ crews are known for their sarong kebaya-inspired uniforms, a traditional outfit worn by women in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. While the blue sarong remains the staple of the airline, four colourways indicate the role of the “Singapore Girl” who wears it.

The uniform, designed by Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain, was launched in 1972 and has remained more or less the same ever since. Verdict: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Air New Zealand

To say Air New Zealand flight attendants stand out from the crowd is possibly an understatement. The word baroque springs to mind when viewing the flamboyant purple and black Trelise Cooper uniforms, designed in 2010.

But what’s even more impressive is that the outdated present look isn’t the airline's greatest fashion faux-pas. Think “jellybean” mini dresses in the 1980s and a history of questionable hats – yikes.

Emirates

Emirates’ iconic uniform for female cabin crew

Emirates’ Simon Jersey-designed uniforms are instantly recognisable with their red hats, cream scarves and beige suits, which staff wear any time they are in public.

Perhaps more famous than their outfits is the female cabin crew members’ make-up routine. They must wear one of several approved shades of red lipstick to match the hat, put their hair in one of the accepted styles – French roll or twist or braids – and are encouraged to undergo a seven-step make-up routine.

Cebu Pacific

Think bold orange and yellow numbers for staff at Cebu Pacific

Filipino airline Cebu Pacific has had a raft of bold uniforms throughout the ages, including this orange and yellow affair said to symbolise the sun.

Not content with this daring look, the airline launched an even bolder, brighter, yellow number with denim accents – yes, denim – by Jun Escario in 2016. His casual debut in aviation fashion? Inimitable.

Virgin Atlantic

Flying the flag for gender-free uniforms, Virgin Atlantic’s scarlet red Vivienne Westwood styles are a staple of the fashionable airline.

Since 2019, the airline has allowed female staff to wear trousers as part of their standard uniform, but now the free choice between full-length trousers or a knee-length pencil skirt has been extended to all staff members – however they identify.

Hawaiian Airlines

Designed by Sig Zane, Hawaiian Airline’s 2016 cape was certainly aerodynamic

Hawaiian Airline’s lehua blossom print pieces could have been quite the stylish success, but 2016 was evidently the year for bold flight attendant fashion choices, and a purple and blue cape somehow made its way into the cabin.

Sig Zane of Hilo was the designer behind the aerodynamic item but, respectfully, in the words of Incredibles icon Edna Mode, “NO CAPES” has never applied to a style sin more.

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