From Stewardess to Flight Attendant: 80 Years of Sophistication and Sexism

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At the end of the 1930s and into the 1940s, the responsibility of female flight attendants grew…marginally: They cleaned the cabin, dusted, bolted down seats, restrained passengers from tossing garbage out of windows, and even helped fuel the planes. The functionality of uniforms improved as “restrained elegance” in the sky took hold: Take the 1944 TWA suit imagined by Hollywood fashion designer Howard Greer, which introduced the “blou-slip,” an undergarment in rayon and satin that didn’t need constant tucking in. Noting uniforms as the industry progresses is important, says John Hill, assistant director of Aviation at San Francisco International Airport’s SFO Museum, because they trace “quite vividly” the development of commercial aviation.

In 1945, flight attendants founded the present-day Association of Flight Attendants union, originally known as the Airline Stewardess Association, or “ALSA.”