I was delighted to happen upon the coffee-devotion site Dark Roasted Blend recently, and even more delighted to find its dazzling feature on flight attendants from the era when they were known as stewardesses. The obvious question that one faces upon contemplating air travel’s glamorous past in comparison to its utilitarian present is, Was this stylistic decline the result of conscious choice or unwitting error? Certainly female air travelers today are not at all bothered by the end of the Sexy Stew, and so quite reasonably account for the evolution of flight attending as a product of enlightenment. But we ought not confuse style with stereotype. In the years before PSA positioned itself as an airborne bordello, the image of the stewardesses was a distinctive blend of worldly professionalism and personal grace not at all incompatible with an enlightened view of the place of women in society.
What went wrong? My own careful examination of the many photos on this subject at DRB indicates a clear point of demarcation–the elimination of the hat as an integral part of the uniform of a flight attendant. Its demise was abrupt, and without it the feminists had a valid argument; the stewardess quite clearly was being objectified into a male fantasy figure, and the era of hot pants and paper dresses soon gave way to the modern world of frumps in sacks.
Maybe it’s impossible to return to that era, but it wouldn’t be very difficult for at least one enterprising airline to test my hypothesis and re-hat its flight attendants (male as well as female, though one hopes that they won’t affect a unisex look). And it could prove quite a canny move. After all, wouldn’t you rather have your tiny pretzel bag tossed to you by someone in a hat?