Flying into fashion

When I’m working in uniform, I sometimes wonder how it has evolved over the past century. I joined KLM as a cabin attendant in 2002 and have had the pleasure of wearing two different uniforms since then. The first was the updated Nina Ricci design, which was later replaced by the current Mart Visser uniform. In this blog, I’d like to celebrate my love of vintage clothes and fashion by flying down memory lane to revisit KLM uniforms of bygone years.

Catwalk in the sky

It was wonderful diving into the history of KLM uniforms, guided by my colleague Cliff Muskiet, who is a KLM purser and uniform fanatic. Since 1993, Cliff has collected no fewer than 1,575 (!) women’s uniforms issued by 563 different airlines worldwide. He has had the honour of exhibiting a selection of his uniforms at the prestigious Kunsthal in Rotterdam. On 3 September, he organised a very special ode to the KLM uniform, transforming the aisle of an aircraft into a catwalk aboard flight KL645 from Amsterdam to New York. The uniforms were modelled by seven crew members, who gave passengers a high-altitude, historical review of KLM uniforms from 1957 to the present day.

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Uniform fanatic

Cliff’s collection includes almost every KLM uniform designed since 1957. When we met to discuss the uniforms, he really brought them to life. It really was very inspiring to see and touch some of the pieces in his collection. So… Let’s fly back in time as we prepare to head into the future.

From 1919 to World War II

KLM is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary, which means it’s the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. We were founded on 7 October 1919, but it wasn’t until 1934 that KLM appointed its first onboard steward, Theo Boyeng. KLM recruited its first stewardesses in 1935.

Little is known about the first two women’s uniforms, but we know they were black, like the men’s. The lapel of the double-breasted jacket bore the words “air hostess”. The jacket was worn over a plain white blouse, accessorised with a small tie and a beret to top it off.

Around 1937, just before World War II, the women’s uniform was exchanged for something resembling a business suit with slight adjustments. The jacket was no longer double-breasted, but now had a single button. The lapel still bore the words “air hostess”, but the beret was replaced by a small hat.

1939

After the war, from 1948, stewardesses wore a grey-blue uniform with a matching cap, which was later replaced by a small hat. The “wings” badge appeared for the first time and the titles “stewardess” and “air hostess” were removed. It is unknown who designed the above three uniforms, but the craftsmanship was excellent. They were probably made by Amsterdam tailors, who cut the uniforms to fit each stewardess perfectly.

1957

The Amsterdam fashion house Gerzon designed the uniform that stewardesses wore from 1957. This three-garment uniform was rather basic and conservative: a pencil skirt, jacket and small hat.

In 1962, a second hat was added, which was nicknamed “het kaasbolletje”, the cheese ball. This uniform was also dark blue and was worn over a white blouse with white gloves. The uniform also included a pale-blue-and-beige checked summer dress, designed for the tropics. The uniforms were hand-made by specialised tailors.

1957 (the two ladies on the left), 1962 (on the right, with ‘the cheese ball’ hat) en 1967 (second from the right)

1967

The 1967 uniform was part of a broader revamp, aptly named “New Look”, which also included tableware, meals and inflight service. The uniform was grey-blue and was the last in which dark blue was the dominant colour. One striking feature was the off-white blouse, with a round collar instead of the usual upright one. The blouse had spectacular sun-burst stitching emanating from the collar. The jacket, with its three buttons, was also more closely fitted and the skirt was shorter. When serving dinner, the stewardesses wore special pinafores called “kazaks”, which were available in different colours. It is unknown who designed the New Look uniform. If you have any idea, please feel free to drop a comment under this blog 🙂

1967

1971

The 1970s got off to a great start with KLM introducing the sky blue we still wear today. The uniform, introduced in 1971, was created by a group of designers at the Fashion Academy in Arnhem, who were connected to the Konersmann company in Amsterdam.

Stewardesses were given more choices in those days: a sleeveless dress or pinafore with buttons. The uniform also included a jacket, blouse, serving dress, overcoat and a new model hat. This “Feel Sure” range was made of Trevira 2000, which was one of the popular, easy-to-clean, synthetic materials of the era. You could wash and hang-dry it. No ironing required. Uniform design was clearly gradually shifting from made-to-measure to off-the-peg.

While quite a number of airlines took 1960s fashion on board, including miniskirts and hot pants, KLM maintained strict uniform and hairstyle regulations. Skirts were to be worn to the knee and not above. The bright-yellow scarf added a gorgeous accent to the KLM-blue uniform.

Fun fact: KLM blue was introduced to the fleet with the arrival of the DC10 in 1972.

1971

1975

Four years later, it was time for another change. This was the first time a designer’s name was attached to the uniform. The designer was Wim van Hoek.

The 1970s were known as the Hippie Era. People dressed more casually and fashion switched to colours that weren’t as bright as they had been in the 1960s. Muted colours like black, brown and grey were more in vogue.

Although brown made an appearance in the KLM uniform, KLM blue remained the dominant colour. The uniform consisted of 13 pieces, was classical in style and included a medium-length skirt with four pleats at the front. The blouse was white with a pattern of dots and birds in brown and blue. A collarless jacket was worn over the blouse with a scarf in the same print as the blouse. Topping it all was a beret nicknamed “the egg cup”.

The summer uniform comprised a brown, cotton skirt with a pattern of blue birds. This garment wasn’t popular with crew, many of whom felt the skirt was inelegant. The wing badge on this uniform also had stripes, indicating the crew member’s rank.

Below you see the uniforms from 1975, 1957 and 1971.

This post is also available in: Arabic

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