BA has displayed its collection of vintage uniforms in a catwalk show at this year’s Vintage Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, including the iconic “paper dress” and military style uniforms from the 1940s.
The show was part of the three-day festival organised by English fashion designer Wayne Hemingway, celebrating musical, fashion, film, art, design and cultural lineages from the 1920s to the 1980s.
The A Cut Above catwalk show featured vintage BA uniforms including the 1960s “paper dress”, issued as standard length so their hemlines could be cut to size by stewardesses (no more than three inches above the knee), and the 1970s Baccarat Wetherall-designed uniform, the first to be specifically created for all employees since the merger of BOAC and BEA.
The slideshow above shows images from the event, as well as archive photographs of vintage BA uniforms. The factsheet below details BA uniforms throughout the ages, from the carrier’s previous incarnation as BOAC in the 1940s, up to the present day.
British Airways uniforms through the ages.
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) 1946 – 1959
- Designed by Maurice Helman, who gained inspiration from the world of haute couture.
- The uniform had a military style which over the years was softened to make it more feminine and less restrictive.
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) 1960 – 1969
- Designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, an influential British fashion designer, and dressmaker to the Queen.
- The uniform was a navy stylish suit, worn with white blouse and gloves, was similar to the 1952 uniform.
British European Airways (BEA) 1945 – 1959
- This stylish uniform replaced a more formal version which had been worn since 1947. The uniform now had a ‘nipped and tucked’ waist-line to reflect the ‘new look’ influenced by the courtiers of Paris.
British European Airways (BEA) 1960
- Sylvia Ayton (MBE), a student at the Royal College of Art, was chosen by a panel including top British designer John Cavanagh to design the uniform.
- The uniform was in a new material of pure worsted with a tiny blue-black check with black border. The straight skirt had a Dior-style pleat at the back, worn with a pleated jacket, and with a hat in the same material designed for easy packing.
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) “paper dress” 1967
- Worn by BOAC stewardesses on routes between New York and the Caribbean.
- The cream dress had a pattern of cerise and purple flowers with green leaves. It was worn with green jewelled slippers, white gloves, and a flower which was worn in the hair.
- The dresses were made of fire proof paper-like fabric. They were cut to length by the stewardesses, no higher than three inches above the knee, and then thrown away at the end of the flight.
British European Airways (BEA) 1967
- Designed by Sir Hardy Amies, one of the most important post-war names of British fashion, dressmaker to the Queen.
- The dress was in a royal blue terylene and worsted material providing a new jet-age fashion. The hem line was shorter and the red overcoat provided a splash of colour to match the red wings of BEA’s new livery.
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) 1970
- Designed by Clive (Clive Evans), one of Britain’s top young courtiers.
- The uniform comprised of either a pink or turquoise blue terylene and cotton dress.
- The style reflected the space-age fashion of the 1960’s with rigid geometric lines.
- Trousers were introduced as part of the ladies uniform for the first time, however they were not permitted when serving passengers on-board the aircraft.
British European Airways (BEA) 1972
- Designed by Sir Hardy Amies, the only designer to design more than one uniform for the airline.
- The uniform, which replaced his previous design, was a French navy suit with twin rows of scarlet stitching. It featured a short hat trimmed with BEA red Petersham ribbon and interchangeable colour blouses and scarves allowed an expression of individuality.
- BEA introduced the uniform just before the merger with BOAC, and was adopted as the first uniform of the newly created British Airways in 1974.
British Airways 1974
- New Sari’s were designed for International Cabin Crew aimed at giving them a younger, livelier look.
- There was a choice of two designs, both printed with a colourful flower motif on cream filature silk.
British Airways Concorde 1976
- Designed by Sir Hardy Amies. This was his third uniform he had designed for British Airways since the first one 12 years ago.
- The uniform was casually elegant and uncomplicated. It was designed to adapt easily to the various temperature changes that cabin crew have to deal with.
- Male and female uniforms were in either pale blue or French navy. They were made of 100 per cent Dacron polyester in gabardine and crepe designed to be a “totally uncrushable, washable fabric.”
British Airways June 1977
- Designed by top British fashion house Baccarat Wetherall who promised to “produce a uniform elegant enough to appear in Vogue”.
- This was the first uniform specifically designed for all British Airways employees since the merger of BOAC and BEA.
- The uniform was dark blue and consisted of a jacket and the option of either a skirt or flared trousers, designed to “represent forward thinking in fashion”.
- The white blouse was worn with silk scarves, a dark blue leather handbag, small-brimmed hat and matching belt all bearing the airline symbol.
British Airways 1985 – 1993
- Designed by Frenchman Roland Klein, who trained in Paris with Christian Dior and Karl Lagerfeld before opening his own label store in 1979.
- The uniform was designed to convey a less formal and more welcoming image to passengers. It was the first time a range of uniform was designed for all staff including cabin crew, ground crew, engineering and technical handling staff.
- It comprised of a wool navy jacket and a grey skirt which was worn with a long blouse with red, blue and grey stripes. In the summer the blouse could be worn with a skirt in the same design.
- For the first time a traditional double-breasted suit in dark blue was designed especially for pilots.
- The Andre Peters Design House (specialising in technical wear) worked alongside Klein to redesign overalls and other workwear.
British Airways 1993 – 2003
- Designed by Paul Costello, who was passionate about the environment and devotes much of his time sourcing fabrics which are ecologically sound. He is renowned for his use of natural fibres.
- The uniform reflected BA’s global and multicultural nature.
- The uniform featured classic styling in the form of the blue weave suit, in a red, white and blue pinstripe. A red, white and blue patterned blouse with matching skirt was worn during the summer.
British Airways 2003 – Present
- Designed by Julien MacDonald, a former designer for Chanel.
- The uniform reflects the airline’s great British heritage, combining a classic wool mix and pinstripe suit with a complementary cut. The attention to detail (branded cufflinks, shirt buttons, striking red Jacquard lining in the suiting) creates a stylish and sophisticated look.
- The uniform range was designed to be worn by all staff, including cabin and flight crew, dispatchers, all customer contact staff as well as engineers and ramp employees.
- In 2007 a new Indian uniform was designed by Rohit Bal in which the key elements of the Julien Macdonald suit have been incorporated.