United We Stand: Female Flight Attendant Uniforms of United Airlines

Aviation Museum & Library

April 2013 - November 2013

United We Stand: Female Flight Attendant Uniforms of United Airlines

True to its name, United Airlines was originally formed by a merger of four companies whose roots go back to the beginning of commercial air transport in the 1920s. National Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, Boeing Air Transport, and Varney Air Lines were organized in 1931 under United Air Lines, Inc. By 1934, all four subsidiaries had been fully absorbed into a single company operating as United Air Lines, which became the major carrier on the San Francisco–Chicago–New York route known as the “Main Line.”

Male employees had served as cabin stewards on a small number of airlines in the 1920s. The first female cabin crewmember, Ellen Church, was hired by Boeing Air Transport at its San Francisco office in 1930. She in turn hired seven more women and created the “stewardess” profession. In the 1970s, the term “flight attendant” came into use for both male and female cabin crew.

Throughout the decades, United's cabin crewmembers were issued a range of distinct uniforms. This carefully selected company attire was designed to project confidence and professionalism in the early years and to celebrate the fashionable nature of air travel as the industry grew into the Jet Age. The uniforms on exhibition present this progression in commercial aviation history as the public flying experience evolved from the exceptional to the everyday.

The United Airlines Historical Foundation recently made a donation to SFO Museum of an entire collection of flight attendant uniforms dating from the 1930s to the present. Eighteen female uniforms from the collection were selected for this exhibition including ensembles created by Raymond Loewy, and the fashion houses of Ben Reig, William Travilla, and Jean Louis; many with hats made by famed milliner Mae Hanauer.

The United Airlines Historical Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the airline's historic achievements in commercial aviation. Visit www.uahf.org for more information.

Garvey, William and David Fisher, The Age of Flight: A History of America's Pioneering Airline. Greensboro, NC: Pace Communications, Inc., 2002.
Mahler, Gwen, Legacy of the Friendly Skies: A Pictorial History of United Airlines Stewardesses and Flight Attendants. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 1991.
United Airlines Historical Foundation, www.uahf.org

Photography is not permitted.

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