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90 Years of Sky Fashion: A Brief History of Air France Uniforms

Air France is famous for its elegant design and unique sense of style, even when it comes to the uniforms of its crew members. As we celebrate 90 years of Air France, let’s review a brief history of their in-flight fashion.

1933: Air France Had No Uniforms at Launch

1935, one of the first Air France stewards. Source: Air France
1935, one of the first Air France stewards. Source: Air France

When Air France was first established, there were no standard uniforms for the crew. However, the pilots adopted a more formal and disciplined dress code inspired by military attire. On the other hand, the first “stewards” took inspiration from the luxury hotel industry, transatlantic liners, and railway companies. Their uniforms reflected the values of exceptional service and sophistication prevalent at that time. They wore white jackets with high collars, navy trousers, and white caps. Alternatively, they sported navy double-breasted spencers with black bow ties or navy tailcoats with black ties. The crew members’ uniforms also featured stripes and insignia to denote their hierarchy, ensuring an organized and disciplined appearance reminiscent of military uniforms.

1945: Introduction of Air France Stewardesses without Uniform Leads to Passenger Confusion

In 1945, Air France launched its first stewardess recruitment campaign. Initially, stewardesses did not wear any distinguishing attire, causing some passengers to mistake them for fellow travelers. This impacted service since passengers wondered why other passengers were being so attentive.

1954, Georgette de Trèze uniform. Source: Air France
1954, Georgette de Trèze uniform. Source: Air France

To rectify this, Air France decided to introduce a uniform in 1946. The airline selected Georgette Renal Fashion House to create a comfortable and durable wardrobe. The uniform featured a petrol-blue suit, a poplin blouse, a summer dress, a felt beret embellished with a winged seahorse, and a coat. At the time, the style maintained a military aesthetic influenced by the post-war era. In 1948, the airline unveiled a new uniform version with updated navy blue colors and lighter fabrics.

By 1951, Air France sought to infuse elegance and sophistication into the stewardesses’ appearance. Georgette de Trèze modernized and feminized the uniform, inspired by the new look introduced by Christian Dior in 1947. The updated design featured a tailored jacket, a narrow skirt, and a more subtle beret, adding a touch of refinement to match the airline’s luxurious services. In 1954, the designer updated the suit again, available in winter and summer variations, with a winged badge on the chest, harmonizing with the stewards’ uniform.

In 1955, Air France introduced a “tropical” dress for warmer destinations. Created by Maison Virginie and designed by Georgette de Trèze, the lightweight light blue shirt dress was better suited to the climate of those regions.

Furthermore, in 1958, Georgette de Trèze developed a uniform specifically for Air France’s African routes. The design of the “Saharan” suit in beige prevented sand splashes from altering the uniform’s color.

1960s: The Arrival of Air France’s Jet Set Uniforms

In the 1960s, Air France entered the jet age with the Caravelle and the Boeing 707. The Georgette de Trèze’s uniform no longer suited the more active role of the airline’s flight attendants. The uniform should no longer hinder movement but should retain its airy elegance. The company entrusted the design of its new uniform to the prestigious house of Christian Dior and its artistic director, Marc Bohan, custodian of the know-how of the rue Montaigne institution. Air France presented the new uniforms in 1962. Everyone praised their elegance, down to the smallest detail. The summer dress in sky-blue tergal featured a belt with a stitched Japanese knot. The winter suit was in a blue braid.

1969, Air France uniform designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga.
1969, uniform designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Source: Air France

The jacket was short, with a Claudine collar revealing the collar of the white blouse. The pillbox hat, in sky blue or navy blue, featured the Air France crest, including the winged seahorse. This first «haute couture» uniform made a lasting impression.

A Cultural Revolution

But France was in the midst of a cultural and social upheaval. In 1965, the Courrèges ‘bomb’ – trousers and trapeze mini-dresses – revolutionized fashion.

Wishing to keep up with the times, Air France created another uniform. It launched in 1969.

The famous couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga was fully involved in the entire design process. Its couture lines gave it an aeronautical allure. The luminous navy blue winter suit featured a jacket with a high waist, a Balenciaga signature.

The open collar of the white blouse folded over the jacket, which had four patch pockets and a buttoned lapel. The skirt had kangaroo pockets, and the navy blue bomber jacket had a small visor. The navy blue and white silk scarf could keep the hat on one’s head in windy conditions. The coat fitted all body shapes. The summer suit – in sky blue or pale pink – had kimono-style arms and a diagonal cross-over fastening. A navy blue ‘hatter’s bow’ at the neckline held the double-breasted buttoning under the collar.

1970s: A Thirst for Speed and Fashion for Freedom

1978, the Air France uniform created by Carven.
1978, the uniform created by Carven. Source: Air France

During the 1970s, significant changes in the popular culture and the aviation industry brought about a sense of freedom and adaptability. One notable change was 1976 when Air France introduced the Concorde, a supersonic aircraft. To emphasize its uniqueness, Jean Patou gave stewardesses a specially designed uniform in collaboration with artistic director Angelo Tarlazzi. This uniform featured a blouse dress with navy blue and beige stripes, creating an optical effect reminiscent of the airline’s logo.

In the same year, Rodier designed a new uniform for ground staff. This new ground staff uniform was the first to incorporate trousers for female employees, marking a departure from traditional skirts. The uniform offered versatility, allowing frontline staff to choose from various options, including blazers, straight skirts, trousers, pullovers, blouses, and coats.

In 1978, Air France continued its innovative approach by involving employees in the design process of the new uniform. The airline entrusted the project to three fashion houses: Carven, Nina Ricci, and Grès. Carven, under designer Franckie Tacque, created coordinated outfits featuring tricolor combinations. These outfits included suits, summer or half-season ensembles in blue and white or red and white, straight jackets, pleated skirts, and blouses with houndstooth patterns. Nina Ricci, led by artistic director Gérard Pipart, designed a navy blue winter suit with a tailored collar jacket, a flared skirt, a blouse with an officer’s collar, a silk scarf, and a belt with the ‘AF’ logo. Finally, the Grès collection showcased impeccable winter coats and raincoat designs, reflecting the house’s renowned haute couture standards.

1980s: Uniforms Celebrate A Decade of the Concorde

In 1985, Nina Ricci designed a new uniform for the stewardesses to celebrate Concorde’s tenth anniversary. The slate blue, navy blue, or pearl grey crepe dresses stood out against the new decor of the aircraft, designed by Pierre Gaultier-Delaye. Accessories for these classic dresses included a scarf worn around the neck or as a belt. In 1987, Air France unveiled a new uniform for ground staff. Following Rodier’s footsteps, the Georges Rech brand offered a modular wardrobe for the active, dynamic working girl of the day.

1987, three designers sign the Air France uniform: Nina Ricci, Carven, and Louis Féraud. Source: Air France
1987, three designers sign the Air France uniform: Nina Ricci, Carven, and Louis Féraud. Source: Air France

For flight attendants, Air France adopted the same multiple designer principle as in 1978. It entrusted three designers with its new uniform, which staff voted on: Nina Ricci, Carven, and Louis Féraud. Nina Ricci designed a double-breasted coat with a navy blue officer’s collar. Carven offered a navy blue collection: a «Quatuor» winter suit, a lighter «dauphin» half-season suit, and a «frégate» blouse dress, the wardrobe’s flagship model. A waterproof trench coat, lavaliere, and pocket handkerchief completed the ensemble. Louis Ferraud designed a summer shirt dress in pink, pale blue, or straw color with a removable shirt collar and lavaliere.

Air France evolved, expanded, and merged with UTA in 1992 and Air Inter in 1997. The airline then mixed uniforms based on those of Air Inter and Air France to give a coherent image to all its people, both on the ground and on board. In 2004, it joined forces with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Like Air France, KLM celebrates its anniversary on 7 October. The airline’s next uniform had to reflect its new identity and personify this coming together of worlds and cultures.

2005 to Present Day

Developed over three years in collaboration with airline staff, Christian Lacroix unveiled the company’s new uniform in 2005. It won the support of all and adapted to the new standards of in-flight safety and services.

"It's a Lacroix, sweetie!" The Absolutely Fabulous current Air France uniform was designed by Christian Lacroix in 2005. Source Air France
“It’s a Lacroix, sweetie!” Christian Lacroix designed the Absolutely Fabulous current Air France uniform in 2005. Source: Air France

The new uniform is timeless, glamorous, up-to-date, and a status statement. In shades of navy blue, enhanced by touches of red, its look is in keeping with everyday life, well-being, and elegance. The details enhance the chic couture look. Stitching and ribbing emphasize the cut, red piping on the inside pockets, and Air France branded lining and buttons add élan. The Japanese-style knot features again, as a red belt on the stewardesses’ dresses. For men, the uniform includes straight or double-breasted jackets.

“You can recognize an Air France crew in any airport in the world, not just by their ‘colors’, of course, but by this inexpressible blend of allure and style.”

Christian Lacroix.

Air France: Celebrating 90 Years of Elegance and Fashion In-Flight

Xavier Ronze dress commemorating 90 years of Air France uniforms. Source: Air France
Xavier Ronze dress commemorating 90 years of Air France uniforms. Source: Air France

A unique fashion collection celebrates Air France’s historic uniforms. Air France commissioned Xavier Ronze, the maestro behind costume design at the Paris Opera Ballet, for the project. Ronze created five iconic dresses on display at the Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann from September 28 to October 10, 2023. Their design encapsulates the airline’s nine-decade journey with different dress designs representing the aircraft, the cuisine, the fashion, the design excellence, and the destinations worldwide that Air France serves.

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