Lonely Planet Writer

A fascinating retrospective of airline stewardess uniforms will take place in Rotterdam

From hugely glam to highly fashionable right through to somewhat bizarre, cabin crew uniforms have gone through many metamorphoses through the years all over the world. This can be seen in a fascinating exhibition of stewardess outfits from different continents and decades that will take place in The Netherlands. It will be held at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam from September and is called ‘Cabin Crew. Fashion in the Air.’

British Midlands, England uniform 1987-1996. Image: Collectie Cliff Muskiet
British Midlands, England uniform 1987-1996. Image: Collection Cliff Muskiet

The special selection of uniforms has been made from the collection of more than 1400 uniforms from 523 different airlines that Dutch purser, Cliff Muskiet, started in 1993. Always fascinated by the world of flying, the 1960s and 1970s are his personal favourites. They represent the years when civic aviation was emerging, the costumes were often far from functional and they showcased glamour.

One of the highlights is the uniform of Braniff International, a US airline that no longer exists. A design by Emilio Pucci in the 1960s, appropriately nicknamed ‘The Air Strip,’ it required the stewardesses to keep changing a different item of the costume during the flight to surprise the passengers. The uniform even included a plastic space helmet to protect the flight attendants’ hair from the rain.

Braniff International, United States, uniform 1966-1968. Image: Collection Cliff Muskiet
Braniff International, United States, uniform 1966-1968. Image: Collection Cliff Muskiet

Some airlines even brought in famous designers to design the outfits for their cabin crew. For instance, Mart Visser designed the current KLM uniforms, and many prominent designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Cristóbal Balenciaga have designed other uniforms. Various public activities are being organised during the forthcoming exhibition including a guided tour by Cliff Muskiet, a lecture on fashion in the air, and a Barbie ‘Stewardess’ exchange mart.

Finnair uniform dress for pursers 2011-2013. Image: Collection Cliff Muskiet
Finnair uniform dress for pursers 2011-2013. Image: Collection Cliff Muskiet

‘Cabin Crew. Fashion in the Air’ will take place from 23 September 2017 to 4 February 2018 at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam.