by Prudence Black
(author’s profile: http://sydney.academia.edu/Black)
From the back cover:
“Stiletto heels, miniskirts, bobbed wigs, shiny new technology and exotic locations were all part of the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the Qantas flight hostesses. Today there are over 9000 flight attendants in Australia traversing the skies – all wearing a corporate uniform.
This is the story of the design of the Qantas uniforms and the uniforms of other airlines, a story about etiquette and protocol, about nationalism and internationalism, and the way the Australian fashion industry and international designers such as Emilio Pucci and Yves Saint Laurent created a range of designs for flight crew from khaki military style, burnt-orange miniskirts and on to the Indigenous boomerang print of the uniforms today.”
First off, this is a very colourful, picture packed book. That was actually what caused me to borrow it from the library in the first place, as the history of airline uniforms is not a subject that is high on my need-to-know list. However, it turned out to be an oddly fascinating read, as the progression of uniform designs is linked not only to changing fashions, but also to the status of flight attendants in society (real and imagined) and the ways in which Qantas itself wished to be viewed. The pictures are a real highlight though, each chapter covers a phase of the uniforms from the late 1940s to the Morrissey uniform introduced in 2003, and includes eight pages of photographs of the uniform and associated memorabilia from the time, plus a large detail of the uniform printed on transparent paper. I’m not sure what the transparent page is really for to be honest, maybe it’s to do with getting the colours true to life?
Black has done a lot of research, not only in archives, but she has also interviewed numerous former flight attendants for their retrospective opinions. Amusingly, Black notes that most of the flight attendants she spoke to considered their own era as the ‘golden age’ of service and standards. Including the flight attendants’ opinions gives an important perspective on the uniforms, particularly where it shows the gulf between what management had decided projected the right company image and what the uniforms were actually like to wear. The Leon Paule designed minidresses in the late 1960s are a perfect example of this, with one flight attendant saying “I remember wearing a very short mini, and when I stretched up to the racks you could see my knickers. People would draw cartoons and take photos. It was extraordinary” (p.160).
I won’t deny that this is a very niche-y book, and there were a few sections where I felt that a better knowledge of the general history of Qantas might have made the read more enjoyable, but it’s fun. This book should suit anyone interested in this history of Qantas or aviation in Australia generally, fashion in the context of social change or anyone who likes comedian Pam Ann (she actually wears the totally bonkers Pucci-designed Braniff bubble helmet in one of her videos).
The Flight Attendant’s Shoe fulfils the #female author, #non-fiction book and #author new-to-me tags of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.
So far I have read:
3 books by a female author
2 non-fiction books
1 fiction book
3 books by an author who is new-to-me
1 book published in 2014 or 2015