Mile-high Fashion

When I discovered Cliff Muskiet’s website my sister and I engaged in an hour-long contest over who could find the wackiest stewardess uniform. (Her money was on the oil rich countries. I went for those with names like “Lion Air.” She won.) Cliff has received international attention for his collection, even appearing on television in Germany, the UK, Russia, and here in Canada. And with good reason, his collection currently sits at 820 airline attendant uniforms – all in pristine condition.
Herewith, the “uniform freak” in his own words:

In the beginning…
Ever since my early childhood I have been fascinated by civil aviation. The first flight I made (and that I can remember) was from New York to Amsterdam in 1970. I was five years old. I slept during the whole flight and when we arrived in Amsterdam, I was so disappointed because I couldn’t remember anything about the flight. I began to draw airplanes and I started to cut airplane pictures out of travel magazines. Every month I would go to Amsterdam and visit the airline offices and I would come home with bags filled with postcards, posters, and folders about the airlines and airplanes. I also cleaned airplanes in the summertime at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport when I was 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old.

My unique collection began in 1980, when I was given a KLM uniform. It was an old uniform from 1971. My mother was a nurse and she had a colleague who also was a part-time stewardess. At that time I thought, “This is great, I want to have more uniforms!” In 1982 I got two other uniforms from two Dutch charter airlines that changed uniforms that year. From 1982 until 1993 I didn’t do much to obtain more uniforms, something I really regret now because I could have many more. Ten years later, in 1993, I was in Accra in Ghana working for KLM, when I obtained some old Ghana Airways uniforms without any problem. When I received these uniforms, I started to contact other airlines. Most of my 800 uniforms were obtained between 1993 and today.

Hey, um, got any old uniforms?
I don’t tell strangers how I get my uniforms. That is my little secret! However, a lot of people send me a message through my website to inform me that they have something for my collection. This afternoon I received a uniform from a very friendly lady in Australia. She donated her Qantas uniform to me. She really made my day.
The fact that the airline uniforms are very hard to get makes my hobby even more special and unique. When I get a new uniform I am happy like a small boy and I get very excited! You can’t buy the uniforms in a shop or order them online. There are not many people that collect stewardess uniforms and – as far as I know – I have the biggest collection in the whole world. I am really proud of that.

The art of storing over 800 uniforms in your apartment.
I live in Amsterdam, near the airport. I have all my uniforms at home and I want to keep [them there] as long as I can. It would feel really strange to have my uniforms stowed somewhere else. My uniforms are like my little babies and you don’t put your babies away, do you?
All my uniforms are stowed in closets, containers, garment bags, boxes, and suitcases. When you come to my home you will not see any uniforms. All uniforms are put away in two special rooms. When you have to stow so many uniforms and items you get very handy using all the space you have in your apartment. I am very fortunate to live in a big apartment with three bedrooms so I have lots of space. If I ever want to move I need at least three bedrooms!
I don’t really have a cataloging system in place. I have most airline uniforms from the USA and Canada in two closets and I have most airlines from the UK, Asia, and Middle East hanging together. That’s all. On the containers I put little notes with the names of the airline uniforms that are in there so that I don’t have to open everything to see what is in there. Usually I know where to find a particular uniform, but sometimes I need some time to look for a uniform because I don’t know where it is stowed.

So, why airline attendants?
Because I like civil aviation (and everything that has to do with civil aviation) I am also interested in the uniforms. When I think of an airplane, I think of a stewardess. And when I think of a stewardess, I think of a uniform! The funny thing is: if [they were] uniforms worn by hostesses on a ship or train I would not be interested in them at all. I would get rid of the uniforms right away!

Gauging trends.
Male uniforms all look the same: jacket, pants, plain shirt, and a tie. Most men’s uniforms are dark blue – quite boring! The ladies uniforms are so different, you can see the changes in fashion throughout the years. There are so many different uniform items like the jackets, skirts, blouses, dresses, pants, vests, cardigans, and hats. The great variety of accessories makes the [women’s] uniforms so different and special. The blouses usually have colourful prints, stripes, dots, or airline logos. Scarves can have beautiful and colourful designs. Some uniforms have a hat and I love uniform hats! The hat is like the icing on the cake, it makes a uniform complete and stand out in the crowd.

Going the distance.
I am a purser with KLM. One day I had to fly to Singapore for work and I had some days there to rest. On one of my days off in Singapore I took a plane to Hong Kong (that’s a three and a half hour flight) went to the Cathay Pacific office at the airport to pick up an old uniform and flew back to Singapore that same afternoon.
Some people say I am crazy for flying all the way from Singapore to Hong Kong, but I enjoyed every bit of it and would do it again if I had to.

What do you have your eye on next?
I love the uniforms from the 70s. Most uniforms then had a hat, a short skirt, and shirts with big, pointy collars. In those years a lot of colours were used in psychedelic combinations and patterns. Some airlines [I’m looking for] are: Alitalia, Air France, and Japan Airlines.
My big dream now is to make a nice book about my collection, a nice book with beautiful pictures of the uniforms worn by professional models. A graphic designer has already made a show model for the book, but the only thing we need to find is a publisher.

-Sara Forsyth

8 thoughts on “Mile-high Fashion

  1. Ooooh, stewardesses!
    I always thought it was a shame they started making “flight attendant” uniforms so unisexy (which is only one letter off from unsexy). I suppose on some level I understand the idea that people don’t want to be objectified by half-drunk men while trapped in a steel tube a thousand miles up… but those uniforms were so powerful.
    My aunt worked for Japan Airlines (I should see if she still has a uniform!) when I was little. She was tall and dyed her hair silver and smoked Mores and brought us posters and tiny toothbrushes and decks of cards that said “JAL” on them – and I thought she was impossibly glamourous.

    I can’t help thinking, now, that flight attendants look very similar to fast food workers. With neck scarves. Sigh.

  2. Ooh, I love this! My mom was a stewardess for BWIA in the late-60s, and I absolutely cherish this black and white photo of her in the mini skirt uniform. She’d had these great stories about flying to New York, and serving Mahalia Jackson on a flight (they got along so well that after wards Mahalia was like, ‘anytime you come back, chile, make sure to visit me’).

    Aand my dad was an Air Canada pilot for thirty years. Before that, he flew in the Caribbean, so yes, my parents can say that ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’ was ‘their song’ (but it really isn’t). So I have memories of hanging out with attendants, silently-analyzing how everyone of them worked the uniform. The 90s motif of dark turqoise pantsuit with maple leaf patterned scarf wasn’t flattering on ANYONE.

    There’s this great book that came out at that time called Coffee, Tea or Me?, which was a bit of a splashy expose about two sexy and single fight attendants going through flight school, dealing with leacherous male passengers (of course, this is all rather quaint in the post-9/11 age). I picked it up at a garage sale and haven’t had the chance to read it (but will soon, I’m sure).

  3. Wow Sara, this in an impressive interview! I love learning about any niche collectors!

    Personally I am a big favourite of the swanky uniform hats..too cool.

  4. Thanks for this nice interview, Sara. I love it!

    First row uniforms: United Airlines, Gulf air, Hughes Airwest
    Second row uniforms: Martinair, Asiana, Avianca
    Third row uniform; 2 x Braniff, Delta Air Lines

  5. Nice article–when I worked at the Goldstein Museum at the University of Minnesota from 06-08 I always enjoyed finding any way I could to incorporate our Pucci flight attendant uniforms into classroom activites or mini exhibits. That era of uniforms was so fun!

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