It’s hard to picture a time when people would put on their mink coats and white gloves just to go flying. I don’t know about you, but for me, airplane attire is a ratty hoodie and slouchy sweats. But Prudence Black’s The Flight Attendant’s Shoe takes me back to a time when flying was a spectacular occasion that was nothing short of glamorous. Black chronicles the uniforms worn by flight hostesses of Australia’s international airline, Qantas, from 1948 to 2003.
Uniforms could seem like the antithesis of fashion—wearers are bound by restrictions, stripped of individuality, and awash in homogeny. But after the Second World War, becoming a stewardess was a dream career due to its chic allure, and The Flight Attendant’s Shoe quickly reveals that a relationship between utilitarian uniforms and high fashion does exist. Black contextualizes the subject within crucial events—changes to the flight attendant’s uniform echoed changes to the broader landscape of Australia’s social, industrial, and economic history.
The subject of prison clothing never really enters my mind, the image of a man in a black and white striped suit and some screenshots of A Man Escaped being the only images it conjures. Dress Behind Bars made me question why I had never given the subject a second thought. Juliet Ash discusses its development in detail, framing the subject in contemporary thought, political and social reforms and financial restraints, making the subject compelling by putting it in context.
Apparently, my lack of knowledge on prison clothing is understandable, given that the image of the striped prison uniform is in itself misleading. The black and white striped uniform was abolished by 1914 in most American prisons. Regardless, early American films adopted this notorious uniform into the cinematic vocabulary as a shorthand to depict criminals. Some examples are Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer (1917) and Buster Keaton’s Convict 13 (1920). The resultant fictional stereotype was that of the “heroic underdog humiliated by clothing.”
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.