Shipping to
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Interview by Mr Simon Mills

I took my first flight as soon as WWII finished and they started letting civilians on aeroplanes again. It was a different, much gentler time and the manners and methods of commercial flight were still in their infancy. For instance, I remember hearing about one rather genteel lady who was up in the air looking out when she saw another plane about to pass in the opposite direction. The woman immediately drew the curtain on her window because she thought it was the polite thing to do.

Nowadays, flying is just like getting on a bus, but back in the 1950s and 1960s it was so chic, well mannered and exciting. There was one particular airline that did a wonderful first-class flight from London to Paris. The air stewardesses would provide full silver service; a three-course lunch with fine wine, beautifully laid out with a linen table cloth and napkins, lovely bone china plates with silver knives and forks. The problem was the flight time to Paris was only an hour and a bit, which didn't give you long enough to enjoy the lunch. So, when you landed the pilot used to park up the plane on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle and the girls would wait patiently until you'd had time to enjoy your coffee and dessert.

The new air hostess uniforms for British charter airline Court Line are unveiled, 11 September 1969

Long-haul flying was still very new, so a career as an air stewardess on, say, British Airways or one of the American airlines such as Pan Am was considered to be very glamorous. You were travelling to exotic places with what became the first generation of the jet set and because of the environment in which you were working, it was generally regarded as a good way to meet a very rich husband... which lots of them did.

Most of the girls were very proper and professional; they were there to work and not there to be dated. And they let you know it. But there was always the odd girl who gave you a twinkle... and you twinkled back. Did I date an air stewardess? Yes, I suppose I must have done. We all did back then. The airlines wouldn't take on just any girl, though. They had to be petite and feminine, and of a certain weight. This was a time before political correctness and there was an unsaid but commonly acknowledged notion that the airlines employed the best looking, leggiest girls in order to attract more business. It worked very well too and the girls seemed to enjoy living up to their reputation.

The way they looked and behaved was absolutely amazing! Groomed to perfection and very well dressed, but also so disciplined and beautifully controlled, you half imagined that there was a sergeant major hiding in the back somewhere giving them orders. You never saw an air stewardess that wasn't pretty. They looked like fashion models - some of them could even have been supermodels in fact. If you had six girls working on a flight that always meant six marvellous pairs of ankles, which made a long flight very pleasant, I can tell you.

British hairdresser Mr Vidal Sassoon, 01 January 1968

Nowadays, the girls have to work like crazy and the beauty standards in the air have dropped. The ankles aren't always so good either. I always admired the air stewardesses' outfits. They were much sexier in the 1960s than they are now. All the airlines had designers creating the girls' uniforms. Pierre Cardin for Pakistan International, Halston and Pucci for Braniff International. Always something cute and sexy, but very correct. It was fabulous.

I strongly believed that there was a definite connection between the way that the flight attendants were dressed and how the people working in our salon should look. I think there should be a certain dignity and discipline in every craft, whether it's serving clients champagne on board a plane or cutting hair. So, after a lot of flying and a lot of persuasion I finally got the guys to wear three-piece suits and the girls to wear smart skirts - short but not too short - and well-cut blouses.

Hair? The American stewardesses had those big up-dos, but the really on-the-ball British girls all had one of our geometric haircuts which were fashionable but also practical and perfect for girls on the go. The asymmetric fringe was never a problem, they just hooked the long bit of the hair over the ear and got on with the job.

Pan Am takes to the air, starring (from left) Ms Margot Robbie, Ms Christina Ricci, Ms Karine Vanasse and Ms Kelli Garner

I can't remember the last time I turned right at the top of an aeroplane's stairs but it was an awfully long time ago. And I hated it. I think it was when I was working for Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz, which was a very up market company but for some reason, every time we'd go to New York, they'd insist on making us fly coach. I did it once... never again. After that, I'd pay to be upgraded out of my own pocket. Or, for a brief and very enjoyable period, I'd fly with an airline - just a small fleet - that was very splendid indeed. On one side, it had rows of regular seats and on the other side, beds, which were well used, by the way. Did I get to use the beds myself? Well, let's just say that I became a fully fledged member of the mile high club.

I think the best service and the prettiest girls can be found on the eastern airlines now. SAS is also pretty good, but if you want to get great service from a girl with lovely eyes and nice smile, fly Korean, Thai or Japan airlines. And isn't it Singapore Airlines that is doing the A380 service with private rooms, a double bed and a big TV? I think I need to book a flight on that plane...

Pan Am is on Sundays at 10pm ET on abc

Vidal Sassoon The Movie trailer

what to carry on to a plane


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