They should weigh no more than eight stone, be younger than 26, and display “the bloom that goes with perfect health”, said a New York Times article in 1936.
But times have changed and now air hostesses are being freed from rigid beauty standards, as high heels, compulsory skirts, and now make up are no longer part of their compulsory dress codes.
In just the latest sign that the traditional “trolley dolly” is dead, Virgin Atlantic has become the first premier airline to tell female cabin crew that they will no longer have to wear makeup in the air.
It will also provide female crew with trousers as part of their standard uniform to wear instead of a skirt. Until now trousers have only been available if female staff specially request them.
The move will by seen by many as going some way towards addressing a gaping gender equality problem within the aviation industry, which spans everything from uniform to pay and workers’ rights.
Just last week this newspaper revealed that British Airways “gagged” a group of female pilots to stop them telling MPs about poor maternity policies at work.
It comes five years after the airline’s uniform policy made the news after Virgin boss Richard Branson dressed in cabin crew uniform – complete with red lipstick – after losing a bet.
It follows British Airways’ decision back in 2016 to allow female flight attendants to wear trousers.
However airlines generally require flight attendants to have a “groomed look that meets conventional standard”, and BA is no exception.
BA’s latest staff handbook states: “For women, you will need to have a styled look with hair and makeup that would be appropriate in a professional environment and complements our uniform.
“For men, your hair must meet a conventional style which is appropriate for a professional environment, shaven or sculptured styles and long hair are not permitted. Dyed hair must be of a natural colour for both men and women.”
Some airlines are reported to have gone even further by having specific guidelines for tiny details of the physical appearance of their cabin crew. For example American Airlines is said to advise that: “Noticeable hair in nostrils and in/on ears or underarms must be cut or otherwise removed”.
Meanwhile Hawaiian Airlines is reported to advise that: “Hands and nails should be kept well groomed at all times, with nail length not exceeding an eighth of an inch beyond the finger tip.”
A spokesman at Virgin said: “Our world-famous red uniform is something all of us at Virgin Atlantic are incredibly proud of. We want our uniform to truly reflect who we are as individuals while maintaining that famous Virgin Atlantic style.
“Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, they also provide our team with more choice on they want to express themselves at work.”