Gratuitously sexy advertising and ultra-cool fashions from the days of the jet set.
Ahh, the golden age of flight, when taking to the air was still unspeakably glamorous and the lethal combination of international terrorism, tutting moralists and oafish stag parties hadn’t taken all the fun away. There used to be a certain sophistication in air travel that was matched only by the hints of hedonistic behaviour – admittedly mostly from travelling rock bands but also from the high-class jet setters who used to make up the bulk of international travel. Even that phrase, ‘jet setter’… it suggests someone who goes from party to party, leading a life of unparalleled decadence. Who cares if it was all a fantasy? I mean, can’t we have anything nice anymore?
At the centre of the jet setting world was the air stewardess, arguably more important even than the plane. That just took you from place to place, but the stewardess provided the luxury and the glamour. And what glamour it was – a combination of looking the height of cool while being calmly, effortlessly professional. No wonder the very idea of the air stewardess prompted ambition and desire – not to mention a whole collection of softcore sex romps because, after all, these gorgeous girls were the swinging era’s version of the sailor with a girl in every port – at least in the popular imagination. The reality might have been rather different (or, in some cases, might not) but who wants boring old reality to intrude on our fantasies? Air stewardesses lived out our dreams of international style and sophistication.
Of course, it all fell apart when air travel became decidedly less glamorous and more prosaic with budget airlines as mass transit, and then as stewardesses became hostesses and then flight attendants, often in decidedly less iconic uniforms and – shock, horror! – not even exclusively female, so the job became just another job. I’ve no doubt that there’s still a certain thrill in travelling the world, even if it means serving beers to belching football fans rather than martinis to the rich and famous – but the glory days of air travel are long behind us and the stewardess is a thing of the past, looked at with disdain by humourless modern cultural commentators. Change is, of course, necessary to reflect the modern world and improve equality – but you don’t always make things better by improving them.
Here, then, is your ticket for a brief trip back in time with a collection of airline ads, the like of which you will never see again.
There have been occasional attempts to bring the sexy back by modern airlines, more often than not appealing to the laddish more than the louche – and these have, inevitably, been met with howls of disapproval from the usual suspects.
And here are a collection of vintage shots, all so effortlessly cool and glamorous, from the golden age of the air stewardess.
And here are just a few of the films inspired by the fantasy of the air stewardess as both a sex symbol and a style icon:
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