|1970s 'Singapore Girls', via singaporeair.com|
“I bet she’s got a suite,” I said to the Mr, “A lady like that can’t possibly be flying economy.”
When we got to our gate, she was not alone. There was a whole gang of identically-dressed women, plus a couple in red and green versions of the same outfit. What could it be? The world’s most elegant finishing school on an outing? The International League of Hotness on tour? Actually, it was the cabin crew for our flight.
Back in 1968, Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, the airline that split to become Malaysian Airline System and today’s Singapore Airlines, got Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain to design the uniforms for its female cabin crew. He came up with a slinky, yet covering, batik outfit based on the traditional sarong kebaya. The airline has its staff's uniforms individually fitted every six months to ensure an immaculate fit, and employs grooming consultants to help staff pick the ideal makeup for their colouring. I'm guessing that they also teach the staff how to do their hair, as while the adverts often show ladies with their hair down, all the ones I saw had either bobs or perfect updos.
Other airlines may have changed their uniforms over the decades, but I can see why Singapore Airlines has stuck with the sarong kebaya: it’s elegant and lovely and somehow timeless. I suppose its simplicity of line owes a lot to the 1960s as well as tradition; the uniform is devoid of pointless frippery, while the classic batik pattern hasn’t aged the way many prints would have done.
The ‘Singapore Girl’ became quite an icon in the late 1960s and 1970s, and when you’ve seen the cabin crew, it’s easy to understand why.
On the way back to England, our flight to Heathrow was diverted to Manchester because of a storm, so it took about five hours longer than expected. They must have been very tired, but our cabin crew remained elegant and helpful to the end - a real credit to the airline that employs them.