A private 1,000-piece collection of cabin attendants’ uniforms put together by an Amsterdam aficionado offers a unique window into women’s style during the aviation age.
When Mad Men first arrived on our screens in 2007, it ushered in a nostalgic craze for 1950s pencil skirts and buttoned-up blouses. And, from Louis Vuitton to Topshop, the “secretary” look has remained popular over the last few years. This fashion originated in a time when there were few attractive career options open to women, but becoming a flight attendant was one of them. The cabin aisle quickly became a place for fashions à la mode, and that tapered office look took to the skies as young women embraced the opportunity to get out of the typing pool and travel the world.
The women serving the Don Drapers of the day their in-flight old fashioneds wore beige skirt suits, complete with pillbox hats and salmon-coloured scarfs or, a couple of years later, bright-red minidresses. We know this because we can see them in Cliff Muskiet’s vast collection of flight-attendant uniforms. The 47-year-old Dutchman has been collecting cabin-crew uniforms for more than 20 years, photographing them and putting them up on his website. The fashion world often turns to nostalgia for inspiration, and Muskiet’s collection takes that obsession with retro style to a whole new level. He now has more than 1,000 pieces, from airlines as diverse as Air Burkina, Carnival and Wizz Air. Muskiet, who has himself been working as a flight attendant for KLM since 1987, explains his obsession over the phone from Amsterdam.
Where does your passion for flight attendants’ outfits come from?
When I was five years old, I flew from New York to Amsterdam. I slept through the whole journey and was very disappointed when we arrived, as I couldn’t remember anything [about the flight] at all. That’s when my obsession with civil aviation was born. I collected everything, from food trays to used boarding passes. It was only later, when I was a teenager, that I got hold of my first uniform, a 70s KLM piece. That was the starting point of my collection.
How do you get hold of new pieces? Do you just walk up to colleagues and ask them?
Usually, I just send emails to airlines asking for uniforms. I also get offered pieces, as the site has become a sort of advertisement for commercial airlines. And two months ago I was arriving at immigration in Dallas when I saw this American Airlines crew member wearing a scarf I really wanted to have. So I just told her who I was and asked for it. She took off the scarf and gave it to me. I guess it helped that I was wearing a uniform myself.
What do you do with all these uniforms?
Whenever I get a new piece, I try to take photographs of it and to upload it on to my website as soon as possible. Then I pack up the uniform and store it at home.
You must have a pretty big house.
I live in a three-bedroom flat in Amsterdam. But, when you step into my apartment, you don’t see any uniforms. I can get very creative in using space, storing the uniforms away in suitcases, boxes and closets, on top of closets or under my bed. But it is getting more crammed.
What are the main ways in which uniforms have changed over the decades?
In the 40s and 50s the uniforms were mostly military style: tailored jackets, long skirts, dark colours. Back then, all uniforms looked very similar. In the late 60s there was a big change as the idea that “sex sells” took hold. Back then, the idea was that stewardesses should attract passengers. The uniforms got very short, with miniskirts and hotpants. You saw a lot of colours and patterns, red, purple, stripes and dots. From the 90s on, the flight uniforms have turned into business outfits. Today, they look far more professional and, actually, pretty boring.
Which is your favourite?
I like the uniforms from the late 60s, early 70s sporting psychedelic patterns and lots of colours. And most of them came with hats. I love hats; they are like the icing on the cake. They make a uniform complete.
Will you ever stop collecting?
All collectors share the same feeling: they always want to have more of something. It doesn’t matter if it’s stamps, coins or uniforms. I don’t care if people think I am crazy. Whenever I obtain a new piece, it simply makes me happy.