The commercial airline industry has undergone a drastic change since the first passenger flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida in 1914. Greater seating capacity, improved comfort, new safety regulations, food amenities, in-flight entertainment, and more have all transformed the experience of air travel into something that’s really pretty luxurious when you think about it.
Sure, there might be a baby or two wailing and you may not always get the seat you want, but you’re also defying the laws of gravity while being waited on by a staff of people who are also trained to save your life. If that’s not luxury, I don’t know what is.
Cabin crew members do a lot of the heavy lifting in ensuring your flight experience goes smoothly, and many of them have to do it all in a full face of makeup, wearing a starched uniform I’d never want to travel in. But times are changing, and so are long-held ideals around beauty standards for women in and out of the workforce.
In order to keep pace with improvements in gender equity, Virgin Atlantic airlines recently changed its policy, which originally required female flight attendants to wear makeup at work — a measurable departure from its somewhat misogynistic corporate branding.
Virgin Atlantic is an airline that marches to the beat of its own drum.
via: Getty ImagesThe Alaska Air Group officially completed its merger with Virgin America last year, but the company has maintained its quirky personality.
Its funky features make it stand out as much more fun and modern choice for flying.
So happy to be riding on a legacy #VirginAmerica interior #firstclass - but it’s in @AlaskaAir paint 🤨 N624VA 💯 https://t.co/0GDq313gq7— Royal S King ☀️📷🛩 (@Royal S King ☀️📷🛩)1542893052.0
People love the plush seating.
That rarest of things: the elusive "empty middle seat on a cross-country flight" #VirginAmerica #DCA>SFO #thankful https://t.co/Q7QhUbLlGf— Jacob Conrad (@Jacob Conrad)1468444330.0
They’ve even got touch screen ordering.
In-flight texting strangers on @VirginAmerica turns everyone into kids #virginamerica #inflight #texting… https://t.co/IXNqshMDHF— iki (@iki)1521865917.0
The airline’s aesthetic is strong.
via: Getty ImagesIt can be seen prominently through Virgin Atlantic’s staff, who have long been required to meet a strict set of beauty and grooming standards.
Now, the Virgin Atlantic dress code is getting a long overdue makeover.
Virgin Atlantic female cabin crew no longer have to wear makeup https://t.co/7w4mR8h2GW— The Independent (@The Independent)1551737671.0
To be clear, that means prior to this change every female employee had to wear makeup to work. Everyday.
via: Getty ImagesNo rolling out of bed and onto the tarmac. Even though the job is primarily maintaining passenger comfort and safety, crew members also had to maintain a flawless red lip and perfectly coiffed hair.
The airline’s stringent guidelines for employee attire were also relaxed.
via: Getty ImagesPreviously, female Virgin Atlantic crew were required to wear a skirt uniform unless they made a special request for pants. After the recent change, pants will come standard for all genders.
The change is a reflection of the desires expressed by Virgin Atlantic’s customer audience and staff.In an official statement, the company said its uniform was intended to reflect both the company’s iconic style and the individuality of its crew members.
It’s also just a lot more practical.
I can't believe its 2019 and this has only just happened: Virgin Atlantic removes cabin crew make-up rule:… https://t.co/tkRVUTES7r— Sarah (@Sarah)1551731421.0
The old rules were clearly outdated.
Female cabin crew working for Virgin Atlantic are no longer required to wear make-up, the airline has announced. Wh… https://t.co/VmNPnYhLZ0— Jess Brammar (@Jess Brammar)1551708016.0
Of course, anyone working in hospitality is expected to be clean and put together.
via: Getty ImagesBut the old Virgin Atlantic rules went well beyond basic hygiene.
Cabin crew members were required to attend “groom school."
via: Getty ImagesOver a series of grooming classes, employees learned everything about how to achieve the glossy fifties glamour look Virgin Atlantic uses as a nod to the early days of air travel.
Every element of the look was highly regulated.
via: Getty ImagesThe official guidelines included a limited range of acceptable colors for lipstick but encouraged the use of one specific shade of red that matched company uniforms.
Of course, the uniform also called for women to wear mascara and blush.
via: Getty ImagesMale crew members could also wear clear mascara and makeup to cover blemishes, as long as it wasn’t obvious. As I said, the gender norms were very outdated.
There were rules for nails, too.
via: ShutterstockRed polish preferred, but pale pink or French manicures were also deemed acceptable.
And eye shadow, obviously.
via: ShutterstockThe shade must be either neutral or a lilac color that corresponds to the pattern on the company uniform’s signature scarf.
Virgin Atlantic also had female crew members adhere to specific hairstyles.
via: ShutterstockThe company forbid visible roots, long bangs, and unnaturally colored hair, and required a vintage updo look in keeping with its overall retro style.
For all its modern amenities, the company wasn’t seen as particularly progressive.
via: Getty ImagesExpectations for female crew members ultimately stemmed from ideas held by Virgin’s owner, Richard Branson.
Professionally, Branson seems to aspire to a persona that exists somewhere between CEO, and rockstar.
via: Getty ImagesThe multi-hyphenate business leader is infamous for his sexualized company marketing and arguably misogynistic public antics.
Everything in the Virgin brand family is heavily associated with the imagery of young women.
via: Getty ImagesThe adherence to a fifties style doesn’t end at aesthetics – Branson appears to retain the era’s sensibilities around archaic gender dynamics.
The sexual innuendos are everywhere.
via: Getty ImagesConventionally attractive women are a major part of Branson’s branding, from the decorations on his planes to company events complete with unnecessary bikini-clad models.
Sexuality underpins the Virgin culture.
STOP THE PRESSES! Virgin Voyages has some news to share! Watch our FACEBOOK LIVE Wednesday 22 March 2PM EST 💋… https://t.co/4Zxeeb72Sx— Virgin Voyages ⚓️ (@Virgin Voyages ⚓️)1490023745.0
A lot of it is downright juvenile.This new logo announcement was intended as an April Fool’s joke, but few were laughing at the immature, breast-obsessed advertising.
Branson loves those ‘mile high club’ jokes.
fantastic time in @virginamerica inflight training class & new lifesize cabin trainer. feels just as good as the mile high club #morelater— Richard Branson (@Richard Branson)1318982762.0
But with a new public dialogue around gender inequalities and sexual harassment, Branson’s antics take on a darker tone.Like this video guide for men looking to “get lucky" up in the air.
Virgin Atlantic is the first company to publicly change their stance on employee makeup requirements.
via: Getty ImagesMany airlines still maintain strict guidelines around crew member appearance and attire.
Ultimately, makeup doesn't help people do their jobs better if they're not interested in wearing it.Of course, companies want their staff to look presentable, but they don’t need to enforce outdated gender stereotypes to achieve that.
Sex sells, but at what cost?
via: Getty ImagesEnforcing makeup rules like those Virgin Atlantic once required plays into a larger gender disparity that we as a society are slowly trying to separate ourselves from.
The company’s new policy is a step in the right direction.
Female Virgin Cabin Crew are no longer required to wear makeup and can wear trousers How many tiny changes until we reach Equality?— Elle Bright (@Elle Bright)1551733898.0