High style: evolution of BA uniforms
Jim Davies expected a few raised eyebrows at Customs.
He had travelled to Bermuda alone, yet his luggage was filled with what were clearly women's clothes.
“The customs officer was quite fascinated with a 1937 cap I had in there,” the Londoner said.
“I was worried that he was going to ask why I was travelling with 12 ladies's uniforms, but he didn't.”
Had he been asked, the 70-year-old would have had a reasonable excuse. The vintage uniforms were part of a fashion show commemorating British Airways' 80 years of service to Bermuda.
“I'm not very good at packing,” said Mr Davies, who travels the world promoting the airline's history for BA's London museum. “Inevitably, everything in my suitcase ends up lumped together.
“But the uniforms look wonderful. They were meant to be taken off and put back on often.”
Imperial Airways started the Bermuda service on June 12, 1937 with a flight to New York. British Overseas Airways Corporation took over the company in 1939; in 1974 it merged with British European Airways Corporation, to form British Airways.
The pilot uniform worn on the first Imperial Airways flight started last week's show at the Hamilton Princess.
“Pilots on the flight wore khaki, considered more appropriate for tropical climates,” said Mr Davies. “There were only stewards on the first flight, and they changed into white coats for dinner service.”
His favourite piece he brought with him was a uniform from the late 1940s “because it is a very elegant grey and has a lovely hat”.
A floral paper dress from the 1970s was another highlight. It was quite a change from the more severe uniforms of previous days, which were inspired by Second World War military uniforms.
“I think it wasn't so much promotional as appropriate for the climate,” said Mr Davies. “Stewardesses wore it down to Bermuda and to the Caribbean.
“Stewardesses had to cut the dress out themselves and it had to come three inches above the knee.”
Things are slightly different today. Hair, hat, make-up and uniform have to be ‘just so'.
“Sometimes we get new cabin crew coming in, who have just qualified to fly,” Mr Davies said. “They come in and they look absolutely textbook in their uniform.
“All their hair and lipstick is done and their hat is at just the right angle. I think they're probably more strict about uniform today. It's because the brand is so important.”
Mr Davies worked for BA for 35 years, in reservations and then in complaints.
He still remembers the day he put the uniform on.
“It was a big moment,” he said. “Before that I'd been in the back so I didn't need to use one but when my training was done I was allowed to move to the counter to work with customers. I was 21 when I started.
“At that time the uniforms were almost a bit militant with rank bars on the sleeves. I had a thick, thin and thick bar, which meant I was at the lowest pay grade.”
One day walking through Whitehall in London in his uniform, a sentry saluted him.
“I don't know whether he was mocking me or just saluted anything in a uniform, but I was quite embarrassed,” said Mr Davies. “I never wore it in White Hall again.
He retired in 2002 and started volunteering at the Speedbird Heritage Centre, BA's museum in Harmondsworth.
He's fascinated by the old uniforms, some of which were donated and others bought from stores.
They were initially designed by the Queen's dressmaker, Hardy Amies but revamped by modern designers in the 1980s and 1990s.
“They went to a good dressmaker because uniforms are a very important part of an organisation's personality,” said Mr Davies.
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