Portrait of an American Airlines stewardess posing in uniform on an airplane in 1967, part of an ad campaign for the airline.
The post-WWII America changed drastically and millions of Americans started to travel on airplanes and the stewardess profession expanded further.
Now, young working women did not have to change bedpans or take dictation; they could travel the world, meet important people, and lead exciting lives. The stewardess position was well paid, prestigious, and adventurous – and it quickly became the nation’s most coveted job for women.
Scores of qualified young women applied for each opening so airlines had their pic and could hire only the creme de la creme. In order to win a stewardess position, an applicant had to be young, beautiful, unmarried, well-groomed, slim, charming, intelligent, well educated, white, heterosexual, and doting. In other words, the postwar stewardess embodied mainstream America’s, perfect woman. She became a role model for American girls, and an ambassador of feminity and the American way abroad.
The appearance was considered as one of the most important factors to become a stewardess. At that time, airlines believed that the exploitation of female sexuality would increase their profits; thus the uniforms of female flight attendants were often formfitting, complete with white gloves and high heels.
In the United States, they were required to be unmarried and were fired if they decided to wed. A stewardess could not be pregnant. A stewardess could not grow older than her early thirties.
The stewardess image reached its height of sexualization, becoming a collective cultural fantasy that airlines shamelessly promoted through their advertising. The dark side of this trope was that women who got this prestigious position were often subjected to sexual harassment from drunken passengers, who might pinch, pat, and proposition the stewardesses while they worked, according to Kathleen Barry’s Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants.