PIA style through the years.
PIA has been the national carrier for more than six decades. The attire of the PIA cabin crew from its earliest years has moved through numerous stages of style.
The uniforms of the PIA crew initially conformed to western trends. PIA air hostesses and male flight attendants had no cultural distinction in those days except the colour green. The females wore below-the-knee skirts and white blouses with a cap. The male stewards wore conventional male suiting. To the passenger, they were crew who dressed up like the cabin staff of any other airline. These were times when cabin crew in other airlines, especially some European carriers like Air France, had already caught the fancy of fashion designers.
Gradually, eminent names of the fashion world began to be patronized as designers of cabin crew outfits by PIA as well. Laila Shahzada, a Pakistani designer and Chausie Fortaignelle, an American woman of French origin, who was also a cabin crew trainer at PIA, presented the first set of PIA uniforms for the flight attendants in 1956. The clothing featured gray tweed jackets, a shirt, blouse and a matching cap for both males and females. The designs by Laila and Chausie were worn by the crew until 1960.
PIA people took pride in the dignity these uniforms manifested, especially the cultural edge. PIA was also the first regional airline to incorporate local and national elements in their crew outfits. This trend was subsequently followed by Air India, British Overseas Airway Corporation (BOAC), Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
PIA stewardess Naseem Feroz was chosen to model for PIA's culturally oriented uniforms. In her interview with Chausie Fortaignelle, Naseem openly expressed her reservation for westernized uniforms and short hair. She said:
I showed my deep reservation to both of these demands, although Ms. Chausie did mention that PIA was in the process of designing a new uniform. A couple of days later, a letter of acceptance arrived from PIA, despite my refusal to give in to the demand of shortening the hair and wearing a western outfit.
I was chosen to be the model for the new PIA uniform. This comprised a green tunic, green hat, white shalwar and dupatta, black shoes and a purse. PIA was the first airline in the world to incorporate local attire as its uniform. At all the international airports, where PIA operated, the 'PIA Girl' stood out. They were the real brand ambassadors for the country and PIA."
From 1960 to 1966, Feroze Cowasji's designs further portrayed cultural vibrancy in PIA uniforms. The world-renowned French designer, Pierre Cardin was asked to present his designs in 1966. He was chosen from a competition and it was evident how the airline of a developing country did not mind spending extensively on the crew outfits of the national carrier that carried the Pakistan flag around the world.
Cardin chose fawn for the summer and moss green for winter for the PIA flying crew. This connected very well with the seasonal essence and was the haute couture of cabin crew dresses in those days.
The short and conveniently fitting A-line' tunics and slim, cigarette trousers of PIA quickly gained popularity around the world. A folded dupatta complemented the uniform while the trousers became known as PIA Pyjamas'.
The pyjamas are famous even today. The short hemline of the tunics and cuts gave a modernized flavour to the culturally peculiar Pakistani shalwar kameez. Cardin's chic uniform designs redefined the manner in which sophistication could be incorporated in practical airline outfits.
Following Pierre Cardin, the British fashion designer Sir Hardy Amies added another novel flavour to PIA clothes. He was known to have designed for Queen Elizabeth. He lent his services to PIA from 1975 to 1986 by amalgamating the purple and magenta fronts in the female attire with green shalwars and printed floral dupattas. Accessorized by black bags and soft, leather sandals, the attire was a complete presentation of trends and fads that could have easily been incorporated in a contemporary fashion design exercise.
Naheed Azfar designed for PIA crew from 1986 to 2003. Her fashion ensemble comprised moss green, light pink and gold rose tinges for the summers and PIA green and burgundy for winters. She was asked not to use red tones, kurtas and tightly fitted outfits as General Zia ul Haq would not put up with such liberties.
The designers kept the comfort of a working woman in mind as her work hours stretched beyond the ordinary. With wide painchaas and striped dupattas, the designs were certainly not a statement in ethnicity. The attire used by PIA cabin crew until 2014 was redesigned by Riffat Yasmin. It was based on a mustard, seagreen and rust shalwar kameez with printed floral patterned dupattas adding a contemporary touch.
PIA uniforms haven't been upgraded in over a decade now and the tones and cuts have become common to the extent that there is not much distinction left between a female passenger's attire and that of a PIA air hostess. As such, there has been a demand for fresh, unconventional and up-to-date cuts that would give individual personality to the attire of the airline's cabin staff who are expected to represent cultural chic, style and grace.
There is also an effort at the top level in PIA to infuse a new, self-motivational spirit in the crew which would translate into their taking pride in their jobs and passing on the carmaderie, courtesy and friendliness to the travelling public. It is being hoped that a freshly designed dress of the cabin crew (which would also trickle down to the ground staff) would do the trick!