Smile and Stay Thin – Life as an Air Hostess
Qantas hired Japanese flight attendants in 1958 to work the “Cherry Blossom Route” to Japan. Marj de Tray had flown from Australia to Japan in order to choose, out of 150 applicants, Yoshiko Watanabe Teruko Oshima, and Kazuko Otsu. Photos of the new recruits in Sydney, who were all in their early 20s, showed them wearing full kimonos similar to those they would be wearing on flights to Tokyo.
Teri Teramoto flew on the Japan route for the first time in 1964. She began training with two young Japanese women and, due to the stress caused by the new environment, neither of them was able to sleep well. They left for the training school each morning without eating breakfast. Instead, they ate their Arnott’s Scotch Fingers.
Sydney was a difficult place to find Japanese food, so it wasn’t a great idea to snack on biscuits. They all gained weight after changing their diet. They were put on scales, reprimanded and put in front of other trainees.
The Qantas Japanese Flight Hostess in the background, c. 1959. Courtesy Qantas Heritage Collection.
They were then sent, one by one, with a check-in hostess to Hong Kong for a test flight. After a three-month probation, the Qantas manager in Tokyo took them to Ginza for a kimono fitting. After takeoff, they would change from the “Jungle Green”, to the traditional kimono in less than 5 minutes. Qantas recruited Japanese-born flight attendants until the 1980s, but they ceased wearing the traditional kimono in the 1970s due to safety concerns and cost.
Other major international carriers introduced Asian women to their flights. They would also wear traditional forms as well as uniforms. In 1961, Cathay Pacific operated two flights per week between Hong Kong & Sydney. It advertised the use of British Pilots who “fly efficiently” and “demure Oriental hosts pamper you charmfully”.
Other airlines tried to exoticise the air hostesses). The Golden Supper Club Service was held on Ansett-ANA Lockheed Electras at 10pm. Hostesses wore gold lame dresses. Dresses only came in 3 sizes. If the size did not fit, safety pins were used. The service was designed to attract businessmen, who could “relax 4 miles up” while “attentive hosts” served meals.
BOAC launched a paper mini-dress in 1967 that was covered with a large print of flowers and a sun. Passengers on Caribbean and Bermuda flights wore it. The dress could be cut to any length desired. It was worn with white gloves, a bright green slip-on shoe, and a flower (usually an orchid) in the hair. These dresses were not practical because they ripped easily, became transparent when wet, and disintegrated.
The fabric was designed to be fireproof. This was good because some passengers tried to stub cigarettes into it. The hostesses changed into the standard uniform after the plane was empty and threw away the paper dress.
The discipline of appearance
Qantas had only 85 flight attendants in 1959 but received 800 applications per year. In the newspapers, there were advertisements for the new positions of flight hostesses. This was due to the introduction of the Boeing 707 and the round-the-world service. The interviews in Melbourne would take place at Qantas House over three days. The applicants were required to have “a pleasant personality and an attractive appearance.” They also had to undergo three interviews in order for them be selected.
June Dally Watkins, an Australian model who was well known, opened a deportment school in Sydney in 1950. Qantas hired her to teach the deportment skills to its trainees. Pat Woodley was Miss New South Wales 1951 and ran a deportment and modelling school on Phillip Street in Sydney. She taught aspiring air hostesses. Woodley advertised on buses that “I will make any girl beautiful.”