Made to Measure Magazine recognizes that the American Airlines uniform update has met with controversy. Employees have made their complaints known, management has been responding, and Twin Hill, the uniform provider, has worked to address employee concerns. Made to Measure’s editorial policy has been, and remains, to not write product quality complaints or lawsuits.
By David Volz
From the time a passenger checks in for a flight to the time when they exit an aircraft, they are dealing with professionals wearing uniforms. Major U.S. airlines have made major changes to their uniforms. Leaders of American Airlines, Delta Airlines and Alitalia have consulted the personnel who are wearing the new uniforms to see what clothing is the most comfortable and also has a positive appearance.
After 30 years, American Airlines redesigned its uniforms during the past three years and introduced the new apparel in September 2016. More than 70,000 employees including flight attendants, pilots, customer service agents and airport agents were encouraged to provide input on what they wanted in a uniform. The update represents the new American brand since the merger with U.S. Airways in 2013. The merger has created a need for new uniforms in addition to a new logo and new cabin interiors.
“We are now one airline,” says LaKesha Brown, spokesperson for American Airlines. “We did extensive wear testing of the new uniforms. We also tested the fabrics. Comfort was considered the most important thing. Our personnel are working in many different climates and they want to be comfortable when performing their jobs.”
Twin Hill, based in Houston, is manufacturing the new uniforms. The previous uniforms were blue; the new ones are slate gray, cobalt and white in color but still have the blue and red color scheme of the previous uniforms. The goal is to get a new uniform look. It is expected the new uniforms will evolve as styles change. Additional accessories will be added to give the uniforms a collection range for years to come. There are various options for employees who are working in different nations. People can choose various mixes of pants, shirts, skirts and other items.
“We valued the feedback of our employees. This collection is a collaboration, a team effort and it will impact all work groups that are wearing the new apparel. We also have an option that is 100 percent cotton,” says Brown. “We worked with designers and conducted employee surveys. We worked with a designer to develop the uniform pieces. These uniforms can adjust to warm and cold climates.”
Delta Airlines introduced its new uniforms to everyone in the company through social media and a live runway fashion show in Atlanta. It is now wear testing about 1,000 of them to select personnel. Once the feedback is collected and analyzed, necessary changes will be made. The new uniforms will roll out throughout Delta’s system in 2018.
Delta worked with Zac Posen, a leading New York fashion designer, to create a uniform collection that will be worn by more than 60,000 frontline employees including customer service agents, flight attendants, ramp agents and technicians. The contemporary style line mixes bold color patterns and classic styles while offering an iconic style to elevate the look and brand of Delta employees. A transition is being made from a more conservative uniform, which is mostly blue and white, to a more cosmopolitan uniform which features more colors and stainguard technology.
Uniforms for employees who don’t work with customers were developed by clothing retailer Land’s End with design inspiration and color consultation from Posen.
“The world’s best employees deserve the best uniforms, and this new collection is classically influenced, yet modern,” says Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO. “Zac and the Delta team worked closely with our people to create timeless and fashionable pieces that reflect the thoughtful and innovative spirit of Delta.”
He continues, “It was clear early on that Zac embodied the innovative design sense, passion and hands-on involvement to create for our employees and our brand a uniform that truly sets Delta apart.”
Gil West, Delta’s senior executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer says, “The new uniform collection will be a strong brand statement and builds on our team members’ sense of pride as they serve our customers around the world. Fit, form, function and style are all integral to the uniforms for Delta people, and Lands’ End is the right partner to deliver on these things.”
Posen worked directly with Delta personnel from almost all work groups to design the collection. They developed a functional wardrobe fit for Delta’s diverse employee group and the environments where they work. Employees had influence on the design and the final selection of each uniform piece.
“We wanted Delta employees to look glamorous on the job without sacrificing functionality and style,” says Posen. “I worked alongside employees to understand how they interact with the clothes they wear and developed a look that empowers and excites, because we want Delta’s global workforce to exude the confidence and thoughtfulness that reflects the airline’s brand.”
Posen says, “This was like my collection taking the SATs. I saw this project as a real company collaboration. My team and I had specific ideas of what we could bring to Delta, but a lot of the inspiration came from the employees,” he says.
Posen was chosen to design the uniforms for Delta’s above-wing Airport Customer Service, Delta Sky Club and In-Flight service employees, while consulting on the uniform project for below-wing Airport Customer Service, Delta Cargo, Ground Support Equipment Maintenance and Delta TechOps employees – a total of 60,000 employees.
Posen was chosen because he is well known for his fresh and innovative designs. Posen’s brand of American glamour is consistent with the brand Delta is promoting. Posen will be personally engaged with the contract through the multi-year agreement. He is known for designing couture and high fashion and for using innovative fabric and textile technology to create pieces that stand up to the active, fast-paced airport and on-board environment.
Posen and his team participated in and received feedback from employee focus groups and job shadows for every job function, both of which were important to the design process. “It enabled us to identify the needs, the desires, the neurosis – all the elements that come together when you’re designing for such a larger team and organization,” says Posen.
“I’m very excited. It’s a very proud moment. I’ve never had the experience quite at this scale of designing for a company’s DNA. I think it allowed us to take different kinds of creative risks, play with color and really think about form and function in the air and on the ground,” he says.
His designs have been worn by influential women including First Lady Michelle Obama and actresses Uma Thurman and Gwyneth Paltrow. His collections can be found in leading department stores throughout the world. Posen serves as the creative director for Brooks Brothers’ signature women’s collection and accessories.
“Through challenges and triumphs, the Delta uniform has been a source of great pride for generations of Delta people and continues to serve as a symbol of our values and the world-class service for which we’re known,” says Tim Maples, Delta’s senior vice president of marketing. “With Zac’s talent and expertise, and in partnership with Delta people worldwide, we look forward to creating a timeless, fashionable and functional new collection that will continue to be a point of pride and symbol of our brand for the 170 million customers who fly with us each year.”
Alitalia, the international airline of Italy, is renewing its image with new uniforms. According to an Alitalia statement, “Our aim was to create a new look for our people which would capture the spirit of Alitalia today as it continues on its journey of renewal and growth. Our new stylish collection of uniforms emulates the beauty of Italy and represents Italian excellence around the world. We want our customers to experience the best of Italy in everything that we do, and there is no better way of highlighting our desire than with new uniforms.”
The new Alitalia Collection was created by Italian haute couturier Eltore Bilotta at his atelier in Milan. His work matches the best of Italian tailoring tradition and the luxury textiles highlighting the formal linearity of its design.
Alitalia’s request to the designer was to create a new style which would be timeless and enduring by using classic Italian elements combined with everyday practicality for men and women. Bilotta has used red to symbolize Italian passion and green to represent the best of Italy – its countryside and the richness of its culture and history. For female cabin crew, uniforms are burgundy slowly changing to a lighter red. This was achieved by using a chevron print design. For female ground crew, a charcoal gray changing to green was accomplished using the same print design. This design process followed on each garment, including a white blouse that features tapering chevron print columns in red for cabin crew and green for ground crew.
All women receive three options. There is a one-piece dress, two-piece jacket and skirt, and a trouser option including shirt and cardigan. As for the accessories, they receive high- or low-heel shoes, overcoat, foulard, winter scarf, belt, stockings, handbag, hat, gloves, make up kits and bag with buttons. All men receive a collection composed of jacket, shirt, tie, pochette, trousers, belt, gloves, handbag, shoes, overcoat, winter scarf, bags with buttons and make up kits for men. Male cabin crew and airport lounge team members also receive a waistcoat while male ground crew members receive a pullover.
This new collection has been inspired by the glamorous golden days of Italian fashion in the 1950s and 1960s, when women were always very elegant wearing beautiful hats and gloves, and by Italy’s rich heritage, culture and national identity. To represent the essence of Italy in the new collection, the designer studied Italian architecture, monuments and daily lifestyles. He elected to draw inspiration from the country’s landscapes, eventually focusing on the terraces of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. These terraces were the inspiration for the hat design. The new uniform also celebrates the people of Alitalia, their professionalism, style and passion for the airline.
The accessories are distinctive. The bags of the female uniform are elegant and refined hand bags. The cabin crew are in wood green and the ground staff are in burgundy with the all-leather accessories. The shoes worn by the personnel are handmade in the historic workshops of the Marche, known for shoe factories. The bags for the male uniform and other accessories are more formal, from the shoes to the waistcoats, cardigans, scarves and overcoat that showcase the typical Italian male elegance. The design on the pouchette and on the ties perfectly balances the uniform using Italian contemporary and classic design elements to create items that are in vogue. The foulards of the female uniform and the ties for the men are made from silk.
Passengers on all three airlines will surely take note of the updated looks and fashion-focused design. These uniform programs each convey the individual corporate messages in their own ways, but the shared importance on comfort and style allow airline staff – in all of their many roles – to focus attention on safety and care of the passengers. These are certainly examples of offering a huge variety of items to create cohesive, professional programs.