They looked fantastic but it must have restricted their movements something terrible. The Conversation-Max White, Qantas flight steward, 1947 to 1980

In 1958, Qantas began employing Japanese flight hostesses to work on the “Cherry Blossom” route to Japan. Qantas’s Marj de Tracy had flown to Japan to select, from 150 applicants, Yoshiko Watanabe, Teruko Oshima and Kazuko Otsu. Publicity photos of the new recruits, all in their early twenties, showed them arriving in Sydney wearing full kimonos, similar to the ones they would wear on the flights to Tokyo.

Teri Teramoto was selected to fly on the Japan route in 1964. She started training with two other young Japanese women, and the stress of the new environment meant that none of them slept properly. Each morning they left on the bus for training school without breakfast, instead each snacking on their own packet of Arnott’s Scotch Finger biscuits.

Snacking on biscuits was not a good idea but it was difficult to find Japanese food in Sydney. With a change of diet they all put on weight, and were put on the scales and reprimanded in front of the other trainees.

Exotic cosmopolitanism: the Qantas Japanese flight hostess (in the background) c. 1959. Courtesy of Qantas Heritage Collection.

After training they were sent one-by-one with a check hostess on a test flight to Hong Kong. Only after completing a three-month probation period were they taken by Qantas’s Tokyo manager to a shop in Ginza to be fitted for a kimono. They would board the plane in the “Jungle Green” uniform, and after take-off, go to the toilet and, in less than five minutes, change into the traditional kimono. Qantas continued to recruit Japanese-born flight hostesses into the 1980s but in the 1970s they stopped wearing the kimono, partly due to expense but also safety issues.

Other major international airlines introduced Asian women on their flights, and they too would wear traditional forms of dress as well as the standard uniform. In 1961 Cathay Pacific had two flights a week between Hong Kong and Sydney. It proclaimed the use of British pilots who “fly you efficiently” while the “demure Oriental hostesses pamper you charmingly”.

Other airlines attempted to exoticise their air hostesses. On board Ansett-ANA’s new Lockheed Electras, hostesses wore gold lamé dresses for the Golden Supper Club Service on the last flight out of Melbourne to Sydney at 10pm. The dresses only came in three sizes; if the size didn’t fit safety pins were used. The rationale behind the service was that it would attract businessmen who “could relax 4 miles high” while “attentive hostesses” served meals.

In 1967, BOAC introduced a paper mini dress covered with a print of a sun and large flowers to be worn on the Caribbean and Bermuda flights. Cut, literally, to whichever length wanted, the dress was worn with a flower in the hair (usually a fresh orchid), and white gloves and bright green slip-on shoes. The dresses weren’t practical as they tore easily and became transparent and disintegrated when wet.

They were meant to be fireproof, which was just as well as some passengers would try and stub their cigarettes into the fabric. After the plane had emptied, the hostesses would put on the standard uniform and throw away the short-lived paper dress.

The discipline of appearance

In 1959 Qantas only had 85 flight hostesses, but was receiving 800 applications a year. With the introduction of the round-the-world service and the new Boeing 707 services, advertisements were placed in the major daily newspapers for new flight hostess positions. In Melbourne the interviews would be held at Qantas House, over a period of three days. Applicants were expected to have a “pleasant personality and attractive appearance” and undergo three interviews before being selected into the training school.