Virgin Atlantic’s styling and grooming guidelines have finally landed in 2019.
The U.K.-based airline no longer requires its female cabin crew to wear any makeup, the company announced this week. If they still choose to wear makeup, flight attendants can choose lipstick and foundation that fits within Virgin Atlantic’s “existing palette of makeup,” the company said.
Women will also receive trousers as a standard part of their uniform upon joining the crew, rather than having to put in a request. The original “Virgin Red” crew uniform was introduced in 1984 by designer Arabella Pollen; its most recent iteration, a Vivienne Westwood design that debuted in 2014, features a knee-length skirt and a red jacket that “enhances the female form.” Flight attendants also wear red heels.
The cosmetics policy change came as a result of “listening to the views of our people,” Mark Anderson, Virgin Atlantic’s executive vice president of customer, said in a statement to MarketWatch.
“We want our uniform to truly reflect who we are as individuals while maintaining that famous Virgin Atlantic style,” he added. “Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, they also provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves at work. Helping people to be themselves is core to our desire to be the most loved travel company.”
The policy change is good news for women looking to skirt the so-called “makeup tax”, not to mention the time it takes to slather on: The average woman spends about $15,000 on makeup over her lifetime, according to a 2013 report by personal-finance site Mint.com. Meanwhile, a flight attendant’s median annual pay in 2017 was $50,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three in four flight attendants are women.
Women have to walk a fine line when it comes to makeup. Wearing a small amount can make women seem more competent, one study found, while too much can rule women out of leadership positions, according other research.
While low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet tend to have more lax uniform rules, the BBC reports, not everyone is on board with change. British Airways reportedly still requires makeup for female crew members, though it scrapped its no-pants policy in 2016. Dubai-based Emirates’ female crew must match lipstick to their uniform’s red hats and wear their hair in an accepted style, according to the Independent. They’re also “encouraged to undergo a seven-step makeup routine.” (British Airways and Emirates did not immediately return requests for comment.)
, for its part, instructs its flight attendants to “apply makeup conservatively in order to achieve a natural look and in shades that are compatible with individual skin tones,” and warns against the use of “extreme colors.” American Airlines
trainee flight attendants “must present a professional image, may not have visible tattoos, facial, multiple or upper ear piercing, or extreme hair color or style while in Flight Attendant Uniform,” according to a current job posting.
In addition to adhering to an image double standard, women flight attendants must also contend with rampant sexism in their industry: Nearly seven in 10 flight attendants (68%) have encountered sexual harassment during their careers, according to a 2018 Association of Flight Attendants survey. Mandatory reporting in the U.K. has also revealed a substantial gender pay gap among airline staff.
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