That runway look: Airlines restyle uniforms to balance style and function

It’s common to take two or three years, sometimes longer, to develop new uniforms for airline crews because the jobs can be physically demanding while the clothes must be both utilitarian and attractive, on many thousands of employees.

Long ago, airline uniforms reflected the glamour of flight. Now, they have to serve more utilitarian needs. Do they reflect the airline’s image? Will they look good on most everyone? And, perhaps most important, are they comfortable?

Several domestic airlines have been wrestling with the answers to those questions as they redesign uniforms that, in some cases, were last updated decades ago.

For American Airlines, which introduced new uniforms in September, the different look was an important step in conveying a unified brand image since its merger with US Airways in 2013.

“There was a visual difference in what people were wearing, and I think, inherently, that kind of creates a barrier,” said Brady Byrnes, the airline’s director of global marketing. After the rollout of the new uniforms, he said, “You could just feel a shift.”

People who work on airline uniform designs say it’s common for the process to take two or three years, sometimes longer.

Ekrem Dimbiloglu, director of airport customer experience for Delta Air Lines, agreed that “there’s a very long lead time associated with producing garments.”

In 2015, Delta tapped fashion designer Zac Posen to develop its new uniforms, which will be rolled out to around 60,000 employees next year. “It’s a million-plus garments,” Dimbiloglu said.

One reason the new designs take so long is that airline uniforms, unlike ordinary work clothes, have to be multifunctional.

“When you look at a flight-attendant dress, it just looks like any other dress,” Byrnes said. But the cut and the fabric have to accommodate a range of motion, from hoisting bags into the overhead bins to crouching down in the galley.

“It’s a very…

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