It’s 2019, and Virgin Atlantic has just said flight attendants can work without makeup

Times are finally changing.
Times are finally changing.
Image: Reuters/Luke MacGregor
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Virgin Atlantic, one of Britain’s top transatlantic carriers, announced today that it would no longer require its female cabin crew to wear makeup while working.

As a nod to the fact that it’s now 2019 and not 1950, the standard uniform issued to female crew will now also include trousers, rather than requiring workers to specially request them.

“Our world famous red uniform is something all of us at Virgin Atlantic are incredibly proud of,” a statement from the airline noted. “As an airline, we have always stood out from the crowd and done things differently to the rest of the industry. We want our uniform to truly reflect who we are as individuals while maintaining that famous Virgin Atlantic style. We have been listening to the views of our people and as a result have announced some changes to our styling and grooming policy that support this.”

The working lives of airline cabin crew have long been wracked with sexism. Virgin Atlantic is certainly not the only airline to have required more stringent grooming and appearance requirements of its female staff than of males. Though Virgin is calling its move a “a significant change for the aviation industry,” it’s hard to say if Virgin is the first to explicitly make makeup optional, but it’s true that numerous airlines still have makeup guidelines for female staff.

It’s also fair to say that Virgin and its owner, Richard Branson, are not known as paragons of women’s empowerment: Indeed, no modern airline executive has doubled down on the practice of using sexual innuendo and a reputation for the “most attractive cabin crew” more than Branson.

Case in point: that time he manhandled Pamela Anderson on the wing of one of his planes during a photo op. Or when he posed with bikini-clad women when launching his supposedly chic and modern new cruise line, Virgin Voyages in 2016. And don’t forget the pin-up girls plastered on the front of his aircraft (and his cruise ships too—though now with a fuzzy message of female empowerment).

The airline said it will still issue official guidance for female crew who wish to apply makeup at work. As any frequent flier of Virgin will tell you, this often includes a red lip that “suits their skin tone,” bronzed cheeks, and bouffant updos lacquered in place to survive a long-haul flight.

At least now, travelers can assume the meticulously coiffed crew-member serving them chose to put in the extra time on their appearance—rather than being forced to.