Ozwald Boateng’s new uniform for British Airways staff has finally been revealed. It is the end of an era for BA’s famous Stephen Jones hat worn by female cabin crew.
(In reality, the hats have been out of service for almost two years now, thanks to the restructuring of BA’s crew fleets.)
Boateng’s ‘modern contemporary twist’ will transform uniforms for all 30,000+ British Airways employees, not just cabin crew, who wear a uniform as part of their role. It is the first new uniform since 2003, when Julien Macdonald designed the current uniform.
The culmination of a four year design and testing phase has seen it trialled by 1,500 staff on the ground and in the air, on secret test flights. The fact that images only leaked late last night is a credit to how well British Airways staff have managed to keep this project under wraps.
The new uniform range was originally meant to be ready in time for BA’s Centenary celebrations in 2019. That didn’t happen, of course – and a global pandemic means the rollout was further delayed, until this week.
Boateng joins a long list of famous names to design British Airways staff uniforms. These include Paul Costelloe, Roland Klein, Baccart Weatherall, Hardy Amies.
Boateng launched his first womenswear collection in 2018 and also turned Givenchy Homme around back in the mid-noughties.
The British Airways uniform is not his first airline project. He also worked with Virgin Atlantic on their amenity kits which launched back in 2004. Of course, an amenity kit is far less complex than new uniforms for thousands of staff.
As part of the reveal, British Airways CEO and Chairman Sean Doyle said:
“Our uniform is an iconic representation of our brand, something that will carry us into our future, representing the very best of modern Britain and helping us deliver a great British original service for our customers. From the very start this has been about our people. We wanted to create a uniform collection that our people are proud to wear and with the help of over 1,500 colleagues, we are confident that we have delivered this.”
Trials and tribulations
Launching new uniforms isn’t without risk. US airlines have faced successive calls from staff to recall various new uniforms which have allegedly been causing health problems amongst crew. American Airlines and Delta have both faced criticism, whilst Alaska Airlines actually recalled its uniform in 2013 in the midst of an employee-led lawsuit, which eventually found there was no reliable evidence that the uniforms were causing health problems.
Still, uniforms are intensely personal when you consider how much they are worn by staff, who will all have their own individual preferences for style, fit and material.
To try and avoid that sort of snafu, British Airways has been trialling the uniforms to ensure that the materials are durable and comfortable. 50 workshops with staff have been held throughout the design process, from design workshops, prototype feedback and garment trials.
More than 1,500 colleagues across the airline took part in 50 workshops to help ensure the garments suitability, from design workshops to prototype feedback and garment trials, helping create an iconic collection that will stand the test of time.
Over the past six months, British Airways has been putting the uniforms to the test in secret trials on cargo flights throughout Europe as well as on engineering ferry flights. They’ve been tested in all sorts of conditions, including in deluge showers and even – I’ve been told – for a session in BA’s walk-in freezers at caterer DO&CO to trial them in sub-zero temperatures.
What options does BA’s new uniform include?
As previously mentioned, the new design re-imagines uniforms across the business, not just cabin crew. That includes pilots, engineering staff, gate agents and more:
“The collection features a tailored three-piece suit for men with regular and slim fit style trousers and dress, skirt and trouser options for women, as well as a modern jumpsuit – which is an airline first. A tunic and hijab option has also been created for the global carrier.”
According to British Airways, the new uniform features design features inspired by BA’s history as an airline:
“The airwave pattern that features across the entire uniform collection including jackets, t-shirts, buttons and ties was inspired by the movement of air over an aircraft wing. The jacquard fabric across all of the tailored garments features a variation of the airline’s iconic speedmarque.”
British Airways hasn’t yet revealed all the variants of the new uniform, which you can see throughout this article. For example, a dress is also available for female cabin crew. You can see a closer look in this video:
For now, the uniforms will remain gender-specific, although I see no reason why BA can’t adjust its policy to allow staff to wear their uniform of choice in the future, as Virgin Atlantic now does.
What do the crew think?
With impeccable timing, I had the unique experience of flying back from Toronto on the evening that the new uniforms leaked on Twitter, and I overheard a couple of initial reactions from crew who had seen the leaked photos as I was making my way through Heathrow Airport.
Remember that the uniform was only officially revealed this morning. All crew except the 1,500 involved in trials have only seen the uniform from the leaked images from a slideshow.
One recurring comment, particularly from female crew, is that Ozwald Boateng is a “man’s designer, so it was never going to work.” There seems to particular aversion to the idea that the uniform has been designed by Boateng, whose focus has historically been on menswear and tailoring.
I hope the crew warm to the new uniforms, because I genuinely think they are stylish and upgrade BA’s looks.
It will take time for staff to see and try on new uniforms, let alone get used to how they work in practice. For now, only 5% of BA staff have tried on the new uniforms, so it is probably too early to come to a conclusion.
BA’s new uniforms have been a long time coming and – frankly – a long time overdue. The baggy Julien Macdonald uniform, first introduced almost 20 years ago, has long looked dated and been need of an overhaul, so this is a welcome step in modernising and updating BA’s brand image, particularly given how important crew are to the overall impression of the airline.
My personal view is that they look smart and modern. Whilst the initially leaked photos didn’t look great, I have to say it looks a great deal better in the images supplied by British Airways which I have included throughout this article, and I am looking forward to seeing it in person.
BA’s new uniforms will gradually roll out over the coming months, with all staff due to be re-kitted by the Summer. Engineers and ground operations agents will be the first to wear them, starting in the coming weeks, whilst cabin crew, pilots and check-in agents will follow.
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