You may have heard or read that Turkish Airlines implemented a ban on wearing red lipstick or nail polish because it was said to undermine the “visual integrity” of the airline. Whether it does or doesn't do this, it's pretty clear that red isn't associated with purity in this situation. I disagree with the ban for my own feminist reasons but always think it is wise to consider the cultural context in which such decisions are made (and in this case overturned as a result of pressure). In my search for other articles about Turkish Airlines I found a second and contrasting example of the use of red (and flight attendants, coincidentally).
What's the big deal about red you might ask? It's an interesting color because it has contrasting and contradictory meanings of historical and cultural significance. It can mean stop and go; it is used to depict blood and fire and it can mean purity and luck. If you want to be taken seriously you might be told to wear a red tie or a pair of red heels. If you want to entice someone you might think to apply red lipstick or woo them with red roses. Above all though— red says sex.
A little historical background about the job in question is warranted. Back in the 1920's the flight attendant, then airhostess or stewardess, became the image of femininity, an image that was strictly enforced. They were required to be of a certain age, weight, and picture of health. They were the quintessential 'girl next door', especially since they weren't allowed to keep their jobs and marry or have children. Femininity in Flight touches on the legacy of stereotypes associated with flight attendants. They've been called 'flying superwomen', 'pink collared Norma Rae', 'glamour girls of the air', and 'flying waitresses', among other things. Writers like A.R. Schoolchild and Barbara Ehrenreich point out that the historical legacy of the flight attendant is steeped in universally politicized undertones (of red perhaps?). Legacy is the key word here, because although we might be more sophisticated in our thinking today, old habits die-hard. The expectations of female flight attendant have not changed much. She is required to be both deferential and authoritative. Not only is she the girl next door, she's what Schoolchild terms the, 'protomother'.
Everyone knows Virgin Airlines (part of Virgin group) and their iconic use of red. They're planning to 'unveil' their new flight attendant uniform, designed by British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, this summer. The uniform is set to be more feminine, more modern and more flattering with its cinched-in waistcoat and pleated-back pencil skirt. Of course, they will remain red. A little more digging in the same direction led me to an article on the introduction of a custom Virgin 'red' lip color for its female flight attendants. Something tells me that Virgin isn’t going for the pure, wholesome look.
The sentiment among secular Turks is that Turkey is becoming more conservative and nationalistic which they say equates to 'more 'Islamic'. Turkish Airlines” actions are likely symptomatic of wider political and religious changes. They did also recently reverse an order against headscarves. Whether or not Turkey is becoming more ‘Islamic’ it does have a large Islamic population whose beliefs will undoubtedly come into play particularly in such heated times. In this case, sex and service are a little close for comfort. Virgin, on the hand, has never hidden the fact that they use the color red because it says sex. Instead of your mother serving you a warm beverage and a blanket, it's the girl next door doing it. This makes it much easier to maintain the fantasy.
Here's a clip about the uniforms.
Tara is a researcher and writer with interests in gender, disability, the body, and media.
She received her Masters degree in Sociology of Health and Illness from UCD, Ireland. Her research explored how media representations of the feminine ideal affect body and self image of visually impaired women. She's currently pursuing her PhD in similar areas. Her other (diverse) interests include the social and cultural significance of food and the history and myth of the American Dream and its relationship to contemporary American life.