It’s been nearly a decade since Delta’s uniforms have gotten a lift. Now, the airline is switching out its tired togs for a runway-worthy collection of uniforms designed by iconic American fashion designer Zac Posen, which will be rolling out on the fleet this month. The biggest surprise for fliers long accustomed to the navy and red of our hometown airline? The incorporation of purple—or rather, “Passport Plum.”
Creating more than four-dozen looks for 60,000 airline employees, from flight attendants to ramp operators, presented a new challenge for Posen. The designer is best known for red-carpet and gala gowns for the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Michelle Obama, as well as for being a judge on the popular TV show Project Runway and the creative director of womenswear for Brooks Brothers. The self-professed airplane geek spent months shadowing employees above and below deck and collecting feedback in order to create effective gear for all of the various jobs. “Observing the everyday tasks and situations was instrumental in understanding the need for stretch and resilient fabric—all while making sure to infuse structure and elegance,” Posen says.
The reveal of his designs in October 2016 created nearly as much fanfare as his launches for New York Fashion Week. The latest getups—manufactured by Lands’ End—feature elegant swing coats, ombre aprons, three-piece graphite suits, pocket squares, European-style leather gloves, and expensive-looking overnight bags. Details like enameled buttons and sculptural seaming feel quintessentially Posen, who relishes inspired hems, structure, pleating, and darts. “It was essential to make sure that my design DNA was part of the uniforms,” he says. The designer even incorporated old favorites like the historic “Delta Red Coats,” which have been around since the ’60s.
“My goal was to create unity in uniformity while making a long-lasting impression on whoever gets the chance to see the Delta fleet walk in an airport,” Posen says. From the iconic pillbox hats of yesteryear to the mainstays of an airplane pin across the left breast, uniforms define the look of the airline—and, Posen would suggest, the era. With this launch, Delta is looking more sophisticated, sleek, and, yes, purple.
The first Delta flight attendant uniforms included a beige or neutral-toned simple jacket, less-fitted pencil skirt, and pillbox hat, a typical look for commercial airlines at the time.
Evocative of Dior’s New Look, Delta’s light blue flight attendant uniform featured a fitted jacket with ruched sleeves and sizable buttons.
Leaning into ’60s airline glamour, these uniforms were funky and bright with standout colors like crisp whites, green, yellow, blue, and red, with fun features like gold and resin belts and tricolor hats.
The ’70s marked the first time pants were available to female flight attendants, and hats were no longer required. Other changes included flared silhouettes, pleated skirts, and statement belts. Durable patent leather pumps also became popular.
Sporty, basic uniforms were reflective of a desire in the ’80s to show corporate uniformity. In the ’90s, red jackets were added for customer service agents and worn through 2001.
A variety of uniform styles were available in the iconic red and navy, designed by Richard Tyler, the 1994 Council of Fashion Designers of America Womenswear Designer of the Year.
Employees model new uniforms by Zac Posen, who has introduced the color “Passport Plum” into the annals of Delta uniform design.
This article appears in our May 2018 issue.