Fashions show aviation history

By Daniel Silliman


P.J. Kirkland came down the aisle just like it was a fashion runway, or like it was the aisle of an airplane preparing to take off of a runway.

She walked three quarters of the way, wearing a tan coat-dress with double rows of buttons, and then she turned, took it off, and displayed the bright orange uniform once fashionable for stewardesses.

It's considered the color of shag carpet, now, said Grant Wainscott, executive director of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, but in its day, this stewardess uniform was the symbol of fast-paced freedom, sexy sophistication, and jet-setting modernity.

"It was the great jet age," said Wainscott. "Our parent's generation couldn't imagine life without Pan Am or TWA. Now, particularly the kids, or anyone under 30, they don't know anything about that."

The newly formed National Museum of Commercial Aviation is working to expose people to that history, and the entire history of commercial flying.

Last weekend, with a fashion show of aviation uniforms at the Barnes & Noble in Morrow, the museum put history into the middle of the Christmas shopping season, showing off as shoppers stopped to watch.

Volunteer models walked down the bookstore's center aisle in pilot's leather jackets, gold braids on the shoulders, and in smart hats marked with pin wings. Women displayed a variety of stewardess uniforms, staid and conservative, colorful, foreign and exotic. One man showed off the all-white uniform of a front line mechanic from an age when airlines pushed an image of sharpness well past practicality.

Wainscott is particularly proud of the mechanic's uniform because he thinks it demonstrates one of the missions of the museum.

"Many people think it's just the airplanes and the pilot's uniforms," he said. "We're very excited about all the jobs in aviation. For every pilot or flight attendant, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people, working in aviation.

"At the museum, we want to tell those stories. The ramp workers, the baggage handlers, they appreciate hearing their stories told. Labor negotiations, tough times, good and bad, we're telling their stories."

The museum is working towards becoming associated with the Smithsonian, and building a permanent home in Clayton County. Currently, some of the collection is on display at 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 102, Forest Park.

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