This article uses a case study of a highly publicized 1970 controversy over Canadian Pacific Air Lines’ flight attendant uniforms—specifically, a switch from mini to midi skirt—as a case study in business-labor relations concerning the regulation of women workers’ bodily appearance. Using company and union records and employing a historical, materialist, and feminist analysis, we trace how notions of aesthetic and emotional labor changed over time in relation to the political economy, gender ideologies, and the agency of workers themselves. The flight attendants’ reluctance to challenge the airline’s sexist advertising indicated how both accommodation and resistance were intertwined in complex ways in the workplace. Their acceptance of more “thigh in the sky” had much to do with a highly regulated and disciplined workplace, an entrenched division of labor on the airplane, and gendered notions of beauty and glamour in the industry, including women’s strategic use of beauty on the job to their own advantage.
“Thigh in the Sky”: Canadian Pacific Dresses Its Female Flight Attendants
JOAN SANGSTER is director of the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University, Canada. She has published on the history of the Left, feminist historiography, the criminalization of women and girls, working women and labor movements, including Transforming Labour: Women and Work in Postwar Canada (2010). Her most recent book is The Iconic North: Images of Aboriginal Life in Postwar Canada (2016).
JULIA SMITH is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers University. She has published on feminist union organizing in the service, office, and retail sectors and on gender and labor issues in the airline industry. She is currently working on projects on bank worker unionization, child care worker organizing, and union feminists.
Joan Sangster, Julia Smith; “Thigh in the Sky”: Canadian Pacific Dresses Its Female Flight Attendants. Labor 1 March 2017; 14 (1): 39–63. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-3718410
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