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Aloha Airlines was known at one time in Hawaiʻi as “The People’s Airline” and served the state from 1946–2008.

Three people folding the Aloha Airlines uniform collection
Left: Andrew Reilly, Debbie Martinson, and
Jessica Radovich with the Aloha Airlines uniform collection.

A collection of Aloha Airline uniforms were donated to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) Fashion and Design Merchandising (FDM) program for research and to preserve the history of the airlines. The collection tells a 60-year history of the ever changing fashion trends reflecting in the uniforms along with the local designers and manufacturers that produced them. 

The uniforms were donated by Debbie Martinson, a UH Mānoa alumna and former Aloha Airlines flight attendant. Martinson and many other former flight attendants understood the nostalgic importance of these uniforms and have kept them in perfect condition since the airline’s last flight 15 years ago.

“It made sense for the UH Fashion Design and Merchandising program to maintain this collection and share the story of fashion trends and the value of branding through identity apparel,” Martinson said. 

Aloha Airlines flight attendants in the 1960s
The Fun Birds era of the ‘70’s, with bell-bottom pants, miniskirts and bikini bottoms, hipster belts and a vinyl cape (1973).

The uniforms are now part of the UH Historic Costume Collection that already has more than 10,000 items of dress related to the people and history of Hawaiʻi, including subcollections of Hawaiʻi, Asia, western and global dress.

“The addition of the uniforms of Aloha Airlines adds a significant element to the collection and helps preserve the history of Hawaiʻi’s air travel,” said collection curator Andy Reilly of FDM. “I think everybody who has lived here during the time that it was in service has a memory of flying on Aloha Airlines and that it was so iconic and ingrained in the islands here. So every piece tells a story and we’re really lucky that the flight attendant kept their collection, kept their clothing and wanted to preserve it.”

The UH Historic Costume Collection was declared a “state treasure of historic importance” in 2009 by the state senate and is used by students, faculty, and scholars for research, Reilly said. 

The collection takes you back in time

With Aloha Airlines’ inaugural flight in 1946, flight attendants wore form-fitting muʻumuʻu as they performed hula greeting their guests. Transitioning into the 1950s, designers drew inspiration from Dior’s “New Look” collection, marking the post-war era’s commencement that consisted of a classic suit complemented by a pillbox hat.

Aloha airlines photo of flight attendants in 1950s
In the 1950s, the style of the suiting evolved to be form-fitting.

The Fun Birds, introduced in 1969, was inspired by the Flower Power theme that was taking off in the fashion industry. It was a true fashion statement of the ‘70s with bell-bottom pants, mini skirts and bikini bottoms, hipster belters and a vinyl cape.

Local fashion designer Baba Kea created the Clouds in the Sky collection in 1976. Uniforms featured a bold print with distinctive color-tones and styles. The orange skirt featured a slight empire waistline and was reversible with the cloud print.

Aloha airlines photo of flight attendants in 1990s
In 1965, the Flight Attendant uniform
was a long muʻu. The ladies were required to wear their hair in an up-do with fresh plumeria flowers.

Waves in Teal and Tan was introduced in 1983. This line featured the obi belt look, with a splash of orange that was consistent with Aloha Airlines’ iconic color. This collection was also reflective of the company’s new flights to Guam and Taipei. The long dress style was designed to emulate elegance, similar to other Asian airlines such as Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines.

As Aloha Airlines approached the conclusion of its journey through the Pacific skies, the final design unveiled a compilation of Banana Leafs crafted by Tori Richard, drawing inspiration from the artistic vision of Peggy Hopper.

The Aloha Airline uniform collection on display
The Aloha Airlines uniform collection is on display at UH Mānoa Gilmore Hall.
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