Last month, Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic announced they would be modifying their dress codes and no longer require female flight attendants to wear makeup. Pants, which were once available only by special request, would be given to all as a standard uniform option. Virgin Atlantic, in a statement, called these moves "a significant change for the aviation industry." But just how significant are fresh faces and pants? The answer: It depends on where you are—and whom you’re asking.

In the U.S., flight attendant standards have evolved significantly since eligibility for the job was restricted by age, gender, and marital status in the 1940s and '50s. John Hill, Assistant Director of Aviation at San Francisco International Airport’s Museum, says that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Title VII helped women start challenging (and slowly overturning) restrictions based on gender discrimination.

“Through their efforts, the airline industry was placed at the forefront of many of the era’s social changes," says Hill, citing pay, gender, race, age, and weight equality as topics the industry was challenged over. But on the appearance and uniform front, the shift to functionality over sex appeal has been slow. "Requirements in grooming or appearance standards have remained in place but have been subject to legal challenge, particularly if they can be seen to have been imposed in a disparate manner between men and women,” he says. Read More