The Flight Attendant Uniform: Effects of Selected Variables on Flight Attendant Image, Uniform Preference and Employee Satisfaction

Article excerpt

When a job situation requires the wearing of a uniform, as is the case with flight attendants, both image projected by the uniform and employee preferences are important. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of components of a uniform on image of, and preference for, the uniform. It was also designed to assess the effects of both uniform attributes and opportunities for feedback on satisfaction with one's own uniform. Using survey data from 121 flight attendants, it was found that differences in neckwear and footwear did not have a significant effect on preferences but did have significant effects on image. Data on liked and disliked features of the flight attendants' own uniforms identified fit and fabric as the two main sources of dissatisfaction. The data on opportunities for feedback about the uniform supported the proposition that more opportunities for feedback may result in greater employee satisfaction.

In this study, the researchers examined the effects of components of a typical flight attendant uniform on image of and preference for the uniform. It was also designed to assess the effects of both uniform attributes and opportunities for feedback on satisfaction with one's own uniform. Flight attendant uniforms were selected for several reasons. One was the fact that the high level of contact the flight attendants have with airline customers makes it vital to their companies that they present a positive image. Furthermore, the environment in which they work has become more stressful in a variety of ways, not the least of which is more aggressive passengers (e.g., Eisenberg, 1998; Grossman, 2002), increasing the importance of both image and physical functionality of the uniform. Finally, it has been documented that illness and injury rates among flight attendants are relatively high (higher than for construction workers or miners) and some of the problems such as slips and falls may be related to inappropriate clothing (Mokhiber, 2000).

Career clothing in general and the uniform in particular can serve to meet a variety of organizational objectives (Joseph, 1986; Joseph & Alex, 1972; Rubinstein, 1995). These objectives include projections of a positive company image and the fostering of adherence to company norms. Tedeschi and Melburg (1984) have noted clothing's ability to convey different levels of status and prestige. Nelson and Bowen (2000) have suggested that an ill-fitting uniform communicates to observers that the company is careless and inefficient, whereas a good fit gives the opposite impression. In an empirical study of the relationship between employee courtesy and wearing the company uniform, Rafaeli (1989) reported that clerks who wore the organizational uniform were more likely to conform to company rules about displaying positive emotions than were clerks not in uniform.

However, when insufficient thought is given to the selection of career apparel for a company, it can have negative consequences. Hass and Moore (1990) stated the potential legal problems associated with requiring female employees to wear uniforms that could be considered provocative or more casual and therefore less professional than those required for men. Nelson and Bowen (2000) gave examples of food service employees who were required to wear garments with loose-fitting sleeves. The uniforms "looked great" at the beginning of the shift but the sleeves draped into the food as it was being served and knocked over glasses, creating an unsightly appearance for the employees and sometimes the customers as well.

Two components of career apparel that previous studies have related to employee image - especially for female employees - are footwear and neckwear. A study of 30 different shoe styles reported by Kaiser, Schutz, and Chandler (1987) pointed to a potential conflict for women between appearing attractive and appearing competent. A factor analysis of mean responses to shoe-attribute combinations produced four factors, one of which was labeled Feminine and Sexy and another that was labeled Asexual. …