Vintage airline fashion
Jul 3, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Airline travel used to be defined by its glitz and glamour (rather than long lines and frantic timelines). There was a time when taking to the air meant you must be someone important and, true to form, everyone dressed the part of the VIP. That sophisticated style and attention to detail started with the stewardesses. These air hostesses were there to greet you, feed you, and make your journey enjoyable. But they were also a reflection of good taste. As I was breezing through my local airport this week, I was greeted by a display of vintage airline fashion. I wasn’t surprised to see glass cabinets filled with pillbox hats and sweet little fascinators in patriotic colors. But then I spotted something unique – a coonskin cap. Three very chic young women, posing in front of the Statue of Liberty no less, were smiling back at me. Their caps looked impeccable and were paired with tall boots and a plaid ensemble. I narrowed in on the caption and discovered this was the “frontier fur” cap designed by Mary Joan Glynn. The cap was part of a proper collection for American Airlines, known as the Americana. The caps graced the friendly skies from 1967-1972. I left the airport, excited to get home and learn all about Mary Joan and her role in vintage airline fashion…
Information is limited, but the available data points reveal a fascinating life and legacy. Mary was born in Brooklyn in 1921 and went on to attend college in her home state of New York. From the beginning, she focused on a career in fashion and after graduation she worked at B. Altman and Company. This was during the 1940s and the war years were lean, which probably meant her role in the luxury department store proved challenging. As these times were characterized by a “make do and mend” mentality, it made sense that Mary would transition into a stylist position at the Simplicity Pattern Company.
What Mary did next is pretty impressive. Leveraging her experience as a designer, she moved into a role as market editor for the company Tobe Associates. From what I can glean, this company helps retailers understand and plan for trends. Mary went from clothing maker to taste maker and the industry took note. After her tenure at Tobe she worked as a merchandising editor for Glamour magazine. At this point, I can’t help but imagine her as Kay Thompson’s character in Funny Face. Mary was clearly a force to be reckoned with and, given her keen understanding of the post-war American woman’s fashion tastes, her influence would have been tremendous given these newfound media connections. Mary studied fashion from nearly every angle – from the physical act of creating individual pieces, to offering pieces en masse, to celebrating and sharing the joy of fashion to a global audience. What other part of the fashion ecosystem could Mary explore? In a word: advertising.
In the 1970s she would rise to the position of Vice President at the firm of Doyle Dane and Bernbach (so take that Mad Men and be careful to avoid stepping on the glass from the shattered ceiling!). This decade was just as fruitful as the 50s and 60s; her momentum was growing! During this time Mary designed outfits for the National Park Service and the lovely Americana collection that originally caught my eye. Whether you road tripped or took to the skies, Mary’s influence was everywhere. What I love about her journey is that here she is, at the 30 year mark of her career, and she’s still got it! She went on to do a stint at Bloomingdale’s, helping them reinvent their corporate identity (we can thank her for the iconic brown paper bag), she went back to her roots as President of Simplicity, worked for Esquire, and oversaw a product launch for Revlon.
There are those moments in life when something grabs you and you feel an inexplicable connection. Admittedly, I was focused on finding my way to the parking garage when a collection of hats interrupted my path. Without even being conscious of it, me and my little roller suitcase gravitated toward that coonskin cap. I am so thankful for this shining beacon of inspiration in a sea of stressed travelers. So dear reader, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for unexpected revelations! And think of Mary when you embark on your day’s activities – chances are the trajectory of fashion would not have unfolded in quite the same way without this spitfire from Brooklyn – what trajectories are you going to alter? Let us know in the comments!