Flight attendant dress codes: The rules of what cabin crew can and can't wear

​Are you 18 years or over and between 163 - 183cm in height? Adaptable, calm, a team player and a warm and friendly people person? How about capable of heaving a 28kg aircraft emergency exit door from its moorings and chucking it out a fuselage, exiting via an emergency slide then swimming 50 metres in a wet uniform? If so you just might make the grade as a Qantas cabin crew member.

As well as smiling, serving, caring and appreciating cultural diversity you'll need to conform to Qantas' personal presentation guidelines. Hair for female crew must be either tied back in a ponytail or in a bun. Low and loose buns are preferred. A bob is okay for shorter hair above the shoulders. For male crew, short hair is sweet. Flat shoes are a requirement for cabin service.

Hydration is an issue, since cabin humidity is in single digits. This plays havoc with skin and hair. A facial hydrating mask is recommended, and crew are encouraged to drink plenty of water. Crew will often supply their own. Lipstick colour including transparent lipgloss for Qantas crew is discretionary. "What it really comes down to is a neat and tidy appearance," according to a Qantas spokesperson. "Tattoos can't be visible when in uniform."

There are also some unusual requirements when it comes to uniforms. As well as a crisp, tailored fit that allows crew to move freely in the cabin, serve drinks and meals and perform another 101 tasks, uniforms must also be made from fire retardant fabric since fighting fires while wearing a full face mask is another part of their training.

The uniform must also be non-absorbent. Not just for coffee spills but also for seawater. A large segment of Qantas' training program for cabin crew is devoted to emergency procedures. Part of those procedures involves a "wet drill" – a simulated cabin evacuation in life jackets via an escape slide and into a pool then swimming to an inflated raft, clambering up the side and deploying a waterproof canopy, conditions that could apply in the case of an emergency landing on water. And all while wearing a full uniform.

Virgin Australia has similar cabin crew requirements – minimum age 18, first aid certificate, either an Australian or New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and a valid passport that allows access to all Virgin ports. Applicants must be prepared to work full time on a varying 24x7 roster.

Rather than a minimum height VA cabin crew must be able to reach to a height of 180cm on flat feet. There's also a maximum height cutoff – 197cm, which would make any woman a welcome addition in a netball team, although a liability in an aircraft cabin. The same as Qantas' mermaids, VA cabin crew must be able to swim 50 metres, with an additional requirement to tread water for three minutes, clothed and unaided, and to adhere to strict grooming standards.

Flat-soled footwear is a general requirement while on cabin duty. According to Louise Matson, flight attendant for 17 years and now the owner of Louise M Shoes, the most popular Louise M shoe for Virgin Australia cabin crew is the High Heel, with a heel height of 7cm, while the Louise M Block Heel is the most popular shoe for airline cabin crew across all Australian airlines, Qantas and its subsidiary airlines in particular.

Elsewhere, airlines all around the world have their own criteria that set the standard for their cabin crew. Middle Eastern and Asian airlines are fussier about hair styles and colour and makeup. Many stipulate nail colours, with jewellery kept to a standard minimum.

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Emirates stipulates no artificial hair colouring and female flight attendants must wear nail polish that is either clear or the same shade as their lipstick and hat. They're also told the "correct" skin care products and recommended to apply a vitamin C mask during bunk rest periods to give the skin a healthy glow.

Malaysia Airlines has a weight requirement – a BMI of 22-25 for women and 25-28 for men. The legendary Singapore girls who have been a prime selling point for Singapore Airlines are not permitted to eat or drink in uniform. Staying well groomed is important – they must look as good walking through the terminal at the end of their flight as they did on departure hours before.

See also: Flight attendant reveals the secret of looking good after a long-haul flight

Although it's not spelled out in any airline regulations, what cabin crew are not supposed to do is spill drinks on passengers. Especially not when they're seated in first class. And even less so when it happens to be the airline's CEO. Which is exactly what happened recently to American Airlines flight attendant Maddie Peters.

Prior to  take-off, Peters was carrying a tray of drinks down the aisle when a passenger in front stopped dead and started backing up. The drinks tray went flying, half over Peters, the rest over AA CEO Doug Parker. Luckily he was a forgive-and-forget guy and even joked with a slightly mortified Peters about it, telling her it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "having a drink with the boss."

See: Flight attendant spills tray of drinks on airline's CEO

See also: The truth about being a flight attendant

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