Red Lipstick on a Plane!


Most of us are not ethicists, and in matters of morality we often prefer to defer (Chuck, Prudence, and Carrie are all more worthy spirit-guides). However a woman's inner Betty Friedan can come out to play whenever the collective we—or, more appropriately, she?—feels that their nearest and dearest are being attacked. And, yes, sometimes that involves the entire female population—makeup preferences included.

Case in point? Europe’s fourth largest airline carrier, Turkish Airlines, has taken it upon themselves to dabble in the démodé, banning their flight attendants from wearing red—or "dark pink, etc"—lipstick or nail polish. (Platinum-blond hair is also verboten.) Ce n’est pas possible in 2o13, one might say, but this is no history lesson, nor does it appear to be the workings of The Onion. But the regressive vibes of such a rule do feel like a walk down memory lane, one that raises questions about how far we haven’t come.

According to representatives from the airline, such colorful displays “[impair] visual integrity.” In matters of branding, that lingo makes sense, but applying it to stewardi—read: living, breathing individuals—is questionable at best and downright creepy at worst. Were you aware that your beloved bag of makeup was synonymous with corruption...and even disgrace? Is lipstick not, instead, a peaceful weapon—one that anyone should be able to brandish without political debate? Or is the joke on us?

If it is—we’re not alone in thinking so. Reactions on Twitter hint at the public’s concerns, with many people cracking jokes about the “destructively seductive” abilities of lipstick, et al. that Turkish Airlines seems to fear. The company argues that flight attendants who are anything more than bare-faced will corrupt a passenger’s ability to communicate with them—to which we say, bring on the debauchery!

Makeup is often written off as a superficial dalliance that women would be better off without. Women are regularly told that they should embrace their faces without it, and while it’s hard to wholly disagree with this be-one-with-your-pimples mentality, painting your face can also be a healthy and empowering pursuit. It’s no coincidence that linguistic authority Merriam Webster lists "maquillage" as synonymous with "war paint." Makeup is armor for the modern woman (ditto men who bravely flip off tradition); it helps people literally put their best face forward, fostering outward confidence so that they can focus on ventures closer to the heart (working hard, loving deeply). Rather than being anti-intellectual or frivolous, its ability to prop up self-assurance tends to increase one’s drive and curiosity.

But work ethic and higher learning aside, getting made up is, above all, self-expression—an art form with more integrity than it gets credit for (take that, TurkAir). Like other habits, it can help a person stand out from the increasingly homogenous crowd. More broadcast than mask, it has the ability to radiate what someone is all about from a distance, without words. This is as true of a freshly scrubbed face paired with a swipe of Chapstick as it is of a fully contoured Kardashian-style visage—it’s the ability to oscillate between the two at one’s discretion and leisure that’s interesting, and important. Neither should bind us.

Do you agree? At the risk of intimidation, there are some seriously awesome ladies supporting the makeup-at-35,000-feet cause (here’s looking at you, Jackie Brown). Don’t get caught up in questions of hottest-or-nottest though, this is about exercising individuality for it’s own sake, no doubt a difficult endeavor in a work environment that universally enforces a rather drab dress code. With self-expression already tamped down, these ladies [n’ gents] deserve the opportunity to meet the stresses of air travel with whatever face they choose (but, preferably, a face with all the spunk of Gwyneth in her prime).

—Jessica Schiffer

Read more of our posts about the power of red lipstick (including a response to a recent NYTimes debate): here, here, and here.

Jessica Schiffer is New York-based writer. For more of her writing/thoughts, check out her personal blog or follow her on Twitter.

Image via Air France.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Carro

    I love these kind of images, so fun!

  • Vanessa Stumpf

    This post is a gem! I couldn't agree with you more. I live in a state that has recently passed laws that infringe upon women's rights, and reading this made me realize that this is happening in other places as well. It's so frustrating to see people trying to control women, and I'm glad to see that there are people out there who disagree and are willing to express their opinion to the world! Thanks, Jessica.

  • Amanda Perry

    Thank you for sharing this post. It is really shocking. Wow.

  • CFH

    fitting following the killer stewardess outfit on Mad Men last night...

  • Caroline

    Women's sexual empowerment makes planes crash, duh.

  • Heather P.

    Oh boy...I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. I never worried too much about the seductive effects that red lipstick has on other people, but then again, my job isn't to run an airline in a very conservative part of the world.

    I know airlines are notorious for having crazy standards for flight attendants (hell, only recently were men even ALLOWED to be part of the profession!), so I guess you could say I'm not surprised this still goes on. It doesn't make me happy to hear that people still can't get over women wearing makeup...but hey, I'm lucky to live in a country where it's not THAT big of a deal (in comparison to other parts of the world, anyway).

  • Jacqueline Nooner

    The ban by Turkish Airlines is as audacious (but not nearly as whimsical) as a site called Fuckyeahstewardesses. (Going there now!) What about deep dark eyes? oooh... Or bright cerulean orbs? C cups? Badonkadonks? F* off Turkish Air for your misguided attempt to transport us back to the 1800s - and any other period in history - where the presence of women was a disturbance to order in society. Although I must admit that if an Angelina Jolie-type were talking to me about my carry-on, I would be mesmerized for a few seconds. Ain't nothin wrong with that.

  • S

    Okay I have to do this.... Speaking of Turkey and make up....
    it's a complicated country. This could turn into a long discussion but I have a shortcut.

    The MOST popular singers in the Turkish history:
    (and the most respected. I am serious)üren

    The verdict on how complex a place Turkey really is is yours, reader...
    (Please don't generalize and say: those parts of the world. That kind of discourse got old too long ago.)

  • Couteau

    Does Ms. Schiffer also defend that flight attendants shouldn't wear uniforms?

    Surely that's for the company to decide, and for us to choose whether we want to be part of the family, as employees or customers.

    A conservative profile, neutral lipstick whatever, suits the airline's business strategy (had the writer bothered to do a few minutes of research, she would have understood that Turkish Airlines is betting on the Middle East market). If anything, they need to protect the safety of their employees.

    Turkish Airlines was just amateurish in the way they handled the matter, both with their employees and in terms of public relations. Nobody who has seen their ad campaign (tagline: We are Globally Yours) is surprised.

    • Jessica Schiffer

      Hi Couteau! I was fully aware that Turkish Airlines was betting on the Middle East market, but I don't think that justifies their decision whatsoever. To my knowledge, and according to their press release, the guideline was not put in place as a means of protecting the employees [and I haven't read anything about that being necessary on this specific airline]. Also, uniforms rock, they make early morning sartorial choices easy. - Jessica

    • Elaine R

      The purpose of uniforms is so that customers can easily identify who works for the company when they have questions, etc. The way they choose their uniforms will reflect their particular branding, but cosmetics choices should have nothing to do with it.

  • Amy {Voguette}

    Is unbelievable that we are living in 2013, yet sometimes they make it seem like we're still the 18th century , when us women had no rights at all.

  • Ummat

    I am a young Turkish woman who is absolutely disgusted to see this happening IN MY LIFETIME. I am truly fearful for Turkey's future, of it's regression of everything we achieved since Ataturk's time. Women's rights are wearing thin, and this new Turkish Airlines dress code is such a cheap shot at trying to control women. What next? Burqas? Where will it stop? And I'm sure no woman had a say or vote on this new policy. The extreme Islamist forget the Prophet's first wife was an older, working woman who gave HIM a job and her inheritance! We're very powerful, capable beings and whatever else they try to limit us with, it'll only make us more creative to prevail. Please please BOYCOTT Turkish Airlines, "Best Airline in Europe" no more. I've made my pledge. This is not the foundation our secular country was built on, nor should this become a reflection of our culture, but Turkey you still have much work to do. I will also be wearing my "war paint" of RED lipstick and nail polish as a reminder that fanatics, and lawmakers can not and will not win this centuries-long war.

    • gok

      How can banning red lipstick "suit the airline's business strategy?!!!" What does RED LIPSTICK have to do with staff safety??!!! PLEASE! Maybe YOU should do a little research on Turkey's current situation before commenting.

      • AIS

        Gok, it sounds like from both of your messages, here and below for katie chambers, that you seem to think the commenters are for the ban, we are against it. Red lipstick has nothing to do with staff safety, so why is that the excuse to keep stewardesses from wearing it?

        • katie chambers

          here here

  • cynthia garcia

    Turkish Airlines: Boo!!!
    The air steward's uniforms used to be so fashionable in the 60's, now, most of them are drab and boring

  • katie chambers

    I loved the maquillage bit. As a girl who's dating self-styled "feminist", I find myself more and more having to defend to him my choice to wear makeup. The author is right; there are so many more reasons for choosing to wear makeup other than attracting or attempting to please males, etc. First and foremost, it is a personal choice for oneself.

    One note: "individuality for it’s own sake".... its.

    Thanks for articles like this, ITG. Keep 'em coming!

    • gok

      What does the "middle eastern market," or "staff safety" have to do with red lipstick!? Emirates staff seem to be fine wearing a red lip...

  • Tanya

    jessica is fucking awesome. please read her blog. brilliant.

  • Gail

    She isn't arguing against dress regulations...

  • Shortskirtandalongjacket

    I worked at Louis Vuitton and guess what,the inside is very conservative not like what you would expect when working in fashion. Highlights,red or pink lipstick,colored nailpolish,personal jewels(cross necklace,cartier wedding ring,charm bracelets) are not allowed. They want us to dress in uniform like a robot. No fun. I hated it so much. Even after having a nice blow dry i had to tie my hair in a silly ponytail. Really just remembering it making me pissed. I do not think these kind o rules is beneficial for both parties- the company and the audience.

  • Rosalia

    I don't know much about Turkish Airlines and this precise issue with red lipstick, but I do know that far more bigger companies in the market like Qatar Airways have rules that are as bad or worse about their cabin crew looks (makeup, hair do, wright, can be even sent home if you have a blemish!). So I am afraid that this is a problem that is much more bigger that some red lipstick, as many companies (I guess specially middle eastern ones) seem to have the right to objectify women. Sadly Turish Airlines is just asmall fish in the sea.

  • Marta

    Great post, something fresh and new in wholeee the internet:) I always pu attention on the stewardesses' makeup:) always seductive hehe

  • Daisy

    This isn't about women's relationship to makeup. It's about a secular state growing closer and closer to an Islamic state under the current regime. It's pithy and ignorant to reduce this issue to the superficial. As someone who's worked for a variety of customer service roles in large companies, I'm aware that when doing customer service roles women are often told to not to wear lipstick, nail polish, and take out piercings. As a Turkish woman, I'm more concerned about the political implications about women's rights under an increasingly Islamist regime, not about whether or not the air hostessing industry "universally enforces a rather drab dress code."

  • Tee

    Before we all fly off the handle, consider that their reason is to not “[impair] visual integrity.” Can this not be interpreted as the same reason shop assistants in many high-end stores are required to wear black and in some cases, always wear makeup and high heels? It fits the aesthetic and image they are trying to project. This is hardly an infringement of women's rights.

    • Hannah

      "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.” - Gloria Steinem

      Just because there is a precedent for something, doesn't mean it's an accurate way to keep on living. And think about the fact that the image of women is targeted much more often than men.

    • Elaine R

      Wearing all black is one thing - it identifies you as a person who works in the store. I was told at a restaurant job that I was to wear heels on a tile floor while running to and from a kitchen on a twelve hour shift. I told my employer that it was an occupational health and safety hazard and that I would be wearing beautiful professional black flats, and if they had a problem with that, they could fire me. They didn't fire me, because they aren't stupid. Just because it has been required in the past, doesn't mean it should set the precedent for the future.

  • Dasha

    This post and comments have come to some very strange and almost racist conclusions. Just because the company is from the Middle East, doesn't mean that any "repressing" action is linked to religious beliefs or politics.

    As most companies do when trying to expand, they try to appeal to wider audiences and that my manner of mellowing down their image. These are not random women who've been asked to rethink their makeup, but employees. As an employee, no longer just represents themselves but a corporation. Ex: If you were to have bad service on the plane, you'd probably tell your friends "I don't want to fly {insert airline}, they have bad service." So yes, if one would consider a girls makeup vulgar, that would affect one's opinion of the whole airline.

    Dress codes and codes of conduct are the most normal thing in a workplace. The official reason for the ban was dubious, but if they had said "no red lipstick because it may be vulgar", then they'd have to deal with thousands of images of women w/lipstick that weren't vulgar. And then what? They'd have to make some kind of "lipstick police" to see every crew member's makeup during every flight?

  • Elaine R

    red lipstick=vulgar=bad service? makes no sense at all

    • Dasha

      Bright red lipstick (as the one probably subdued by the ban and not some sheer red lipbalm) is mostly not appropriate in a corporate workplace. It is often considered too bright and often vulgar.
      And no, vulgarity does not equal bad service. Howerver both would affect negatively the customer's image of a company.

  • SSS