Oddball Airline Collections

PHOTO: The Braniff International uniform from the 1970s featured a mini dress.Courtesy of Uniformfreak.com
The Braniff International uniform from the 1970's featured a mini dress.

A guy collects hundreds and hundreds of flight attendant uniforms - ranging from '60s era hot pants to Hawaiian muumuus (and some very strange hats). Is this a hoarder?

No, says the Mayo Clinic, since "hoarders save random items they encounter ... and store them haphazardly." Cliff Muskiet, on the other hand, has been meticulously cataloging and sharing his airline outfits since he began his collection 32 years ago.

He's not the only one obsessed with some aspect of flying. People amass, buy and sell all kinds of airline memorabilia for fun and profit. Here are some of the more colorful collections:

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

Collector Muskiet, a purser (lead flight attendant) with the Netherlands' KLM posts photos of cabin crew clothes on his site UniformFreak. At last count, he had 1,098 uniforms from 426 current and defunct carriers. He says he has many favorites, but leans toward the "mod" look, adding "I love the psychedelic prints and color combinations, the short skirts, the pointy collars and don't forget all the polyester fabrics." Some standouts:

Braniff International: Mini dresses in bright green and blue swirly patterns from the early '70s (a close feminine adviser informs me that if they're not Pucci prints, they're pretty darn close). Also see the plastic "space-man" hat.

(Image courtesy Uniformfreak.com)

TWA: Uniforms made of paper from 1968 (another woman friend explained that paper mini dresses had a brief and wholly inexplicable vogue in the late '60s). Check out the metallic gold number.

(Image courtesy Uniformfreak.com)

Continental: Lurid orange stripes decorate early '70s mini dresses, plus Hawaiian-inspired muumuus dating from the '80s. Interestingly, the basic navy uniforms that go back all the way to 1957 look clones of the modern day outfits.

(Image courtesy Uniformfreak.com)

PSA: The airline that used to paint "smiles" on planes took their quirkiness to another level in the mid-'80s with a uniform color-combo of purple, pink, red and orange.

(Image courtesy Uniformfreak.com)

Pan Am: Surprisingly drab uniforms, and despite all the talk about them on that TV show, not a girdle in sight.

(Image courtesy Uniformfreak.com)

Sometimes you can tell by the name of the carrier what its uniform will look like: Ireland's Aer Lingus features lots of green; Tyrolean Airways uniforms look like something out of "Heidi"; Qantas blouses from the '80s feature kangaroos while '90s scarves from Air Tanzania sport giraffes. As for the various Virgin airline designs, all I can say is Richard Branson's favorite color must be red.

Worst uniform era? The '80s - all those neck bows and awkwardly long skirts.

A plane in a garage:

Let's move on to Anthony Toth of Southern California. He has been a media star for years thanks to an airline cabin that he keeps, of all places, in his garage. To be precise, he keeps a 1970s/1980s vintage Pan Am 747 first class seating area in his garage that he single-handedly, and lovingly, reassembled there. It includes 18 plush seats (with seatbelts), Pan Am's signature china and silverware, authentic airline blankets and eye shades, even oxygen masks and flotation vests. He also salvaged a circular stairway that would normally lead up to a lounge (though he doesn't have that - yet).

(Image courtesy Debbie Hansen)

Toth spends most vacations searching out airline treasures around the world and once flew to Thailand to buy genuine Pan Am headsets (fortunately, one of the perks of his job as head of the Western Division of United Airlines is free flights). I asked him, as respectfully as possible, if colleagues thought he was nuts; he laughed out loud then said he's used to descriptions like "obsessive" but sees himself as a serious collector striving for authenticity.

Realism only goes so far though. I chuckled over a website comment about the cabin re-creation that asked if Toth also installed "a 4 year old to kick the back of his seat?" No, but Toth said, "I enjoy serving friends drinks in my cabin." Those drinks come adorned with original Pan Am swizzle sticks, naturally.

If he ever runs out, he can find more Pan Am memorabilia - including cocktail swizzle sticks - on Etsy, a virtual vintage/crafts fair. Collectors visiting the site can scoop up bits and pieces of airline history like a Western Airlines deck of cards or a TWA ashtray or a genuine ceramic hors d'oeuvres plate from Allegheny Airlines (often called "Agony" by its ever-griping customers).

Tour Air Force One:

Also in California, an entire aircraft has been reassembled adjacent to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and not just any plane: Air Force One. You can walk aboard and pretend you're the president, flying to one of the 26 countries or 46 states that the Gipper did. The indoor exhibit covers more than 90,000 square feet and also includes a "Marine One" helicopter.

If you prefer eerier aircraft, head east to "airline boneyard" of the Mojave desert for an amazing array of parked planes that aren't needed anymore. Some are dumped here to make way for newer aircraft, while others are temporary residents of the desert; the low humidity helps keep planes from rusting in case they're called back into service or need to be cannibalized for parts. Due to airline mergers and capacity cutbacks, many of the aircraft in this rent-by-the-acre space will likely live out their lives here.

Security at airplane boneyards has toughened since 9/11 so you may have to view these Tyrannosaurus 747s from afar, but maybe if you were to go on eBay and nab that $190 Pan Am flight attendant uniform along with that $300 vintage flight bag, well…probably not.

Might be easier to simply grab a swizzle stick and knock on someone's garage.