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Singapore Girl is a consistent visual advertising slogan applied to depictions of flight attendants of Singapore Airlines (SIA) dressed in the distinctive sarong kebaya SIA uniform, in use since 1972, and remains a prominent element of SIA's marketing.
Singapore Airlines' hospitality and cabin service have been widely recognised with awards from magazines, travel and tourism industries, including the 'World's Best Cabin Crew Service' by the Business Traveller Asia-Pacific Awards for 23 consecutive years. Since its inception, the long-running campaign emphasises these service aspects, featuring bona fide SIA flight attendants.
The images and branding of the Singapore Girl were first established in 1972 when Singapore Airlines took over as successor of its predecessor Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA), the joint Malaysia and Singapore airline set up to develop and expand an intercontinental network. An earlier traditional version of the "Sarong Kebaya" uniform was first introduced by MSA and worn by the flight attendants since 1968. Subsequently, political acrimony between Singapore and Malaysia led to the split of Malaysia-Singapore Airlines. MSA ceased operations on 1 October 1972 and Singapore Airlines took over as its successor in Singapore.
Initially when Singapore Airlines was created, its advertising and branding was handled by the start-up Batey Inc, of Ian Batey. Singapore Girl was coined in 1972 when Pierre Balmain, a French haute couture designer, was hired to construct and update the "Sarong Kebaya" as part of the cabin crew's uniform. Since then, the uniform has gained worldwide recognition as part of Singapore Airline's recognizable signature branding.
Since 1972, the image of the Singapore Girl has appeared in advertisements in almost all media forms and promotions across the world. The theme music for the television advertising campaign was composed by Kevin Peek.
The Singapore Girl has become a visual trademark and brand for Singapore Airlines together with the slogan - "A Great Way To Fly". The Singapore Girl is said to engender "Asian values and hospitality" and has been described as "caring, warm, gentle, elegant and serene".
A wax figure of the Singapore Girl was created and shown at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London in 1994, as the first figure to represent a commercial undertaking. This sculpture was sent to the Delta Air Lines shuttle concourse at LaGuardia Airport in New York City in 1995. A second wax figure was unveiled in Singapore in March, 2015.
In March 2004, the Singapore Girl won the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award for the 18th Singapore Tourism Board (STB)'s Tourism Award.
Recently the Singapore Girl has been seen in television commercials promoting Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class and the Airbus A380 whose maiden commercial voyage to Sydney was made on 25 October 2007.
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As part of efforts to build the image of the "Singapore Girl", the airline runs a rigorous training program for cabin and flight crew. The airline's repute, and the resulting prestige of the job has allowed it to be highly selective during its recruitment process as it receives numerous applications locally and from around the region. Singapore Airlines used to recruit only Singaporeans and Malaysians as cabin crew, but since 1995, in line with its global expansion, recruitment extended to other countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan to minimise language barriers between cabin crew and travellers.
A training batch typically consists of 20 cabin crew trainees, and the training spans three-and-a-half months.
Some of the strict rules and regulations for the crew from head to toe include:
- Height requirement of 1.65m for male crew and 1.58m for female crew, to ensure cabin crew are tall enough to close the heavy overhead compartments in the cabin.
- The airline requires flight attendants to colour their hair black or dark brown. Flight attendants cannot use highlights.
- Flight attendants with long hair are to coil it into buns or French twists.
- Male flight attendants are to sport short hair above their collar lines and sideburns no longer than the ear lobes. Fringes cannot touch their eyebrows.
- Eyebrows must be shaped, and cannot be fake, be it drawn-on or tattooed.
- Eye shadow must be of the colour prescribed by the company – either blue or brown, depending on skin tone.
- No fanciful, dangling earrings allowed; only studs or pearls.
- Lipstick colour must be among the few shades of bright red prescribed by the company. Pink or plum shades are forbidden.
- No chains and necklaces allowed.
- Only simple bracelets and rings can be worn. Only small and simple watches can be worn.
- A spare kebaya must be brought for every flight, including short, one-hour flights.
- Nail polish must be of the bright red colour prescribed by the company. Nails should not be chipped.
- Toenails must be of the bright red colour prescribed by the company. If toenails are unpainted, stockings must be worn as a substitute.
- Safety shoes or covered sandals must be worn during take-off and landing. At other times, flight attendants should wear their batik slippers.
There are four Kebaya colours that represent the ranking of the Singapore Girls:
- Blue – "Flight Stewardess"
- Green – "Leading Stewardess"
- Red – "Chief Stewardess"
- Burgundy – "In-Flight Supervisor"
Although the uniform of the Singapore Girl has remained largely unchanged, the uniform for male cabin crew was updated on 30 June 2008. All male cabin crew wear the same, distinctive navy blue suits to complement the Singapore Girl's cobalt blue kebaya, their ranks differentiated by the colours of their ties.
The four tie colours that distinguish male cabin crew:
- Blue Stripes – "Flight Steward"
- Green Stripes – "Leading Steward"
- Red Stripes – "Chief Steward"
- Purple Stripes – "In-Flight Supervisor"
This update replaces the previous uniform of business jackets and grey trousers, with jackets distinguishing their ranks:
- Light Blue – "Flight Steward"
- Sky Blue – "Leading Steward"
- Navy Blue – "Chief Steward"
- Grey – "In-Flight Supervisor"
In April 2001, the shoes were replaced by Pierre Balmain-designed safety shoes, in light of safety reviews after the Singapore Airlines Flight 006 crash where flight attendants complained of missing sandals.
The Singapore Girl marketing concept has been criticized as being sexist – apart from the inaccuracy of the term Girl, the concept has been accused of being a stereotype of Asian women as being subservient. However, the marketing concept is unlikely to be replaced altogether in any future marketing campaigns:
— Singapore's The Straits Times
On 16 April 2007, New York-based advertising agent TBWA Worldwide beat two other short-listed candidates, DDB Worldwide and Publicis, to become SIA's new principal advertising agency. The contract is worth S$50 million per year over the following five years, making it TBWA's largest win since it started operations in Asia in the late 1990s. The change does not affect SIA's buying media agency, which is presently MEC.
Singaporean women are also criticized to be materialistic with multiple data points from different sources.
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Ms Jasmine Lum Wei Ming, Singapore Airlines, Stewardess
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If you are warm, hospitable with a winning approach to customer service, we welcome you to join our elite team of Singaporean/ Malaysian Flight Stewardesses/ Stewards. (Residing in Singapore)
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Singapore Airlines stewardesses dressed in sarong kebaya uniform pose at Changi International Airport in Singapore. Singapore Airlines have said the iconic Singapore Girl, a symbol of the carrier's renowned in-flight service standards, will remain. Dale Woodhouse, Singapore Airlines' manager of passenger marketing, said that she would still be "front and centre of the campaign", which began last week in the lead-up to the inaugural flight on October 26. "As usual she will be a central part of the branding and the image of Singapore Airlines," Mr Woodhouse confirmed after reports earlier this year had her permanently grounded for being too old fashioned and sexist. When asked if she had been updated, Mr Woodhouse replied: "What's there to update? She's eternal, she's the epitome of the modern image [of a woman] and the traditional style of Singapore Airlines. Why would you want to get rid of that?"
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Think about one of the strongest brands from Asia, and chances are that Singapore Airlines and its long-serving, almost iconic Singapore Girl easily come to mind.
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Just how many more Singapore Airlines stewardesses must be molested in flight before the airline reduces the free flow of alcoholic drinks to passengers?" thundered Tan Sai Siong in a recent column for the Straits Times, Singapore's main English-language newspaper. TAN was writing after a German metalworker was fined 2,000 Singapore dollars for hugging a Singapore Airlines flight attendant during a flight from Frankfurt to Singapore. A Japanese farmer was docked a similar amount for molesting a flight attendant during a flight from Nagoya to Singapore. At about the same time, a Sri Lankan was fined 1,000 Singapore dollars for punching a Singapore Airlines steward who told him to stop staring at a female colleague in the cabin crew and return to his seat. In a letter to the Straits Times, a Singaporean reader, Chan Kwee Sung, said it was not "alcohol that spurs the libido of the male passenger, but the image of the Singapore Girl that has so long been the hard sell of SIA all over the world.
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- Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award to the Singapore Girl[permanent dead link]
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City wags do call the airline Sex In the Air as a dubious tribute to the elegant stewardesses
- Gamar Abdul Aziz (2007-03-09). "SIA says Singapore Girl icon will remain, no change to uniform". Singapore: Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
In a statement, SIA said its advertisements might change but not the look of its crew, nor the level of high service it provides
- Archana Venkat (2007-05-08). "The 'Singapore girl' may get an Indian face". Chennai: The Hindu Business Line. Archived from the original on 2009-06-09. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
Brand will have a fresh, modern look without compromising the icon; "The Singapore Girl will remain. She is not a creature of advertising," assured Mr Stephen Forshaw, Vice-President (Public Affairs), Singapore Airlines
- "Singaporean Women Superficial? Or Just Your Insecurities?". www.marcussocial.org. Retrieved 2018-06-21.