Off the cuff: Our seamstress of 31 years and how our uniform is connected to royal weddings
Chris Jepson can often be seen bustling through the doors of our West Sussex training centre laden down with Virgin Atlantic uniforms. She’s been our hugely talented seamstress for the past 31 years, making alterations on demand and ensuring everyone who wears the uniform looks their best. It keeps her incredibly busy. You may associate our Vivienne Westwood-designed uniform with cabin crew and airport teams, but that’s only one part of the picture. With different styles for our pilots, our engineers, our Clubhouse teams, and even special uniforms for hot climates, she really has her work cut out (excuse the pun). Today, Chris looks back on the memories and challenges of her thirty-year career…
This wasn’t my first career choice. I have a degree in chemical engineering. After maternity leave, the family alterations business was so busy that I left my engineering job to help out. Tailoring and engineering have a lot in common. You need to be logical, work things out, use mathematics and do things in sequence.
Chris at work in her spare room
It the early days it was a real family business. It started off with my mum, but eventually, the whole family were involved. Mum and I did the sewing and dad was the delivery boy (or Ops Director as he preferred to be called). Back then we did alterations to lots of different companies’ uniforms. Now my mum and dad have retired it’s just me, and I only do Virgin Atlantic. It keeps me busy. I’ve got grandchildren now, so I’ve cut my time down to three days a week.
I’ve helped my mum ever since I was little. I call it the longest apprenticeship one could ever do. Sewing is something we’ve always done at home, and that continues to this day. In the early days, mum would do the jackets, and I’d do the trousers. So the first alteration I ever did would have been taking up the trousers of our very first Arabella Pollen-designed uniform.
Keeping our people looking their best
The trickiest job? Well, there are two. Shortening the sleeves on a red female jacket is the most fiddly. The buttonholes are very complex, and if they need to be moved, it’s quite a job. The other difficult job, for a different reason, is sewing the braiding on the cap peak of our Captain’s hats. That really hurts your fingers.
My favourite part of the current uniform is the back of the female cabin crew jacket. It suits all body shapes. I’ve grown to love the big winter coat too. When I first saw it on a hanger, I was unsure. Turns out it doesn’t look great on a hanger but looks amazing when worn.
In my house you can always find a red thread. Despite constant hoovering and sweeping they get trodden everywhere. Even when I go out to restaurants, my friends are always picking red threads off me.
The thing I love most about the Virgin Atlantic uniform is how distinctive they are. There are so many blue and grey uniforms out there. Even our previous style has been copied, but the Vivienne Westwood design really stands out. It’s classy and stylish. Our people come in all shapes and sizes, and I love making them all look amazing in this uniform.
I’m at my busiest when everyone gets fitted for a new uniform. I reckon I hold the record for how many uniforms I can fit into a Fiat Panda.
I’ll be watching the royal wedding with interest. My mum started her apprenticeship at Sir Norman Hartnell’s in London and worked on the Queen’s wedding and coronation dresses. I love seeing how the styles have evolved over the years.