ISTANBUL // Turkey's national airline has barred female flight attendants from wearing red lipstick and nail polish, striking a nerve among secular Turks worried the country is becoming more Islamist.
Turkish Airlines said the ban was aimed at keeping crews "artless and well-groomed with make-up in pastel tones", and that a natural look improved communication with passengers.
"As a consequence of our current cabin uniforms not including red, dark pink, et cetera, the use of lipstick and nail polish in these colours by our cabin crew impairs visual integrity," the company said.
The guideline comes after other restrictions on employees' appearance and on serving alcohol. Critics said they reflected the influence of the government's conservative religious values at the fast-growing state-run airline, one of Turkey's most recognised brands.
"This new guideline is totally down to Turkish Airlines management's desire to shape the company to fit its own political and ideological stance," said Atilay Aycin, the president of the airline's Hava-Is labour union.
"No one can deny that Turkey has become a more conservative, religious country."
Turkey is 99 per cent Muslim, but the Nato state and European Union candidate has a secular constitution.
The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his ruling Justice and Development Party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamic party, have relaxed the state's control over the expression of religion, such as once-strict limits imposed on wearing headscarves.
Such restrictions were aimed at reining in Islamism and improving women's rights, but in actuality they prevented many devout women from studying at university or taking government jobs.
Turkish Airlines scrapped its own ban on the headscarf more than a year ago, and covered women now work at check-in counters and at other positions in the company, Mr Aycin said.
Other Turkish carriers also have guidelines on the appearance of cabin personnel.
The flag carrier caused a stir this year when newspapers published mock-ups of a new Ottoman-style uniform for stewardesses with ankle-length dresses, a proposal the airline's management appears to have since abandoned.
That was followed by a ban on alcohol on planes flying to most domestic destinations and some Islamic countries.
"They are objecting to the lipstick and nail polish that we have been using for years," said Asli Gokmen, 30, a flight attendant who lost her job, along with more than 300 others, last year during a union protest and is petitioning for her position back.
Turks worried the government is undermining the country's secular order see a hidden agenda.
On Twitter, women posted pictures after applying red lipstick. One wrote: "Why not just ban stewardesses altogether so we can all breathe a sigh of relief?"
Some male Twitter users were indignant over the insinuation that red lipstick would induce a sexual frenzy.
A Turkish Airlines passenger, Ahmet Yerli, 33, said he did not think the new guideline was a sign of creeping Islamisation but that the ban was still "absurd".
"I've never heard of a plane crashing because of a woman's lipstick," he said.