27 Sep

A pilot’s uniform is their business card

Can you already imagine yourself wearing a pilot’s uniform? A pilot is inconceivable without black pants, a white shirt, an epaulet and a cap. A neat and self-confident pilot has already become an icon not only in the movies, but also in the real life. Formal wear is a very important part of the pilot’s job.

A pilot’s uniform

One of the primary reasons for uniforms is to inspire the public’s confidence in this profession. Even if the bush pilot is very experienced – the image is everything to a nervous passenger. A clean-shaven pilot, with well-kept hair, in a sparkling clean and well-pressed uniform is more trustworthy. Passengers need a pilot who is capable of saving lives and the uniform helps to create that image.

As we already know, the roots of commercial airlines lie in the military air base. Before the 1930s pilots wore clothing derived from the military tradition established during World War I. At this time, the military equipped pilots with very practical and comfortable flight crew clothing, so such attire was quickly adopted to the civil aviation sector by ex-military pilots who, during peace time, worked in air mail and cargo transport.

Pan America’s success in the 1930s and quick development in the 1950s led to the establishment of one of the largest and most well-known world-class airlines. Because of the operated flying boats they dressed their line pilots in an outfit closely resembling naval officers’ uniforms. However, it was not the key secret of Pan Am, but the other airlines started issuing their pilots with similar uniforms hoping to emulate Pan Am’s success.

Overall, the pilot’s formal outfit is used to identify who is who amongst the crew and to create a professional public image. Nowadays, almost every airline crew wear different uniforms.

Fashion in the cockpit

Every year, designers present new uniforms. Cabin crew are the front line ambassadors for every airline and their uniforms need to be super stylish and instantly recognisable. As well as looking good, cabin crew must also feel good, thus, their uniforms need to be comfortable and practical as they spend so much time in them.

Even top lists of airline uniforms are compiled at the end of the year. For example, according to The Design Air Top 10 airline uniforms for 2015 the following three airlines came top: China Eastern, Etihad and Qantas. These airlines met the highest criteria of simple and powerful image of professional uniforms. They were stylish, well-executed and truly showcase the airline. Almost every year a new collection of formal aircraft outfit is presented by designers showing that airlines don’t have to be drab and boring.

Although uniforms will continue to surprise and look fresh for years to come, they will always include one common item – epaulets.


Individual airlines can choose, often with their employees’ input, the color and style of the uniform. Each pilot crew member’s uniform is decorated with an insignia representing his or her duties on board.

It should not be forgotten that the basics of the aviation rules were borrowed from the naval rules. In XIX century Admiral Nelson defeated Napoleon 4 times during the Sea war. For each victory he was awarded with one stripe on his uniform. Since then the captain has been recognised by four stripes on their uniform.

According to “eHow” author Danielle Nieves Oller’s article “What Do the Stripes Mean on a Pilot Uniform?” airline pilots have two, three or four stripes on their shoulders. This part of the uniform is also referred to as an epaulet. Well, one stripe is not normally used for airline pilots but it is sometimes used for flight trainees. A flight engineer or a second officer wears two stripes. A first officer, also called a co-pilot or second in command, wears three stripes. A captain, or a pilot in command, wears four stripes. Stripe colours could vary.

Pilots also typically wear a winged badge indicating their qualification to fly and their seniority. Its color typically matches the sleeve stripe color, and the badge may be either a metal pin or an embroidered patch. They generally follow the pattern of having the corporate logo in the center.

Clothing says a lot about a man, but the most important thing is what is hidden from the naked eye. “The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul”.