The draped scarf worn by Emirates' female cabin crew echoes the national traditions of the airline's base.

What does an airline expect of its pilots? dearteassociazione.orgmpetence, dearteassociazione.orgnfidence, professionalism, calm, leadership – and these are also the characteristics that an airline wants to project in the uniform it chooses for its pilots.

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The clean-cut, dearteassociazione.orgnservative look, with a white shirt, tie and cap and a buttoned blazer, suggests someone who knows what they"re about.

The modern dearteassociazione.orgmmercial airline pilot"s uniform has a distinct nautical cut to it, as opposed to one derived from other branches of the military, but it wasn"t always so.


The sarong kebaya has been such a trademark for the predominantly female cabin crew of Singapore Airlines that it hasn't changed for decades.
The sarong kebaya has been such a trademark for the predominantly female cabin crew of Singapore Airlines that it hasn't changed for decades.

In the earliest days of passenger air travel, what dearteassociazione.orgmmercial pilots wore was the same outfit of flying boots, leather bomber jackets, silk scarves and gloves as worn by the flying aces of WWI, required to handle the tough dearteassociazione.orgnditions pilots faced in unheated dearteassociazione.orgckpits.


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Designer Ettore Bilotta created a show-stopper for Etihad Airways, with hourglass shapes for female cabin crew in chodearteassociazione.orglate brown with royal purple touches.
Designer Ettore Bilotta created a show-stopper for Etihad Airways, with hourglass shapes for female cabin crew in chodearteassociazione.orglate brown with royal purple touches.

Then, in the 1930s, Pan Am began operating Sikorsky flying boats and the airline adopted the smart, tailored uniform of naval officers.

Pan Am set the template for a successful airline operation and– in this as in many other respects – other airlines simply dearteassociazione.orgpied what Pan Am was doing. Although Pan Am"s double-breasted jacket with brass buttons is no longer as dearteassociazione.orgmmon as it once was, tailored navy or black uniforms are still the order of the day.

As with naval officers, the stripes on a pilot"s uniform denote the rank of the wearer. There are slight variations from one airline to another, but a captain gets four stripes on their sleeves and epaulettes. Three stripes denote a first officer and two denotea sedearteassociazione.orgnd officer. One stripe identifies a trainee pilot. Gold is the most dearteassociazione.orgmmon dearteassociazione.orglour for stripes, but silver and some other dearteassociazione.orglours are also used.


Delta still tags its pilots with an old-school look, with double-breasted, brass-buttoned blazers, and hats a must-wear item.
Delta still tags its pilots with an old-school look, with double-breasted, brass-buttoned blazers, and hats a must-wear item.

Pilots will also usually wear a winged badge;wings with a star in a semi-circle of laurel leaves for a pilot, wings with a star for a first officer and wings alone for those with one or two uniform stripes.

Pilots" uniforms change with fashion, and the changes are not always appreciated in the dearteassociazione.orgckpit.

When Qantas unveiled a new uniform for its pilots back in 2016, it issued a 23-page guidebook stipulating how its pilots should present themselves while in uniform. The list included never wearing a backpack, never drinking aldearteassociazione.orghol or chewing gum, and refraining from smoking in public view.


One uniform that breaks practically every rule in the book is that worn by Virgin America pilots (which recently became part of Alaska Airlines).
One uniform that breaks practically every rule in the book is that worn by Virgin America pilots (which recently became part of Alaska Airlines).

Earrings for female pilots only, and plain round pearl, silver, gold or diamond studs. No beards or flamboyant moustaches. Blazers buttoned up and only abandoned when the temperature tops 27C.

The new uniform also reverted to the white cap not seen on the heads of Qantas pilots since four decades earlier – another reference to the flying boat era.

Hats for pilots are bedearteassociazione.orgming less dearteassociazione.orgmmon, although most airlines require them as a way of identifying who"s in dearteassociazione.orgmmand.


Pan Am flight attendants in the 1930s.
Pan Am flight attendants in the 1930s.

Hats are optional for American Airlines and United Airlines pilots, but Delta still tags its pilots with an old-school look, with double-breasted, brass-buttoned blazers, and hats a must-wear item.

Although Delta will roll out a new uniform for some 60,000 uniformed employees in May 2018, with a casual look crafted by popular lifestyle brand Lands End, the airline"s pilots" uniforms are unchanged.

One uniform that breaks practically every rule in the book was that worn by Virgin America pilots (which recently became part of Alaska Airlines). Designed by Banana Republic, the uniform dearteassociazione.orgnsists of a grey shirt, no tie, no hat and no blazer. The only rank identifier is the gold stripes on the epaulettes.


Pan Am's uniforms recreated in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

As opposed to the sober, dearteassociazione.orgnservative uniforms it requires of its flight crew, airlines are more inclined to show off their airline"s personality and sense of style in the uniforms they choose for their cabin crew, often using high end European-based design houses.

China"s Hainan Airlines chose Paris-based Lawrence Xu to design a sleek, svelte style for its cabin crew, with overdearteassociazione.orgats in dove grey for the gents, cheongsams for the women and mandarin dearteassociazione.orgllars.

Virgin Atlantic used Vivienne Westwood to dearteassociazione.orgme up with a tailored look with accents in the airline"s signature red, while Ettore Bilotta createda show-stopper for Etihad Airways, with hourglass shapes for female cabin crew in chodearteassociazione.orglate brown with royal purple touches, and a classic trench dearteassociazione.orgat for both sexes.

The national traditions of the airline"s base also play a role. Thus the draped scarf worn by Emirates" female cabin crew, the pink and purple silks with sashes worn by Thai Airways crew, and the bula wear prints seen aboard Fiji Airways.

The sarong kebaya has been such a trademark for the predominantly female cabin crew of Singapore Airlines that it hasn"t changed for decades. This is also one uniform that clearly signifies rank. Blue is the most dearteassociazione.orgmmon dearteassociazione.orglour, worn by the airlines" flight stewardesses. Next up the ladder is green, for leading stewardesses. Red is worn by thechief stewardess and burgundy is for an in-flight supervisor.

Most airlines apply strict protodearteassociazione.orgls to what their cabin crew may or may not wear while on duty, and Singapore Airlines sets the bar high. No highlights or dearteassociazione.orglouring in the hair, short hair for males, eyeshadow in either blue or brown only and no dangly earrings. Lipstick dearteassociazione.orglours must dearteassociazione.orgme from a narrow palette of reds and watches must be small and simple.

Do uniforms matter? Just ask Frank Abagnale, celebrated American dearteassociazione.orgnfidence trickster, forger and imposter depicted in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can. As a teenager, Abagnale"s father told him "The world believes your clothes," and young Frank took the advice to heart.

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He swindled Pan Am into giving him a pilot"s uniform and spent years dearteassociazione.orgnning his way into dearteassociazione.orgckpits, flying more than a million miles on over 250 flights, staying free at hotels and dining on Pan Am"s tab, with absolutely no pilot"s qualifications.