Some fashions come and go, others remain timeless and classic. The Aviator style definitely falls into the latter category. Evoking images of Charles Lindbergh, World War II flying aces, and brave female pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Willa Brown, aviator fashion has always been synonymous with romance, adventure, and danger.
The Origins of Aviator Fashion
Traditionally, aviator fashion for women was a blend of the masculine and feminine, with one playing off the other to create a somewhat offbeat look. This was born of a time when aviation was dominated by men to the point that all of the gear and accessories were made to male proportions. There is a photo of Amelia Earhart in her cockpit wearing a large jacket with the cuffs rolled up and another of her wearing an obviously oversized man’s flight suit that illustrates perfectly how women not only took the art of flight, but the clothing, equipment, and accessories, and made them their own.
Over the years, and with the help of movies like Amelia and The Aviator, and a healthy sense of nostalgia, what was born out of necessity has bona fide fashion statement.
The Elements of Aviator Fashion
There are three classic elements of aviator fashion, around which you can build your look: the jacket, the flight suit and the glasses; or, if you are going for a more steampunk look, you would include the aviator’s cap, with flaps, and goggles.
The jacket is what kept the pilot warm, especially in planes with open cockpits. They were usually made of leather, because it’s a natural windbreaker, and often lined for extra insulation. For 1940s kitsch, you should go with the Sherpa bomber jacket – the traditional brown jacket with wool trim at the neck, waist and wrists. For a more modern look, go for the leather flight jacket – the one with the bare collar and cloth ribbing at the wrists and waist. Wear the jacket over a pencil skirt, a pair of leggings, or even a pair of jodhpurs and tall leather boots. A white blouse with a tie adds a military flair, while a simple turtleneck and sweater can keep you warm and stylish on those cold winter nights.
There are plenty of designers that make their own version of the aviator jacket, but if you want authenticity, you should check out an army surplus store or a a pilot shop.
The Flight Suit
The flight suit provided extra coverage and protection against the temperature extremes in the air. They were also worn by mechanics and ground crew, or by the pilot when she was working on her plane to protect her and her regular clothing from dirt, oil, and fuel spills. Traditionally the flight suit should be a size or two larger than what you normally wear, cinched at the waist, and the sleeves and leg cuffs rolled up. However, instead of buttoning up the top, leave it open and wear a silk blouse underneath, for a more feminine look. Instead of boots, try a pair of tassel loafers, or spectator pumps.
Since flight suits can be difficult to come by, you can also go with a set of men’s long-sleeved industrial coveralls to achieve the same effect.
Pilots wear glasses to protect their eyes from wind and glare. Traditional aviator glasses have oversized lenses for maximum coverage and protection. Thanks to the popularity of sunglasses, you can find aviator glasses from a variety of designers and a variety or of retailers.
The Goggles and Cap
Just like the glasses, the cap and goggles provided protection from the wind and elements, especially in the open cockpits. These accessories scream “Pilot,” but they also tend to look very costumey by today’s standards. However, if your fashion style tends toward the dramatic, or if you have a steampunk thing going, both accessories can make quite a statement.
Because they tend toward the costume end of the scale, you can often find caps and goggles at costume shops, however, these are often not designed for regular use. You can sometimes find these accessories at vintage retailers and stores that specialize in steampunk fashions and accessories.