It’s long been the convention that airline pilots are seen walking around airports in ill-fitting, uncomfortable, poor quality pilot uniform shirts. In effect, aviators are forced into spending the entirety of their working lives looking shabby and feeling lousy. However, things are starting to change, with aviators demanding better from their employers and aviation apparel vendors. This guide will show you what a well-fitting airline pilot shirt should look like, why it’s worth investing in one, and how to get a great pilot shirt for under $100.
Why most Pilot Uniform Shirts are terrible
The current status quo is that most professional aviators have little access to good quality uniforms. Employers award contracts to providers offering the lowest possible price, meaning that they provide their pilots with one-size-fits-all, poorly proportioned shirts. Pilots are offered shirts that are often totally inappropriate for their body shape, with a raft of excuses from ‘it allows you to move more freely in the flight deck’ to ‘sorry, we can’t provide shirts that fit everybody’.
For pilots that are looking for shirts elsewhere, options are very mixed. Most pilot store websites offer an unimaginative range of shirts sourced from the same vendors as the airlines. Others offer the opportunity to tailor shirts, but with price tags in the hundreds of dollars and long wait times.
The good news is that there are now specialty online pilot uniform stores that cater specifically for pilots, and can help you get a great fitting shirt for less than $100.
Can you find better fitting pilot shirts?
This doesn’t have to be the case. Other industries have cracked the code, with those working in office roles having the opportunity to buy shirts that look great, without breaking the bank (see companies such as T.M.Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt). The aviation industry is evolving too, with a number of new companies offering a range of shirt fits (from relaxed fit to slim fit pilot shirts) to aviators who refuse to walk around in cheap, tatty shirts (see ‘what are my options’ below).
Why is a nicely fitting shirt important?
- Time spent wearing it Professional airline pilots work for an average of 17 days a month, meaning you spend a large proportion of your life wearing your pilot uniform. When most pilots would have no problem in splashing out on a nice dress shirt for going out, why skimp on clothing that you will have to wear more than anything else in your wardrobe?
- Comfort: Having a pilot shirt that constantly requires re-tucking, that bunches up around the waist, or is too small on the collar is a constant irritation in the flight deck. This issue can insidiously distract aviators from more important matters. A good fit allows pilots to keep concentrated and stay relaxed whilst at work.
- Professionalism: Wearing a pilot shirt that doesn’t fit looks unprofessional to passengers and colleagues. Conversely, correctly fitting attire will give an impression of competence to one’s peers and perhaps, more importantly, pilot trainers.
- Style: If you value looking sharp, it’s worth investing in better fitting shirts. This is especially relevant for those who like to keep fit, whose body shape would be totally lost in a poorly fitting oversized pilot shirt.
What a perfect fit should look like
The key to selecting a perfect fit will be unique to each individual. Those with an athletic build, or who prefer a tighter fit should go for slim fit pilot shirts. Even slimmer individuals can consider what is often referred to as a fitted pilot uniform shirt. An example of the differences between these two styles can be seen here. Here are a few tips:
A well-fitted collar should comfortably frame your face. A perfect fit is where the collar follows the neck all the way around, but the wearer should be able to insert two fingertips (the ring and the pinkie) between the fabric and the skin.
Shoulder fit is measured in relation to the furthest lateral extent of the shoulder bone. For an optimal fit, the stitch at the top of the sleeve sits perfectly on the edge of your shoulders, allowing arms to move freely.
For pilots who often change between standing and seated positions, a perfect torso fit is key. For a good combination of comfort and style, the pilot shirt should rest lightly against the wearer’s ribcage whilst not stretching around the buttons.
Online shirt fitting guides to look at
How to get a perfect-fitting airline pilot shirt under $100 (or for free!)
So, if like the hundreds of other pilots transitioning to wearing better shirts, and you are convinced that you need to upgrade your uniform, there are a number of ways to achieve this.
1. Shop at a dedicated online aviation uniform store
There are a number of smaller shops online that offer superior shirts available worldwide. You should try a number of shirts and see which one works for you. Bear in mind, be prepared to spend more than the $10 that you would spend for a poor-quality shirt at a large pilot store. Try Airman Pilot Shirts, which offers a great range of fits, including fitted and slim fit pilot shirts.
2. Tailor your current airline shirts
Taking your current shirts to a local tailor can be a decent option. For shirts that are too large around the waist, material can often be easily removed to provide a better fit. However, this solution can often be as costly as just buying a new set of shirts and leaves you with the potentially low-quality material that your shirts are made out of.
3. Persuade your airline management to upgrade
Better shirts make sense. Pilots are happier, more productive, and look better walking around the airport. Getting managers to consider slightly more expensive shirts or a better variety of sizes (such as slim-fit and relaxed fits) can make a big difference to pilots’ lives and wellbeing. Alternatively, convincing the airline to make a contribution to buying shirts on the open market may be a possibility.
The dark days of having to wear whatever is provided to you by your airline are finally over. With a little bit of patience and a small extra investment, pilots can now find stylish pilot shirts that fit a variety of shapes, allowing them to upgrade their professional image and increase the comfort of the clothes that they wear most often.