If you’ve been a professional pilot for a few years or more, chances are you’ve worn at least one Van Heusen pilot shirt. They’re easy to find, decent quality and good value. What you might not have known, is that there are a LOT of different types of Van Heusen shirts out there, (not just the short sleeve Aviator!).
Despite only having worked in Aviation for around 15 years, I have probably worn hundreds of different pilot shirts during my flying career. And most of them suck. I’m not kidding, I have ripped (unintentionally) shirts during preflights, felt like my neck was being sandpapered away every time I moved my head in flight, stained dozens of them with oil, grease or AvGas (and that stupid dye that they put in it!) and sweated in horrible plastic blend materials in the tropics with un-serviceable airconditioning packs (or none at all!). But my number one bugbear is actually creased shirts and those stupid materials which are impossible to iron or hold a crease.
So, now that I’ve been through and tried just about every one of the Van Heusen shirts out there (except the ladies ones of course!), here’s my guide and which shirts to get, and which ones to avoid.
Are Van Heusen Shirts worth buying as a Pilot?
This is probably the most important question – should you even consider buying a Van Heusen Pilot Shirt in the first place?
I was pleasantly surprised to discover Van Heusen about 5 years ago, and that they came in a variety of pre-tailored sizes and options (both short and long sleeve). I still regularly wear the 100% Cotton Non-Iron Aviator Shirt – Men’s short sleeve, the short-sleeve tapered Aviator and the long sleeve Van Heusen Commander and I couldn’t be happier.
My pick of the three styles is the 100% cotton non-iron shirt. I get my shirts dry cleaned overnight in the hotel, and they always come back crisp and white. But when I am home I just use a standard washer and tumble drier, and I don’t even need to iron them – I just hang them up straight out of the drier onto a coat-hanger and into my wardrobe. I have six of them (one for each day of the workweek right… ugh) and they hang neatly, so I only have to do washing once a week. I manage to get away with the short sleeve, but some other pilots prefer the long sleeve.
I actually inadvertently tested the ‘stain proof’ nature of the shirt recently by spilling an entire cup of coffee down my front whilst driving to work. The material is marketed as ‘hydrophobic’ so all you need to know is it bounced right off my shirt and made an absolute mess of my pants and my car seat… at least the shirt survived right?
Anyway, I can’t really vouch for the ladies shirts, but if they are anything like the men’s versions (and there is a fairly good chance they are identical just obviously in a different cut and sizing), then they are going to be an excellent choice for flying.
Van Heusen Men’s Aviator Pilot shirts
Van Heusen produce the Aviator range of standard men’s pilots shirts which are a great shirt for a fair price. My pick of the bunch is the Van Heusen 100% Cotton Non-Iron Aviator shirt – Men’s short sleeve. I currently have 6 of these and conveniently, mine didn’t need tailoring and fit well straight out of the box
The standard short-sleeve pilot shirt quintessential men’s short sleeve shirt for the ‘working pilot’. This is in light blue, but there are options for other colours to suit your uniform needs or personal style. Made from easy-care Van Heusen fabric, this shirt can be machine washed and ironed at home but also looks great when dry cleaned or pressed. It has everything you would expect in a pilots shirt such as shirt front pockets, pen holders, rank slide epaulettes and a long back to easily tuck into your slacks or jeans. It comes in a regular fit in a variety of standard sizes
The Tapered fit short sleeve is perfect for pilots with slim or muscular builds, which means its going to fit well without excess fabric around the waist needing to be tucked in or folded. This is the shirt I started with before I moved onto the 100% cotton Non-ironed type below
The Van Heusen 100% Cotton Non-Iron Aviator shirt is my pick, it’s comfy, durable and I think it looks great (especially in the cockpit selfies I secretly send out on Snapchat!). I currently have 6 of these and conveniently, mine didn’t need tailoring and fit well straight out of the box!
For anyone able to refuel Cessna’s or able to inspect the tops of engines and propellers without a step ladder, the Tall Aviator is the shirt style for you. This shirt is specifically sized to fit taller gentlemen without the standard issue of bigger sizes being too large around the waist.
For a long sleeve shirt uniform requirement, this is a crisp looking standard men’s long sleeve shirt for the ‘working pilot’. This is in light blue, but there are options for other colours to suit your uniform needs or personal style. Made from easy-care Van Heusen fabric, this shirt can be machine washed and ironed at home but also looks great when dry cleaned or pressed. It has everything you would expect in a pilots shirt such as shirt front pockets, pen holders, rank slide epaulettes and a long back to easily tuck into your slacks or jeans. It comes in a regular fit in a variety of standard sizes
Premium Men’s Van Heusen Commander Pilot Shirts
Van Heusen offer a range of premium pilot shirts called the commander shirt range. Upgrading from the standard range, the Commander range comes with a higher blend of cotton and the following features as standard;
- Blended pinpoint oxford
- Fused crisp collar and placket
- Epaulettes / rank slide holders
- Two top entry pockets with non-functional flaps
- Single needle armhole construction
- Overlock side seams
- 60% cotton / 40% polyester
- 4.0 oz per square yard
Ladies Van Heusen Pilot Shirts
Van Heusen offer a range of ladies pilots shirts in both short and long sleeve variants. These are designed to cater for the figure requirements of female pilots, to ensure a correct fit and professional image. Like all Van Heusen shirts, they come with a range of features as standard, including breathable fabric which is comfortable and cool-wearing both in the ground and on the tarmac
What to look for in a Pilot Shirt
When I look for a pilot shirt I look for a few key areas;
- Crease and crinkle proofing so it is easy to iron and looks great
- Soft Fabric so its comfortable to wear
- Stain proof so it stays looking professional
- Durability so it lasts a long time and I don’t have to spend more money
I found its just not worth going for the cheap shirts because it is a false economy. They might be cheap, but they also look cheap, feel cheap and don’t last. I ended up spending more in the long run, so now I just invest in a few quality shirts and I’ve gone from new shirts every 6 months to not having to replace my Van Heusen pilot shirts in over 2 years!
Crease and crinkle proof
A good flying shirt should look good, and it’s important for a pilot to present themselves with a professional appearance. Its obvious that if you turn up looking disheveled with a poorly ironed shirt, you might not inspire the confidence in you that you need to command.
Its always a struggle dealing with hotels and other accommodation when your away base and trying to get your uniforms sorted. Some provide a linen and press service, some provide self-service laundry, and some don’t even have ironing boards!
I started my pilot journey taking an iron in my overnight bag, but quickly learnt this wasnt practical. So all of my ‘crinkly’ shirts quickly found themselves at the back of the wardrobe and never being used. The wrinkle free / easy iron fabric material shirts are an absolute godsend, and I chose them time-after-time because they are comfy and easy to take care of
This one is a bit of a no brainer; I prefer the shirts with a high thread count and GSM, which are softer on my skin, especially the collar on my neck. When you think about it, its literally our job to be looking out, continually scanning the horizons and sophisticated instrumentation; you are always moving your eyes and neck and the fabric is always rubbing against your skin – especially your neck.
When I am strapping in for long sectors, and sometimes 16 hour days, I want to be as comfortble as possible! Cutting corners on a crappy shirt just wont fly, so I am willing to pay that little bit extra for a premium shirt that feels nice and reduces my fatigue
Early in my career I was working with a myriad of light single and twin aircraft, operating in and out of dirt strips and hand loading and refueling my own plane. As such, I destroyed a lot of shirts – busting seams or just simply tearing them on cargo or loading equipment. General Aviation can be a harsh mistress!
These days though, I am more likely to ruin a shirt by spilling my Tea or Coffee, or in-flight meal on it. Which is just as embarrassing and doesn’t really bode well with any of the other flight or cabin crew – if you cant eat your meal with out spilling it then they start to question your ability to land the plane.
Going with a stain resistant or hydrophobic fabric material coating is thus an important choice for me when I select my uniform shirts.
Lets be honest, for most us pilots we are the one stop shop. Ground handler, baggage handler, Mechanic, Cleaner and of course we occasionally fly the damn thing. Usually I wear a pair of overalls or my flight suit for the real taxing work (such as with my radial engine warbirds) but the fact is when I was running cargo operations and even during charters, you are ‘johnny on the spot’ and have to fix issues.
The last thing I want is to tear stitching of my shirt when I am loading or unloading – and exactly that happened to me once loading a battery into the back of a Baron, right down my arm pit the shirt split in two – what a joke! I have also caught my shirt on a hatch before and tore a nice little ‘V’ shape out of the breast of the shirt. Again, disappointing… So these days I always look for quality stitching and quality fabric when I am buying a shirt – that way I know it is going to last.
I hope this helps you in setting up your work uniform, and hopefully you get a uniform allowance or reimbursed by work as well! 😉
If you haven’t bought a decent shirt for flying in, then I’d recommend getting one sooner rather than later. Normal button-up shirts often don’t have the breathability that you’re going to want after several hours in the cockpit. Still flying in your t-shirt and jeans? It might be ok as a student pilot, but sooner or later, you’re going to want other pilots to see you like a pro to give you the best chance of getting a pilot job, and dressing the part in a good quality flying shirt is a great place to start. When you’re ready to upgrade to a better fitting shirt that’s more comfortable, check out some of the best custom pilot shirts available online.
Now that you know what pilot shirts to wear, check out some of our other tips on essential flying gear you’ll need: