Women and men fly aeroplanes the same, but their shirts need to be a little different! This article explores the options in women’s pilot shirts.
There are several milestones in a pilot’s life that signify you’ve made it, like a rite of passage into ‘the club’. The biggest one is the moment you slide your arms into your pilot shirt, and button it up in a slow-motion ritual as you prepare your mind for flight. This is a genderless activity as the airplane does not care about gender, the rules of flight are the same for all.
However, men and women are built differently, and women’s pilot’s shirts embrace the uniquely female human at the controls. All pilots need the same pockets and pen holes even with the advent of electronic flight bags but as the number of women discovering the joy of flight grows, so does the interest in the ladies’ pilot uniform.
What is the pilot uniform for a woman?
Pilots wear a uniform for a few reasons, for professional appearance to passengers and to project trust but more importantly for fast identification in an emergency. The shock of an evacuation can cause confusion for the untrained passenger group and having an authoritative figure1 easily identified assists in managing it. For a pilot, their uniform is like their ‘super suit’ in that when donned, it projects game on.
This is the same regardless of gender. The ladies’ pilot uniform needs to achieve the same look as men while having an adjusted fit to encompass the female form.
We can break it down into the top half and the bottom half, both sections having a small difference. The top being shirt, jacket, the same-look hat slightly smaller for females, and either a tie, crossover bow tie or a scarf. South of the belt is where there are more obvious options depending on personal choice; pants, culottes, or a skirt.
Are there different kinds of women’s pilot shirts?
For male pilots there are only two kinds of shirts however women’s pilot shirts have an additional exclusive necessary option. Both have short or long-sleeve choices where by observation, the short sleeve is the most selected version. The third item in the ladies’ pilot uniform shirt range is the maternity shirt. Yes, it is fine for females to fly pregnant, and no, there has not been a birth in flight. I am extremely pleased to clear that up for anyone wondering!
The women’s pilot shirt2 augments into varied versions to allow the pregnant goddess to wear the women’s pilot shirt untucked while remaining professional.
“Captain Cynthia Berkeley flew Boeing 737s for United Airlines during her pregnancy in the early 1990s. It was the first company-issued pilot’s maternity uniform. In the past, pregnant pilots had sewn their own. By the early 1990s, both the aviation industry and the traveling public had accepted that all qualified people, regardless of race or gender, could pilot an airliner.”womenshistory.si.edu2
A quick side story on the pilot maternity shirt3 from a female pilot colleague. Over 20 years ago many airlines did not have an official maternity uniform for female pilots so left it up to the individual to get creative. This female pilot friend had a shirt modified and when flying with male colleagues was asked tongue in cheek that when she was finished with it, ‘Could they borrow it?’. These colleagues were ahem, sporting a large belly!
Are women’s pilot shirts different to men’s?
To look at a male and a female pilot, the shirts look the same and exude the same professional stature, however, the women’s pilot shirt if you dig deeper into detail are cut differently to accommodate the different figure of each gender. This does not mean in any way a difference in capability or amount of risk each pilot gender carries. Risk is inherently global when a pilot takes charge of an airplane. The cut of the women’s pilot shirt is curved in at the waist whilst the male equivalent is either straight cut or slightly a-frame cut.
Do women have different options for pilot shirts?
The ladies’ pilot uniform offers variants in sleeve length and maternity but beyond this, the different options for women pilots is brand and quality. For women pilots working for larger operators, the brand option will be whatever arrangement the company has with a uniform provider. If you need to provide your own shirt of course you have many options to choose from with the only limitation being cost.
In a larger company, if you feel strongly about your shirt choice, there will be an avenue to get on a pilot council and put a strong case together to encourage your airline to change providers. In any instance, a pilot shirt needs pockets as pilots like to carry bits and pieces to help them have a successful day!
Where can you buy women’s pilot shirts?
As more women realize they have all the skills they need to be a pilot and numbers have increased, so have manufacturers designing better options for the ladies’ pilot uniform shirts. Many mainstream brand names have created a range for women as well as newer start-up brands, many started by women pilots.
There are many online women pilot shirt providers4 which are a great option, however, also most pilot supply stores whether online or bricks and mortar businesses stock many different women’s pilot shirts. The best way to find your perfect pilot shirt is to ask a woman pilot! It won’t take long to find the most popular option, then you just need to decide if you are a short or long sleeve pilot.
How much do women’s pilot shirts cost?
In the early days, we hear stories of how women pilots had to wear a male pilot shirt no matter how ill-fitting it was. The operators simply did not have a choice to offer. When the manufacturers discovered there was a market for a tailored women’s pilot shirt option, as it was a small part of the market, initially this was reflected in a higher price for the ladies’ pilot uniform option.
What is the best women’s pilot shirt?
When it comes to answering the question of what the best women’s pilot shirt is, and the choice is not made for you by your company, then we need to dig a little deeper and set the terms of reference in suggesting a great option. Regardless of gender, a pilot’s job is complex, no day is the same, and the risk is always present even before you sign on and how you rested. A pilot may not tell you but there are some days where the challenge of your role can cause you to get a bit ‘hot under the collar’ of your pilot shirt.
So, it goes to say that a pilot wants to make sure an uncomfortable or bad-quality shirt is not adding to that challenge.
Here are some features to look for in a good quality women’s pilot shirt:
- Fabric and Breathability
- Wrinkle resistant6
- Shape and Cut
- Brand and reputation
Having spent some time researching pilot shirt options, we are going to stick our necks out (and this is without any commission!) and tell you what we find interesting in a shirt provider. As each pilot is humanly unique, tailoring your choice is important and therefore being about to measure yourself and select the exact match is awesome. The highest criterion on the list is how well the shirt breathes and that means the cotton content. At the very least in your review of the label is at least having a ‘cotton rich’ shirt.
There are some 100% cotton however these also crumple more. In combining both wishes of cotton rich and tailoring choices our team choice is Jetseam7. There were many shape-matching choices and the cotton content is a nice blend of breathability, durability, and iron ease.
“Our Cotton Rich shirts do not “pill” or wear out in stress areas as fast as other standard uniform shirts that have more polyester and other man-made fibers. JetSeam has researched the top companies in the clothing industry to make sure our shirts fit as you would expect. Our Women’s shirt has been designed by a woman who specializes in women’s clothing, and then they were tested and refined by women in the cockpit.”jetseam.com/products/womens-pilot-shirt7
The joy of flight for a pilot is only surpassed by the feeling wearing the uniform gives you. There is something in the secret pilot club that feels good to stride through the terminal in front of your passengers and get noticed. It sets up a unique bond of trust and responsibility and the complex environment pilots work in is enhanced when the pilot is comfortable!
I know when I am a passenger, I want my pilot’s shirt to breathe while they work through their problem-solving and decision-making model! There are many choices for women’s pilot shirts with options to tailor to the individual and worth the time to research. As pilots sit for many hours, making sure nothing is digging in is vital. The best advice is to choose your ‘super suit’ wisely, so all your decisions bring you home safe.
- Airline pilot uniforms, Wikipedia. Accessed online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airline_pilot_uniforms on May 28, 2023.
- The First Official Maternity Uniform for Pregnant Pilots, Smithsonian. Accessed online at https://womenshistory.si.edu/herstory/work/object/first-official-maternity-uniform-pregnant-pilots on May 28, 2023.
- What Does Wrinkle Resistant Mean?, Jeff Taxdahl, Thread Logic. Published: Nov 15, 2019. Accessed online at https://threadlogic.com/blogs/logo-embroidery/what-does-wrinkle-resistant-mean on May 28, 2023.