A casual airline pilot dress code, showing a floatplane pilot wearing a pilot uniform with shorts

Airline pilot dress code

Looks matter!

Uniforms are used by many professions to stand out from the crowd. While airlines require their staff to wear uniforms for branding, they also signal to the public the wearers additional training, and help convey a sense of security and professionalism.

Pilots are no exception, having one of the most easily recognisably uniforms. Alongside the uniform, airlines frequently have a strict dress code for pilots. Here we will take a look at pilot uniform standards, answering common questions such as can pilots have tattoos or beards?

Do pilots have to wear a uniform?

So, do commercial pilots have to wear a uniform? The answer is yes! For all airline pilots, their uniforms are a vital part of the job.

Not only do they look smart and professional, but they also play an important role in safety, as they make pilots instantly recognisable:

  • In the event of an evacuation, the pilots will be out on the tarmac — alongside the cabin crew — directing the passengers to the safest areas.
  • The uniform also signifies to everyone onboard the chain of command, ensuring that in emergencies, messages are passed on, and decisions taken by the most experienced crew member in that area.

American Airlines’ Tucker makes sure his hat is always with him. “Because if, God forbid, I have that day when I have to do an emergency evacuation on my aeroplane, part of my responsibility is to get passengers together and move them away from the plane. The hat is a visible symbol, and we know customers respond to authority,” said Tucker.

American Airlines Captain — Tucker

Appearances and uniform standards

Virtually every commercial airline will have uniform standards — rules on your written into the contract that you agree to abide by.

There are two reasons for this:

Reason 1

Airlines know that pilots and flight attendants are visible, and as a result of that, are an extension of their brand image.

Airline pilots come into contact with thousands of passengers, and while a video of the captain explaining the delay is unlikely to go viral — some PA’s do!

Airlines want their professionalism on show at all times.

Female pilot military camo uniform
Airline pilot military uniform
Commercial or military pilot? Most airline pilot dress codes stay close to the military origins.

Reason 2

Commercial airlines are descended from the military. Virtually all major legacy carriers began using ex-military pilots, and ex-military aircraft, with a golden period of commercial aviation described as being between WW1 and WW2.

As a result, there are many military themes that continue to run through commercial aviation, and uniform standards is one of them. The hierarchical structure, pilot uniform details — even the hats — all reflect the military background.

With military origins and an instantly recognisable role, it’s no wonder to see that there is a uniform wearers guide. Here’s a look at 4 commonly asked questions about pilot dress codes:

1 — Can pilots have tattoos?

2 — Can pilots have beards?

Commercial pilot beard and aviators

3 — Can pilots have piercings?

4 — Do pilots have to wear hats?

Female pilot uniforms

Three differences!
In the early days of aviation, both male and female pilots wore identical uniforms. These uniforms were typically inspired by military uniforms, and they included items such as bomber jackets, cargo trousers, and boots.

When it comes to newer, commercial pilot uniforms, while each airline has their own slight variation, the basis of the pilot’s uniform remains largely the same and this is the case for both men and women. Female pilots will often have a few more options when it comes to their uniforms.

Notable differences include:

Female pilot uniform cravat vs tie

Cravats

Wearing of a cravat rather than a tie — a wider neck covering that is more suited to blouses

Female pilot uniform skirt Vs trousers

Skirts

Most airlines allow their female pilots to choose between wearing skirts or trousers

Female pilot heels Vs flat shoes

Heels

Heeled shoes, however there are restrictions on heel heights and designs, as pilots must be able to operate rudder pedals safely

Did you know?

While there are now a modest few differences in female pilot uniforms, it actually took a very long time for female pilots to be accepted in any uniform at all!

  • The United States didn’t have any female commercial airline pilots until 1934.
  • Finally, Helen Richey became the first female commercial airline pilot hired by an airline, joining Central Airlines in late 1934.
  • However, having a female airline pilot caused such an outrage among the all-male pilot union, that in less than 2 years she was forced to step down!
  • The US didn’t have another female commercial airline pilot at a scheduled carrier until Emily Howell Warner in 1976!
First female commercial airline pilot with old style pilot uniform

Summary

So, there you have it. A look at the airline pilot dress code and what is required of pilots when it comes to their uniforms. While female pilot uniforms may differ slightly from male pilot uniforms, it is subtle, and the overall look is still professional.

The rules also continue to change over time. So while airline pilots with tattoos would once be strictly banned, there are now several airlines — such as Virgin Atlantic or Air New Zealand — where visible tattoos are absolutely fine.

Ultimately, individual airlines decide what their dress code is for pilots, and attitudes to what is acceptable differ around the world. As a result, having a beard, tattoos, or piercings doesn’t necessarily mean not working as a pilot, but it may limit potential airlines you can work for.

What do you think about airline pilot dress codes? Should they be relaxed, or should pilots retain the clean-shaven ex-military look and hats that the profession was once known for? We’d love to hear from you.

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Josh
Josh

Flyingbynumber’s Resident Airline Captain — Josh

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