Just came across an interesting answer to a question on uniforms for PPL Human Performance and Limitations:

Pilots wear uniforms:

a) so they can be easily recognised
b) so that they can be perceived to be important
c) so that they can feel important

Apparently the correct answer is b (I said a). Is this so that their authority is respected, is this a valid reason?

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    $\begingroup$ Can you imagine a pilot walking into an airplane in his sweat suit? I bet we would all run away from there. This same logic applies to other jobs where responsibility relies on a few number of people. So yeah, how others perceive you is key here. Don't forget that a pilot is the authority on an aircraft. $\endgroup$ May 7 '17 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ PPL = Private Pilot's License? I can't understand why such a question would be asked there. As a private pilot, I can assure you that I've never worn a uniform, and quite often do fly in sweats :-) For commercial pilots, I expect the answer is "Because the employer requires it as a condition of employment." $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 1 '18 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf As a former airline pilot (retired 1999), I agree that for many the reason they wore the uniform was because it was a condition of employment. That was certainly true for me, personally. However, some, what percentage I can't say, needed it for their ego or some other reason not really related to the performance of the job. FWIW, I once flew a heat-soaked 747 freighter with an inop APU in running shoes and running shorts, as did my f.o. and f.e. on that occasion. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Apr 1 '18 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ I, too, would have answered (a) as the best answer. Further I would argue that (b) is not a better answer as it's written. To me, "importance" smacks more of celebrity as in V.I.P. rather than competence and command. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Apr 1 '18 at 18:42

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum says:

By the early 1930s, airlines were introducing distinctive uniforms for their employees, and women were entering the ranks of flight attendants.

Pilots were given military-style uniforms to reflect their status. Pan American emulated luxurious ocean liner service by calling its flying boats "Clippers" and its pilots "Captains," and attiring its crews in naval-style uniforms with white hats and navy-blue, double-breasted jackets and rank insignia on the sleeve cuffs. Other airlines followed suit. Many of these customs continue today.

This is why choice b is the correct one. A military-derived uniform projects importance / reflects [high] status. While a flight jacket—or a cap that reads 'pilot' for that matter—might adequately serve the purpose of identification (choice a).

Look no further than Wilhelm Voigt, an imposter in an officer's uniform can command real soldiers, place people under arrest, and make away with a treasure.

enter image description here
(Navy Officer, Pilot) Side-by-side comparison.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree the quoted question is a good one (the OP's question is good) - it is a question on philosophy. I disagree with the accepted answer and my answer is (a). An imposter being able to execute privileges supports that pilots' uniforms are for them to be recognized - in the same way people perceive someone in a police uniform to be a police. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    May 7 '17 at 19:15

Airline pilot uniforms started being used by Pan Am in the 1930s to make the pilots look more professional and experienced which would calm nervous fliers down. If you don't understand, just imagine someone saying "Hey, that pilot looks elegant and professional! He sure knows what he's doing." This is why most airlines require pilots to cover up their tattoos, etc. Pilots are also required to take good care of their uniforms for the same reason.


YouTube channel Mentour has a good video on this subject.

He says Pan Am introduced the Navy style uniforms to pilots in the 30's when they operated flying boats to calm the passengers down.


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