Smith-Daugherty on Sweeting, 'United States Army Aviators' Clothing, 1917-1945'

C. G. Sweeting
Rhonda Smith-Daugherty

C. G. Sweeting. United States Army Aviators' Clothing, 1917-1945. Jefferson: Mcfarland, 2015. Illustrations. 188 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-9396-8.

Reviewed by Rhonda Smith-Daugherty (Alice Lloyd College) Published on H-War (October, 2017) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Printable Version:

Beyond the Silk Scarf: Aviation Clothing and Equipment

C. G. Sweeting provides a detailed account of the creation and changes in flying clothing from the Great War through World War II. United States Army Aviators’ Clothing is essentially a pictorial history that traces the evolution of flying clothing. The book describes everything from headgear and hand protection to underwear and footwear. It also includes chapters on the research, testing, and manufacturing of flying clothing.

The book is organized into categories rather than in chronological order. It is divided into ten chapters and includes over thirty pages of additional material, including appendixes, lists of abbreviations, notes, a bibliography, and an index. The appendixes include orders titled “Kit, Flyer’s Clothing and Equipment,” reports on flying clothing testing, and a section on the preservation of vintage flying clothing and accessories. The book also includes over 150 black-and-white photographs, displaying flying suits, dress uniforms, jackets, and insignias, as well as boots, helmets, and gloves.

Sweeting points out that pilots needed specific types of clothing. Since air warfare was new, pilots’ clothing was modeled on the infantry, which was inadequate for the special needs of pilots. The open cockpit and high altitudes made warm clothing a necessity. However, the cramped space of a cockpit and possibility of an emergency bailout made bulky clothes impractical. According to Sweeting, “some winter clothing was based on clothing and equipment used by arctic explorers, trappers, motorcyclists, and Eskimos” (p. 32). As aviation evolved so did the flying clothing. For example, new equipment like the oxygen mask made World War I helmets obsolete and new headgear was designed.

As the first few chapters point out, much of aviation clothing was created by necessity. Goggles were needed to reduce glare and protect pilots against wind, rain, and insects. The long scarf, often associated with aviators, helped keep pilots warm and could be used to wipe off goggles, windscreens, and instruments. Aviators continued to wear scarves even after closed cockpits were designed. Silk scarves remained popular, but wool mufflers provided even more protection against the cold.

During World War II, the army was faced with the issue of designing flying clothes for women in the air. Flight nurses and female pilots also needed specialized clothing, which was unavailable until 1943. Women Air Service Pilots or WASPs wore men’s flying suites, although the small male sizes were too big for most of the women. Specified uniforms were eventually designed for both flight nurses and WASPs, including some flight suits and dress uniforms.

The book offers more than just a look at aviation fashion. It shows how flying clothing evolved along with advancements in aviation. Therefore, it also includes information about aviation equipment and shows how the use of such inventions as electricity led to heated flying suits and footwear. The book is meant to be informative rather than analytical. However, the work could have been strengthened if the author had provided a concluding chapter. The author’s sources include books and articles as well as regulation manuals, catalogues, reports, and technical orders. For researchers seeking information on aviation clothing, United States Army Aviators’ Clothing provides both written descriptions and visual examples of what pilots wore from 1917 to 1945.

Citation: Rhonda Smith-Daugherty. Review of Sweeting, C. G., United States Army Aviators' Clothing, 1917-1945. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2017. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.