Senior Thesis Paper - A Summary

Women in Aviation
DESIGN COMMANDS EQUALITY: FASHION IN THE COCKPIT

     The global airline industry was valued at 686 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak and is projected to reach 776.86 billion U.S. dollars in 2021 according to IAT.  Prior to the restrictions of travel and adverse effect of pandemic COVID-19, it was growing year over year. Its roots stem from the military and for that reason, pilots attire reflected military tradition. Pan America was the first airline to break this tradition and began designing specifically for the pilot to help create a professional imagine, a business card of sort. Nowadays, almost every airline wears different uniforms. 

     Consider how restrictive these uniforms are as it pertains to women.  Taking into account that in 2020 5% of all pilots are women (according to statistics from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots [ISA21.org]), have women been taken into account into uniform design? This statistic has unfortunately held true for the last four decades. Clearly, the aviation industry is not attracting as many women as it could to fly the commercial skies. I suggest that something as simple as a slight design refresh of the long-established and universal pilot’s uniform could have the profound effect of inviting and welcoming more licensed women into the industry by promoting a woman design as well as traditional male dominant design.

     While designers present new uniform ideas every year, these focus mainly on the cabin crew and not the flight crew. It seems that the female pilots just accept the “uniform standard" and consider themselves lucky to be in cockpit versus serving coffee.  Perhaps they enjoy their newly acclaimed status the uniform brings. 

     I believe there is still room for some improvements in the form of minor tweaks that could help bring the career to the forefront for women. Keeping the look still recognizable but adding slight feminine additions may just be what is needed to encourage more women to consider the career. Having a confident female pilot wearing more feminine appropriate clothing may just do the trick.

     I do not claim to be a fashion designer but there are a few ideas that come to mind when I look at the uniform. The epaulets are an important component to the uniform, with rank being based on the stripes. A minor tweak could make them more elegant. Thinner stripes on the jacket adhered on more of an angle is one possibility along with a double layer for each stripe with something other than a straight edge. A very minor scallop could be an alternative. When it comes to the slacks, offering different lengths and cuts could make them a bit more flattering. The tie is another important accessory that could move to more of a female flair. Perhaps a different type of fabric, a wider width, a shorter length or even a softer knot could be considered. I also noticed that the belt is rather generic. A thinner belt with a more feminine buckle could stand out a bit more. Then there is the hat, if one does not notice the stripes on the jacket, the pilot hat is a dead giveaway so it should remain in play. The flat top stays to keep the naval origin but reworking the bill or the band to match the stripes as noted above is also an alternative. Lastly, the younger generation is very brand loyal. Why not capitalize on that by collaborating with more contemporary brands that females can identify with that use more comfortable, lighter fabric for ease of movement such as Lululemon or Fabletics?

     The thought of more passengers hearing female voices coming from the flight deck will be a huge accomplishment because, “Today, to have a chance to randomly meet a female pilot in the United States, you would have to meet 5,623 women. Wow, so much for progress!” (Goyer). Even with the support of all the aviation companies and groups, the trend can only change if interest in becoming a female pilot is piqued. Maybe some minor design changes can assist in addressing the inequality in the air in order to break the gender mold and promote pilot careers for women around the world. After all, Pan Am turned the industry upside down in the1930’s and all the major airlines followed suit. It is time to rattle the cage again. We can only hope that someday soon by continuing to garner interest and enthusiasm, the tables will turn and the number of female pilots will grow.

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Brief Sketches

SOURCES

1. The International Society of Women Airline Pilots. ISA+21: International Society of Women Airline Pilots, www.isa21.org.

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