The aviator scarf, a piece of rectangular fabric worn by dashing open cockpit pilots, has survived two World Wars and made a mark in the world of fashion. Not many garbs of style have the same historical transformation as these types of scarves. Here, we take a look back at its origins to better appreciate its presence in the halls of fashion.
Silk Aviator Scarf… Not Just for Open Cockpit Airplanes!
Two World Wars
Aviator scarves were popularized during the two World Wars. As the name implies, they were worn by pilots or aviators. Since these items were used in battle, we could only surmise that they were worn out of practical reasons and not just for mere appearances.
True enough, thorough research reveals that the aviator scarf was used largely for three main reasons: shielding from the cold, wiping off oil, and protection from chaffing.
The typical dimensions of these types of scarves are 6 ft long and 14 inches wide. This makes us wonder: why so long? The answer lies somewhere in the fact that the cockpits of pilots who wore these scarves were open. Therefore, at 12,000 ft and speeds above 100 mph, it must have been very windy and hence very cold there.
To counter the cold, the pilot had to wear a thick leather jacket and a leather flying cap. For the neck, the pilot had two options: a thick and tall collar or a scarf. Since he had to frequently turn his head around to spot enemy targets, the solution had to take care of the cold but maintain his maneuverability. As such, scarves were easily chosen. For them to provide optimum thermal insulation, they had to belong so as to be wrapped around the neck many times.
Another reason why they had to belong was that they were also used to wipe off the oil from the pilot’s goggles. Hence, free ends had to be available even after looping them many times around the neck. Since the aviator constantly turned his head around, the neck was susceptible to chafing from the leather jacket’s collar. Thus, the scarf provided the necessary protection.
To provide maximum efficiency, the material had to be light, soft to the skin, but at the same time, strong enough to withstand the battering of strong winds. During that period only one fabric fits the bill: silk. Some scarves were actually made of two layers. For some types, one side was usually made of wool while the other was made of silk. Other types were simply made out of two layers of silk.
There is no established reason for it but the common color for such scarves was white. Many later types had multiple colors with designs on them bearing symbols and insignias that were representative of the pilot’s squadron. However, to this day, plain white has remained the most popular color.
The aviator scarf has now evolved into a modern-day fashion accessory. Still paired with a leather jacket, they are now worn by women who are fascinated with the thrill of the skies or simply the stylish look of donning them. Although a few prefer a black piece, the overwhelming favorite is still the white silk aviator scarf worn over a black or dark brown leather jacket. One noticeable difference is that they are no longer wound around the neck many times. In fact, most are simply hung around the neck and draped freely on the front. They’re no longer necessarily worn in the confines of an open cockpit but they still project the very same air of freedom in one.