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Why Did Early Fighter Pilots Wear Silk Scarves?

The scarf is one of the most fascinating items of clothing in history, because throughout the many thousands of years from the early Assyrian shawl to the luxury wool scarf of today, whilst the styles and functions have changed, the scarf has continued to endure.

However, whilst there are many functional variations, each with their long and illustrious history, one of the most fascinating was that in the early days of aviation, an off-white silk scarf was part of the uniform of every pilot around, and the reason why is particularly fascinating.

In the early days of flight around the dawn of the 20th century until the development of closed canopies such as those used on the famous Supermarine Spitfire, pilots would be exposed to the elements whenever they flew a plane.

At relatively low altitudes, strong winds, rain entering the canopy and the rush of speed can be tolerated, but as planes started to travel faster and were able to climb further into the heavens, as well as be requisitioned for combat, aviators needed increased protection.

Alongside the leather caps and tight leather jackets to protect their bodies from the extreme cold, the silk scarf would help prevent the strong winds from blowing into the collar of the jacket whilst they were looking around for aerial threats.

As well as this, the soft silk would stop the high, stiff collars from rubbing against the pilot’s neck, allowing them to move their neck and body around the cockpit as much as they need to.

Finally, the off-white colour was beneficial in itself; at high altitudes, there was a high chance that the goggles the pilot needed to wear to protect their eyesight would fog up, rain would drop on them or oil would splatter on them from the rather unreliable engines of the era.

Here, the scarf could be used to wipe the scarf, and the off-white colour highlighted which area they could clean with so they did not get oil onto their goggles.

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