Welcome to “What I Wear to Work.” A series on, you guessed it, who wears what to work. Obviously things have changed, drastically, since we launched this series (see our other series, What I wore today working from home). But some people are still very much going to work. Because, for example, it’s hard to fly planes from your home office. If you’re one of those, and want to be featured, see the bottom of this post for instructions. Same goes for those of us who are still doing the WFH thing. Be safe out there.
About the Author: An Air Force pilot for the last 11 years, Mike is currently stationed in the Washington, DC area. He’s currently assigned to getting various official folks from point A to point B by getting a big metal tube with wings to go up and down in a controlled manner. Although he’s often told what to wear by the government, he enjoys finding the right wardrobe pieces that are long-lasting and sharp-looking. Mike also documents his global flying adventures on his successful Instagram page – @vectors_to_final – where he provides followers an inside look at flying and the occasional dad joke (or three).
Background: Air Force pilots, once done with pilot training, split their time between office duties and actually flying aircraft. When I’m “flying a desk” or flying local training flights, I wear a flight suit; when I fly overseas, I wear a suit. Often our “duty day” (from showing up to work to flying to entering the hotel at night) can be up to 26 hours long. The clothing I wear on the road must not only present a conservative, professional image but also be comfortable for very long days.
The Suit: Jos. A. Bank 1905 Collection Tailored (Custom) – $800 (but never buy full price – Jos. A. Bank is known for ridiculous sales). I can hear the eye rolls already at the price and the fact that the suit is from Jos. A. Bank but hear me out… I own both a charcoal and navy suit in this collection for a very important reason – it’s the cheapest (when often on sale) custom-made suit available. Due to my 10-inch “drop” between my chest and waist, I absolutely cannot buy off-the-rack suiting so I’m left to hunt the internet and stores for custom options. I bought both suits (and extra pants for both) for around $1000 at the time. The jacket is half-lined (good) with a cotton-blend poplin (not so good). While wool would be better, it’s also more expensive and I don’t expect to have a long life for either suit. Why? you may ask. Grease from aircraft parts, pant tears from crawling underneath the jet, or just sitting in an airplane for 20 hours leads to a shorter suit lifespan. For these suiting options, I’m trying to balance quantity with quality.
The Tie: The Tie Bar Mini Dots Azalea Tie – $25. Ties are generally a clothing article you can save money on. These 100% silk ties are a great purchase and the available designs mirror what you can find in other stores for about half the price. I wear a 2.5-inch tie-width which is just a touch on the skinny side but for the price, have no problem updating my sizes in a decade when wider (or skinnier) ties are “in.”
The Tie Bar: (seems redundant to say) The Tie Bar Platinum – $16. Hunting for a cheap tie bar is what led me to this website (and the eventual purchase of ties and shirts, too). I make sure my tie bar is narrower than my tie so I wear a 1.5-inch bar with my 2.5-inch and 3-inch ties.
The Shirt: The Tie Bar Solid Non-Iron – $55. I was surprised at the quality of these shirts when I first purchased them on a whim from the internet – they’re a great fit and super comfortable. With a “free shirt” coupon layered on top of other discounts, the Tie Bar runs good deals on their products. Obviously, this non-iron shirt is essential for long duty days.
The Belt: Banana Republic Reversible Leather – $39 ($65). Simple, 2-color leather belt. By the belt being reversible, I never worry about grabbing the wrong belt out of a dark closet in the morning. There are some cheaper options for single-color belts out there but those belts are usually made of inferior leather and tend to have short lifespans.
The Watch: Breitling Aerospace Evo – $4400. Like a lot of pilots, I identify as a “watch guy” so I tend to spend extra money on my watch collection. I’ve been flying with this Aerospace for years and have never regretted the purchase. With multiple time zones, dual analog and digital displays, titanium build (insanely light weight!), and scratch resistance, this is the epitome of a pilot’s watch. I did NOT (and would not suggest it) buy this watch at full price. There are a ton of “grey market” and pre-owned websites to purchase this timepiece from. In addition, companies like Hamilton or Victorinox make look-alike watches for a fraction of the cost.
The Socks: Express Ombre Polka Dot – $11. Even though we abide by a “conservative” dress code, socks are rarely visible. Some guys go super loud with their socks and show them off in the cockpit; most guys go with something more muted. Express (and Express Outlets) often have solid deals on both types of socks.
The Shoes: Ecco Vitrus III – $111 – $180. Before purchasing these shoes, I did a lot of research online about the “best” pilot or traveler shoe. It turns out these shoes don’t have a metal shank (better for airport security) and have outstanding durability. Most important, I can personally attest that these are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn – they feel like you’re walking on clouds. And having to wear them for 24+ hours, that’s a blessing. I own these plain blucher (or derby) shoes in black (so I can also wear them in my Air Force uniforms) and brown quarter brogue bluchers. Did I already mention how comfortable they are? Sold in EU sizes.
The Undershirt: Jockey Grey V-neck $15. Who makes the shirt isn’t a big deal; what’s most important is the color. I opt for a heathered grey undershirt because it 1) is closer to my skin tone under white dress shirts and 2) can be used the next morning as a workout shirt in my hotel gym. Being closer to my skin tone than a plain white undershirt, it doesn’t even look like I’m wearing an undershirt even with a white (or light-colored) dress shirt. On top of that, when I use the previous day’s grey V-neck shirt as workout attire, I save space in my luggage and don’t look like I’m just showing up to the gym in a white undershirt.
Pro Tip #1: Tide To Go Pen – $3. I always keep one of these pens in my bag. Because the day I wear a white shirt is the day the in-flight meal changes to pasta with marinara sauce.
Pro Tip #2: Cotton Handkerchief – $2. I started carrying a handkerchief a few years ago and feel better prepared for the world in general. I use it to dry my hands if the bathroom is out of paper towels, to dust off cockpit displays, to immediately dab up small spills, etc. A minimal investment to counter life’s inconveniences.
Pro Tip #3: Metal Collar Stays – $8. For whatever reason, I tend to misplace my plastic collar stays on laundry day. I never misplace these ones and their hefty weight does a better job at maintaining my collar shape.
Pro Tip #4: Colored Shoe Laces – $2. Again, we must dress conservatively. I add my own style flair by swapping out my brown shoe’s laces with dark blue, maroon, or purple. They’re noticeable if you’ve been flying together with someone for a couple of days but not noticeable enough to catch someone’s eye in passing.
Pro Tip #5: Napkin Holder – $8. Inevitably you hit turbulence midair just as you were taking a bite out of your sandwich or slurping your tomato bisque. While kind of juvenile in appearance, this chain keeps my napkin in place so I don’t stain my shirt and tie.
If you want to take this for a spin (or try the home version! We’re still taking What I wore Today Working from Home submissions), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with who you are, what you do, and what you’d like to submit. To be featured, we’ll need a picture of you at work, as well as the details on what you’re wearing/usually wear on the job. Final image will have to be cropped down to 1500×840 pixels, so, keep that in mind when shooting. Landscape mode please, and let’s keep anything from the chin up out of it, since our eventual robot overlords will one day scalp the web for faces that they can scan and plaster onto their metallic skulls to increase their “trustworthiness.” Note that sending an email with your picks and a pic doesn’t guarantee publishing. We gotta have some variety, y’know? That’ll help your chances. But be yourself. And get your employer’s permission if you’re gonna get specific with your place of work. If you get fired, that’s on you. Good luck. We’ll be in touch.