This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Harper's BAZAAR, available on newsstands February 21:
What does the woman aviator wear? This question is asked me as often as any other connected with aviation. Ten years ago I could have described a flying costume. It would have consisted of helmet, goggles, leather jacket, breeches, and some sort of high boots. There were no traditions but those of wartime flying to follow, and both men and women adopted or modified it to suit commercial needs. Also, flying fields were usually dirty, planes were crude, and there were no refinements in facilities, such as passenger waiting-rooms, and so forth.
Altogether, the clothing had to be rather rough. Since the war, flying has under gone the same sort of changes that automobiling did previously. Do you remember the dashing linen dusters and gauntlets and veils of 1908? They constituted an "automobiling costume," and of course one couldn't tour without the proper accessories. At the present time, with the development of luxurious passenger planes, …there isn't the necessity for special dress. One wears ordinary street clothes. Why not? There are comfortable upholstered seats, one can move about at will, read, or write, or sleep. On one line a buffet luncheon is served at no extra charge.
Unlike railroad or automobile travel, one has a clean face at the journey's end… . Even the pilots wear street clothes, usually…From observation it appears that one of the most popular outfits for summer flying is knickers and a sweater. These pilots look more as if they belonged on the fairway than on the runway. When I am flying in my little plane, I usually wear a sports costume with a rather full skirt and a close-fitting hat. Sometimes I slip a leather windbreaker on under my coat, for the temperature drops as one ascends. Most cabin planes are heated, by the way, so even this precaution isn't necessary in them.
Usually, on a solo flight, I wear low-heeled shoes, because with low heels it is easier to keep my feet braced on the rudder bar… On the Friendship flight I couldn't follow the rule of wearing sports clothes. The trip was a pioneering one, and comforts were not thought of. Clothes suitable for "roughing it" had to be taken. For instance, there was no step from the pontoons to the door, and I couldn't have jumped into the plane in a skirt.
Further,…we had dumped everything to sit on, to save weight. Squatting on a rolled flying suit, or kneeling on one knee, or sliding between the large gas tanks wouldn't have left much of a ladylike ensemble…On my transcontinental flight, recently, I had to battle against a severe sunburn…I kept a tube of cold cream in the cockpit, and when I was not otherwise engaged I tried to keep some on my face as a protection. I flew the same plane that Lady Heath, the famous English woman flier, used on her trip from London to Cape Town and back. I remember her telling me one of the absurdities of her journey was pulling out a powder puff and powdering her nose over the South African wastes.
She always carries a mirror and powder puff with her. I hope some time that flying fields will have cold cream and powder service for women fliers. Getting gasoline and oil and mechanical help only, I am sure will not be adequate in time. Seriously, women can make a great contribution to aviation by demanding comfort. Without patting ourselves on the back, I think we are responsible for the development of the gasoline service stations which adorn automobile roads today.
"There's something so special about a woman who dominates in a man's world. It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence, fearlessness, and the nerve to never take no for an answer. Amelia Earhart was such a dynamic force in her industry, setting multiple aviation records in her time. So it was a no-brainer for me to team up with Harper's Bazaar in honor of a woman who held her own with the big boys." —Rihanna