The old saying “the clothes make the man” refers to appearance. However, when the Navy’s first aviator, Lieutenant Theodore G. “Spuds” Ellyson, wrote a letter to the Navy Department about flight clothing on September 16, 1911, he sought function over form.
The Navy previously outlined the requirements for flight clothing. Officers specified a helmet with detachable goggles or visor and leather coat and trousers, but had put in place no way to provide them. Early photographs taken during Ellyson’s early training and test flights show him wearing civilian clothes and even a full dress uniform while at the controls! Left to his own devices, he outlined in his letter plans to purchase his own flight gear out of pocket (some of which he did from Brooks Brothers) and asked the Navy to reimburse him. At the time, a Navy lieutenant’s pay was about $200 a month.
Today, the Navy provides flight gear for its aviators. Since Ellyson’s time it has evolved with technology, a far cry from what he could purchase off the shelf more than a century ago. Today, the “the clothes make the man … and woman,” protecting them when aloft and also projecting an image of what service in Naval Aviation is all about.