Scarves have been used for both fashion and function for years by people in all aspects of life. In the days of early aircraft, silk scarves were used as barriers to “keep oily smoke from the exhaust out of [pilots] mouths while flying” in the open cockpit. Once closed cockpits were introduced, pilots continued to wear these scarfs to prevent their necks from chafing, especially fighter pilots who had to turn their necks quickly and repeatedly during battle.
Starting during the First World War, it became commonplace for pilots to specifically wear off-white, silk scarves. Both the color and the fabric served a specific purpose. Silk was used because of the smoothness in which it caressed the neck of the pilot. It was important that pilots were fully comfortable and had no distractions that would inhibit their flight. The scarves were off-white so that the pilots could tell where they wiped leaked oil from the plane and avoid wiping their face or goggles with the same oil stain.
Though the pilot scarf has lost some of its function since the introduction of commercial flights and closed cockpits, it has continued to be a staple of the uniforms of pilots and flight attendants. The pilot scarf’s original purpose has served as an inspiration for practical scarves used with motorcyclists and race car drivers today.