Friday, September 30, 2005

Stripes and Buttons

The stripes you see on a pilot's shoulders as part of our uniform are attached to a flat tube (is there such a thing as a flat tube? or do tubes have to be cylindrical?) that slides over a flap of fabric on the shoulder of the shirt. The flap buttons down to hold the stripes on. There's a word associated with all this: epaulettes, but I'm never sure whether the flap of shirt, or the stripes themselves are called epaulettes. The stripes are ludicrously expensive. If you ever have a job where you have to go to a pilot supply store and buy the correct colour of stripes for yourself, you'll find it runs you $15 to $25 for the pair. When you get a new job, or especially an upgrade to captain, it's important to leave your stripes in a sunny window so they will fade quickly and make you look more experienced.

When you're done flying for the day, and have to walk around in public, you take the stripes off and stuff them in your breast pocket, along with your pen, and your oversized aviator sunglasses. Stopping in to the grocery store while wearing your stripes ranks right up there on the dorkiness scale with tripping over your own shoelaces. I typically rebutton the flap, so it isn't just flapping around. Some companies don't have you wear stripes, just the shirt with the little flaps on, so that everyone knows you're a pilot. Either way, at the end of the day, when I get home and take off the shirt, the little flap is buttoned up.

Technically, according to pilot laundry lore, you're supposed to unbutton the flap before putting the shirts in the wash. I'm not sure where I learned this. It wasn't in flying school. The theory is that if you leave them buttoned, they will catch on something and the buttons will rip off. I think I did it for a while, then stopped bothering, and discovered that the buttons never ripped off.

Until today. A shirt came out of the laundry separated from one of its buttons. I think that's a pretty good average. If I took all the time it would have taken me to unbutton and rebutton shirts over the years, I think that would equal to more than the time it's going to take me to reattach this one button. So I come out ahead.

Someone is probably thinking at this point, "but she has to unbutton it eventually to reattach the stripes, so why not do it before the laundry rather than after?" Except that I want the flaps fastened while the shirts are on the hangers in the closet, so I would have done them up again, anyway. For no particular reason. And if you add in the time I just spent blogging about it, I really have wasted a phenomenal amount of time in buttoning, unbuttoning, rebuttoning, mending and talking about buttons.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Slow Day flying?

Aviatrix said...

Why yes. But how did you know? :)

Anoynmous said...

An epaulette is specifically the stripe (or other device, functional or decorative) on the shoulder.

Somewhere between the time I was a Boy Scout and the time I was [briefly] a Boy Scout leader, the uniforms gained those buttoned shoulder straps and color-coded epaulettes. I don't recall the colors being that expensive. Maybe you can find compatible ones at a nearby Scouting store.

sweavo said...

Next I'd like a study on how much of this occurs to boy pilots. I can't decide which way to lay my money: either they are boys, hence thoughtless, hence don't really care about having their straps buttoned on the hangar, and if they lose a button it means buying a new shirt; or they are boys, hence anally retentive, and have a strict ritual involving the pains-taking ironing of the various parts of the shirt...

aasmodeus said...

Being an engineer, I'd just do away with the tube thing and hot-glue an alligator clip to the back of the stripes. Voila!

Philippe said...

epaulette is a French word that means something like "shoulderette" - you've got to admit it sounds way better. To "earn your stripes" in French is "gagner ses ├ępaulettes". As for the tube shape, I think you could more appropriately refer to them as a "flattened toroid".

Anonymous said...

I somehow was never bestowed this tidbit of button wear-and-tear wisdom, and to date haven't had any button fatalities in the wash. But of course now whenever I wash my work shirts I'm going to be pondering this. To be honest I'm usually more concerned that a random piece of red laundry will find it's way in there and transform my nice white shirts into a lovely shade of pink.

John said...

I use velcro stripes that can be "installed" or removed without unbuttoning the epaulette. So I never unbutton the epaullette, even when washing.

I have yet to lose an epaullet button, so my theory is it's the buttoning and unbuttoning that stresses the threads and eventually makes the button fall off.

I'm no tailor, but should I lose a button I think I still have enough manual dexterity to sew it back on. Now where did I put my reading glasses ...

Anonymous said...

Sweave: hence don't really care about having their straps buttoned on the hangar

I've corrected "hanger" to "hangar" in aviation so often that it is a positive pleasure to be able to point out the need for a change in the opposite direction.

Sort of goes with the "epaulette" theme.

sweavo said...

haha, unintentional, but glad to amuse!

Traytable said...

"if you add in the time I just spent blogging about it, I really have wasted a phenomenal amount of time in buttoning, unbuttoning, rebuttoning, mending and talking about buttons."

Haha, I really enjoyed this post, thanks!!

I have heard many a time the advice about leaving one's new epaulettes outside... and funnily enough I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day about pilots in uniform when not on duty.....!

Mort's Mom said...

My Nana insisted on removing every single button from every item of clothing before putting it through the mangle on wash day. She then spent hours sewing them all back on.
Mort's mom

Anoynmous said...

Removing buttons before using a mechanical clothes washer used to be common. Actually, the problem was the rollers used to squeeze the water from the clothes -- they would break buttons.

Curt Sampson said...

Ah, so this is why in the old days shirts had a detachable collar, and used studs to fasten it to the shirt and fasten the front of the shirt itself.

(While cuff links are still frequently seen in lieu of buttons to fasten one's cuffs, studs as shirt-front fasteners appear to be preserved only in evening wear, and detachable collars appear to have gone entirely by the wayside.)

(And yes, this comment comes a bit late. I bet you didn't know people still read your archives!)