Thoughts

Thoughts

Joined: July 6th, 2005, 12:04 pm

June 30th, 2010, 12:48 am #1

Prestige suits - Typically they were issued to pre-war pilots who were flying during air shows such as Hendon. I have a photograph of Eric Lock wearing what appears to be a white prestige suit but he never flew the Hendon shows and didn't join up until 1939. Any thoughts about pilots getting these 'after the fact'?
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Joined: February 28th, 2004, 3:00 pm

June 30th, 2010, 6:20 am #2

John,

See the post three or four down this page and my comments on these suits.
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Joined: July 21st, 2008, 7:16 pm

June 30th, 2010, 9:44 am #3

Can't remember off the top of my head who it was, but I am certain I read a book by a BoB fighter pilot, and he said (when he listed the kit he was issued) that he was issued a lighter-weight flying suit in addition to his Sidcot...which made me think it might be a Prestige Suit, although it's news for me if they were actually issued....(although AM marked ones were made so this would support that theory)
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Joined: July 6th, 2005, 12:04 pm

June 30th, 2010, 1:32 pm #4

John,

See the post three or four down this page and my comments on these suits.
Actually Alex and re-reading your posts below about the suites being used by those involved in racing, it occurred to me that Eric bought a racing motorbike from a chap that was killed (well, bought it from his widow I suppose) while racing. I don't think he was ever involved in the sport - other than wanting a fast bike. But he could have conceivably bought such a suit for riding. Or I suppose that he could have just purchased one for comfort in flying. I know that in the Auxiliary squadrons this would have seemed more a faux pas - wearing such a suit if you were not a 'veteran' flyer. But Eric was VR. I'm not even sure if the suit is a white prestige suit, but certainly it looks the part. Come to think of it, I believe I have seen other pilots wearing them that certainly couldn't have been flying in the pre-war air displays. Interesting to look into.
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Joined: September 8th, 2004, 10:02 pm

June 30th, 2010, 2:36 pm #5

Can't remember off the top of my head who it was, but I am certain I read a book by a BoB fighter pilot, and he said (when he listed the kit he was issued) that he was issued a lighter-weight flying suit in addition to his Sidcot...which made me think it might be a Prestige Suit, although it's news for me if they were actually issued....(although AM marked ones were made so this would support that theory)
These suits were usually a private purchase item rather than RAF issue. The University Air Sqaudrons typically used white suits.
I have a University London Air Squadron (ULAS) white suit which was a non-military issue, made by "Richards". I posted photos of this suit in a prior post last year.
Cheers
Neil
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Joined: February 28th, 2004, 3:00 pm

June 30th, 2010, 7:02 pm #6

As mentioned, an extract from my previous post...

''They were originallly worn by racing drivers with the manufacturers commonly 'D. Lewis', who made flying and driving attire for the civilian market. Pilots of the Auxiliary Air Force seem to have been the first to wear them - they were usually pretty financially well off, and it became their trade mark - with Gieves of Bond Street being the preferred supplier. Not to be out done, the R.A.F. began to issue them to certain pilots for special events in the early 1930s, in particular the aerobatic display teams...

...In 1935 they became official issue for crews taking part in the Mildenhall Review, and were adorned with the Squadron badge.

When many of the Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve pilots were drafted into the R.A.F. at the very start of the war, they continued to wear the white suit, but there seems to have begun a slight change, in that the wearing of rank and wings became more common on the suit and the replacement of buttons with black plastic or brass R.A.F. issue ones. I cant recall ever seeing white suits worn by any other aircrew trade in the early war period (Air Gunners, Observers, etc)identified by brevet...''

As with any military kit, if it was good you tried to get hold of it for yourself. AM marked suits are not uncommon as they were, in the 1930s, on official issue to the RAF. In other cases, such as Eric Lock mentioned in the first post, its highly likely that if he was not a pre-war AuxAF or VR pilot he would have come across the use of prestige suits through other pilots and either borrowed one or otherwise obtained one (private purchase or issue) as a more comfortable means of flying attire.

A similar case happened a few years ago, when the British Army began to use private purchase Norweigan Army shirts, which had a zip collar, towelling lining and were otherwise extremely comfortable and popular. So much so that they are now made here and are official Army issue now.
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Joined: July 21st, 2008, 7:16 pm

July 1st, 2010, 4:32 pm #7

Actually Alex and re-reading your posts below about the suites being used by those involved in racing, it occurred to me that Eric bought a racing motorbike from a chap that was killed (well, bought it from his widow I suppose) while racing. I don't think he was ever involved in the sport - other than wanting a fast bike. But he could have conceivably bought such a suit for riding. Or I suppose that he could have just purchased one for comfort in flying. I know that in the Auxiliary squadrons this would have seemed more a faux pas - wearing such a suit if you were not a 'veteran' flyer. But Eric was VR. I'm not even sure if the suit is a white prestige suit, but certainly it looks the part. Come to think of it, I believe I have seen other pilots wearing them that certainly couldn't have been flying in the pre-war air displays. Interesting to look into.
They were AM issue, so it's highly likely as well that he was issued the suit...
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Joined: July 6th, 2005, 12:04 pm

July 1st, 2010, 5:57 pm #8

Actually all so-called prestige suits that I've seen (not many originals) were privately made and not issue. Certainly if this was issued as a lighter flying suit they were discontinued as impractical as the war began. But given the lack of widespread use I still am apt to believe that even as an issue item they were issued to display teams and that sort of thing, or privately purchased. A white flying suit isn't very practical in a relatively dirty cockpit except for the flash and verve of a Hendon air show. The darker suits were also worn, but again not in real numbers. If this were a standard issue suit, I should think that all pilots would have preferred them and we would see a great abundance in both photographic evidence, and on the collector's market. The sidcots, while warmer, are bulky and difficult in a single seat fighter. The prestige suits would have been ideal to protect uniforms (or wear during a scramble when time was of essence). The fact that you don't see large numbers except in pre-war squadrons would tend to preclude the theory of wide-spread general issue.
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Joined: July 21st, 2008, 7:16 pm

July 1st, 2010, 7:39 pm #9


That's an interesting thought, but from the book I read and paired with Alex's insight, I was under the impression that when the AM saw that the suits had caught on in the University Air Squadrons, they then had AM marked ones produced and it became issue. It was then the Pilot's choice whether or not to wear the suit.

But the way I see it, in the hot Summer of 1940 the suit would be ideal to wear over just the shirt and tie/scarf as it is probably thinner than the SD-Jacket, but quite wearable.

Also, they came in both black and white, so whilst the former would be prone to damage and dirt, the latter wouldn't show this as much.

But this is quite an interesting subject.
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Joined: February 28th, 2004, 3:00 pm

July 1st, 2010, 8:58 pm #10

As with any military kit, servicemen tend to wear whatever is most comfortable and practical for the job in hand. The same is true today as it was during the war. Many times the said serviceman isnt issued with the kit, but instead buys it, borrows it or pinches it. How many stories have we heard of the British Army having to buy their own kit for the current conflicts as the issue stuff is either crap or non existant?

In the case of Prestige suits, they were, initially, a civilian made and bought (and worn) item, and came from several different manufacturers, 'D. Lewis' being the most well known. Civilian flying in the 1930s was pretty much exclusive to the rich, which changed with the advent of the Civil Air Guard in 1938. The CAG too had their own flying suit, much like the Prestige, but in a mid-blue denim. That was, its true, more of a uniform (as the CAG was a flying scheme not a unit and thus had no 'proper' uniform), but civilian made overalls were not confined to white, or dark blue. Bear in mind the Prestige suit is not strictly a flying suit in service terms, as it has no provision as cold weather clothing. Pilots and other aircrew who wore them would just as likely wear warm weather clothing underneath, but would wear a Prestige suit for a range of other reasons, such as it being lightweight, having convenient pockets, less bulky, or simply as it easily covered uniform. It would not really have been worn because it was warm, was electrically heated etc.

I cant say for certain that the Air Ministry / RAF NEVER issued a 'D. Lewis' made suit, with a Lewis lable. Its quite possible the initial ones given to display teams and the lilke were simply civilian suits. But the RAF did make official issue of them on a scale from the mid 1930s.

Thats not to say a pre-war AuxAF or VR pilot could not buy or wear one, nor a serving RAF officer buying his own, even during the war, although with rationing they would , I expect, be a lot harder to find. As the Prestige suit is not strictly a flying suit, many photos of the period would I expect, show an airman simply wearing overalls (especially if they are dark in colour) of some sort, while those made by the various manufacturers would likely differ in several details anyway.

Ive never seen any evidence that the overalls were ever standard issue in the RAF, although their issue was selected. However, the wearing of non-standard clothing by aircrews was usually accepted when flying as their comfort was considered the more important.

You could ask yourself, 'What is a Prestige suit?', as no suit was ever made by a company called 'Prestige' as far as I know. Would a suit by D Lewis DEFINATELY be a PS? If you found one labelled 'Property of Shell Motor Co' but you have evidence it was worn when flying, does that make it NOT a PS? No 22C stores number was ever given to them, despite them being official issue for some.

To put it in a nutshell, any airman at the start of the war could wear one, be it bought (if they had the money) borrowed or pinched. As specialist clothing came in, such as the battledress, heated suits, liners and the like, the less flexible civilian alternatives rapidly started to disappear, although should an airman particularly like them, there was nothing to stop him wearing one throughout the war.

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