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Remembered Today:

A Great War French Aviateur's Uniform on a Budget


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Greetings All and Happy 2011,

A little over a year ago I entered into a project that began, innocently enough, as a way to display a group of original WWI French and Belgian medals and awards I had collected together over the years. My intent was to inexpensively create a French aviateur's tunic to serve as the "backdrop" for the awards. However, it evolved over the course of time into a quest to build an entire uniform, just to see what might be accomplished with the smallest budget one could maintain. Here is the finished ensemble, as of yesterday, proudly standing in the corner of my WWI flying room, (i.e. den).


I was originally inspired by one of the dark blue tunics worn by George Guynemer, and after some initial hunting around I came across a near-perfect late 1940's USMC tunic in Kersey wool that was almost identical in style, size, and color. I purchased it as my starting point for $40 and began alterations. I added the cuffs and their top piping, reshaped the lower pocket flaps, and replaced all the buttons with a beautiful set of Légion étrangère brass which I found for $22. This is in historical keeping as many Great War French pilots sported items of attire from their former units, and I had decided that my tunic would represent one of the numerous American volunteers who joined the French Foreign Legion at the beginning of the conflict and transferred to the French Air Service, eventually to serve with Escadrille 67, (as I am a fan of Navarre).

The next item I needed to sort out was the trim used on the lower sleeves for the rank chevrons on the French tunics. This photo of Georges gives a good example:


I discovered that the trim is called "soutache" and it is the same kind of banding as that used on the officer's kepi, (also seen in the above photo). I was lucky enough to run across an eBay vendor in Amsterdam who had a spool of some vintage, French-made gold soutache in a 6.5mm width which was a perfect match. Since I had decided to create the tunic of a Sous-lieutenant there would only be a single line of trim and one yard was all I needed. Cost: $9 including shipping.

The collar flashes proved to be the toughest bits to come up with on a budget. I could have had Hand and Lock make a pair in bullion to match the originals for a C-note, but that would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. I continued to look for alternatives and as I searched I serendipitously came across an outstanding pair of vintage lace-up boots that may well have been from the Great War, along with a proper Sam Browne belt also from the same era. I was able to snag the lot for $86, which changed my original plans of creating a tunic only to that of putting together an entire French uniform.

I expanded my search to now include a kepi and red trousers, and to make this rather rambling story somewhat shorter let me sum up: I did eventually locate some old badges I was able to deconstruct and rework into collar flashes for $10; found a 1950's era Légion étrangère kepi for $30 which I cut down to a Great War style and reranked to Sous-lieutenant; and scored a vintage pair of red wool trousers in perfect shape for $24 to which I added the blue officer's stripes. A few other odds and ends that tacked another $21 onto the project and I finished up with a final total investment of $242. Genius or madness? I know which one my wife has been leaning towards.

Vive la France!



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Far be it from me to suggest that the memsab might be incorrect, but the uniform (to someone who knows next to nothing about French air force uniforms) looks splendid!


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Many thanks for the comments Bruce, much appreciated Sir. As to memsab being incorrect, there are those rare occasions when she is somewhat less right, but she is never incorrect. Just one of the myriad things I've learned over the years.


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