Need a costume this weekend for Halloween that’s identifiable but still looks good? James Bond and Don Draper are good go-tos, but those “costumes” can also be worn on a day to day basis. For an original and sharp 60s-style Halloween costume, consider a Pan Am uniform reminiscent of Frank Abagnale’s co-pilot outfit in Catch Me If You Can.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr., international teenage con man posing as Pan Am pilot Frank Black, aka Frank Taylor, aka Frank Roberts
Pretty much anywhere in the world, notably New York, Miami, and France, 1960s
Film: Catch Me If You Can
Release Date: December 25, 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
By the time he was 19, Frank Abagnale, Jr., had amassed millions of dollars posing as a college teaching assistant, a lawyer, a doctor, and – most notably – a Pan Am co-pilot.
Choosing to imitate a pilot in order to fly around the world for free, Abagnale called Pan Am to ask for a “replacement” uniform, decorated it with a forced FAA pilot’s license, and flew over 1,000,000 miles on over 250 flights in 2 years. After flying to 26 countries with travel, lodging, and food all expensed to Pan Am, Abagnale was captured in Europe.
His story was dramatized for the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, with DiCaprio starring as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as his FBI pursuer.
What’d He Wear?
The Pan Am uniform was a symbol of sleek power during the 1960s, described as the peak of Pan Am’s 64-year history as the “World’s Most Experienced Airline”. In the film and in real life, strutting down the street in a crisp Pan Am uniform was a great way to get attention from all passersby, especially the women.
Abagnale begins compiling his uniform by dialing up a Pan Am hotline, requesting a replacement. After nervously being fitted for the uniform of a first officer (“co-pilot”), he is told that the uniform will be billed to the company.
The uniform depicted in the film is a navy blue double-breasted suit with a 4×2 button front and a ventless back. Naturally, there are no cuff buttons as the three gold braids around each sleeve, indicating Abagnale’s supposed rank of first officer, are there. The uniform jacket has a darted front, hip pockets with narrow flaps, peak lapels, and a jetted breast pocket. Directly above the breast pocket, Abagnale wears the Pan Am badge, a gold pin with a wing on each side of the Pan Am globe logo.
The uniform trousers have a single pleat, slash side pockets, and jetted rear pockets. The bottoms are plain-hemmed with no cuffs. On his feet, Abagnale wears pristine black leather laced shoes with black socks to match his black belt.
The uniform shirt is white with rounded barrel cuffs and a slim spread collar. On each shoulder is an epaulette with a navy band attached with the three gold first officer bars. The two chest pockets are pointed with button-down flaps.
Abagnale’s tie is slim and black with a small gold tie bar.
Abagnale’s wristwatch has a dark brown leather band, a silver case, and a black face.
Underneath his uniform, Abagnale wears an undershirt, either a full white crew neck or a ribbed A-neck sleeveless shirt. He wears the crew neck during his first flight and the sleeveless during his last.
Finally, the most difficult detail to get is the hat, a peaked cap with a white crown, a black band, and a black visor. Gold piping from the same material as the sleeve rank insignia crosses the front of the band. The visor is plain black. On the front of the white crown is a large gold Pan Am logo.
Go Big or Go Home
Naturally, I can’t be held legally responsible for anyone who decides to get their hands on a uniform and go flying around the world on an airline’s dime. Luckily, making a Pan Am uniform won’t get you very far as the company folded in 1991. However, it’s a great look especially for a costume holiday like Halloween.
To get the components of the uniform, start with a dark navy blue double-breasted suit at Goodwill or some other consignment store.
Once you get the jacket, try to replicate the 4-button-2 double-breasted front as closely as possible. If it’s a 6-button-2, remove the top 2. Luckily for us, all of these uniforms have the standard navy blue buttons as seen on usual suits (some uniforms have gold buttons!) so they won’t require much modification. On the sleeves, get a knife or pair of scissors and cut the threads attaching the cuff buttons to remove them. You could just yank them off, but then you might have some loose threads hanging out and you’ll be spotted instantly the second you try to take over a plane at the airport. It won’t be the homemade uniform of a defunct airline, it’ll be the sloppy buttons. Trust me.
Get some gold ribbons and sew three bands (or four if you want to be a full pilot) on each sleeve. Get ahold of some cheap gold wings online or maybe even from a military surplus store? Stick ’em above the breast pocket and there’s your uniform.
Underneath, if you don’t plan on taking off your shirt, just wear a usual white barrel-cuffed dress shirt and a black tie with a gold tie bar. However, if you’re a stickler for detail, look for a white button-down with epaulettes and two buttoned chest pockets, possibly at a military surplus store or a security guard uniform outlet.
Throw on a black belt, black socks, and black leather shoes, and you’re done.
Oh, wait – the hat. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky like me to have a cheap white-crowned peaked cap from a novelty cruise line that you were given in 7th grade and can modify with homemade Pan Am badging. If not, let your creative flag fly.
One final detail – with all this flying, you’re more than likely to fly in and out of some sunny places. In Miami, Abagnale sports a pair of military-style aviator sunglasses with gold rims and dark lenses. Randolph Engineering makes very similar styles.
Make sure to get your hands on Sinatra’s 1957 album Come Fly With Me and start with the title track.
What to Imbibe
Abagnale orders milk on the plane for his first trip. However, he eventually graduates to champagne when he has lunch with his father. The delicious (but pricy) Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial champagne is the Strong family’s libation of choice during Frank’s engagement party, so get yourself a bottle and live in high style.
Or, if you don’t like champagne, pour a tall glass of milk.
How to Get the Look
- Navy blue Pan Am first officer’s uniform, consisting of:
- Double breasted 4×2-button jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, ventless back, 3 gold bands on each cuff
- Single-breasted trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted rear pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White Pan Am uniform shirt with epaulettes, button-down flapped chest pockets, and rounded barrel cuffs
- Black slim necktie
- Gold tie half-bar
- Black leather belt
- Black leather derby shoes
- Black socks
- White crew neck undershirt, or, white ribbed sleeveless A-shirt
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
While you’re at it, pick up Come Fly With Me, Sinatra’s 1958 world-traveling concept album.
Dear Dad. I’ve decided to become a pilot for Pan American Airways, the most trusted name in the skies. They’ve accepted me into their training program and told me that if I work hard, I should earn my wings real soon. Please get in touch with Joanna Carlton from the tenth grade. Tell her I’m sorry that I could not take her to the Junior Prom. Love, your son, Frank.