Women’s Flightsuits

The 1982 Sales Flier shows a surplus flightsuit.

I imagine over the years Banana Republic carried some surplus military flightsuits, though there is only one appearance in a catalog, the 1982 Sale Flier. Flightsuits were a staple women’s garment for BR from 1984-1988. I think it’s interesting that they only made them for women, but I guess despite its origin as as a unisex military/utility garment, it only works as fashion on women? Boo!

There were FOUR iterations of this garment. The first (item #4707), sold in 1984, was listed as the “Lightweight Belted Jumpsuit”, which came in several colors (Khaki, Slate Blue, Black, White, Blue Chambray), bore the rare Diamond Tag. It is much different that the later flightsuits.

In Fall 1985 it was made in slightly heavier material and was called the “Expedition Cloth Flightsuit” (Item#4701) and had ankle and sleeve tabs. For Holiday 1986 it was renamed the “Expedition Flightsuit” (#4708), the tabs were removed and darts were added to the midsection to give it a more tailored look. Lastly, in Summer 1987 it was listed as item #4711 and only came in Wine color, then wine, khaki and teal in the Holiday 87 catalog, the final appearance of the flightsuit. #4711 does not have the darts in the midsection and shoulders and is practically indistinguishable in photos from #4701.

A turnaround view of the 1985-86 #4701 Flightsuit without belt. Etsy Sale
Turnaround view of a #4708 shows the tailoring details at the waist and shoulders. Etsy sale.

Expedition Flightsuits came in a number of colors: Khaki, Dark Khaki, Ivory, Lilac, Wine, Grey, and Teal. The hue of the color can vary depending on where it was made. The June 1987 newsletter article below mentions many problems in the supply chain including colors in the washed fabric coming out wrong because the water in Sri Lanka had a yellow tint to it. Blue becomes Lilac, for instance.

Interestingly, ALL versions came with a webbed “Utility Belt”, and regardless of suit color the belt is shown in the catalogs to be either Khaki or Olive Drab. These belts are almost NEVER seen on flightsuits sold on eBay and other places…they must have been tempting to use with other garments and thus easily separated from their original suits.

Flightsuits are rarely sold with the original belt. The belts did not match the suits, but were one color, either green or khaki.
This Flightsuit has a dark olive green belt!
Another look at a webbing belt.

Many thanks to Kimberlee English Anderson for helping me figure some of this out!

The Summer 1987 catalog showed the last version of the Flightsuit in two colors. (Item #4711)

To Make a Flightsuit

The June 1987 newsletter that details some of the many challenges faced in creating these flightsuits. It does not mention the original 1984 Jumpsuit, instead beginning with the 1985 version. Its a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations of the international garment production process. Each color shrinks differently, for instance, or fades in unacceptably even ways; the darts in the waist of the prototype were too shallow and that threw off the measurements; factories went bankrupt in the middle of production. The last flight suit redesign (no darts) in 1987 was delivered in only 3 colors, but only two were sold through the Holiday 1987 catalogue to ensure stores were well stocked (The Summer 1987 catalog only carried #4711 in Wine).

From the catalogue: “Thoroughly flattering to the female form, our pre-washed Expedition Flightsuit is an object lesson in traveling well–strong, comfortable, and efficient, with aerodynamic lines and tailoring details that guarantee grace in action: lightly padded shoulders, four room pockets, ankle tabs. And a price that could clean up in any airfare war.”

Lightweight Belted Jumpsuit (#4707)

From an Etsy Sale. A very rare Lightweight Belted Jumpsuit, missing it’s belt
Flightsuit 4707 has a Diamond tag, an earlier tag usually found on early (1983-84) Indian made garments. Note the RN number 34216 is different from the usual 54023.

Expedition Cloth Flightsuit (#4701)

An easy way to tell if a flightsuit is a #4701 rather than a #4708 is it has ankle tabs and sleeve tabs, and lacks darts in the mid section. However, a khaki flightsuit with those details may be a #4711. There’s no way to tell without a price tag. They also came in Lilac, Grey, Black Olive and Ivory.

Expedition Flightsuits were made in Sri Lanka. Here’s a rare price-tagged example with item #4701.
Dark Khaki version. No Belt.
Etsy sale. Lilac, missing belt. They tried to make the suits in blue but the color came out lilac (see newsletter article).
Lilac 4701

Expedition Flightsuit (4708)

As stated earlier, this iteration of the flightsuit has a more tailored look, with darts in the shoulders and midsection. It came in Khaki, Blue, Black Olive, Ivory, Smoke Grey and Mulberry (Spring 86 update only).

A dark khaki version of the 4708 Flightsuit. Note the darts in the waist to give it a more tailored look. Pics from Kimberlee English Anderson.
Closeup view of the darts.
Darts at the shoulders for tailoring.
Ivory 4708
Khaki 4708, missing belt.

Expedition Flightsuit (4711)

#4711 was the final redesign of the flightsuit, and it first came in only Wine color, then Khaki and Teal in the Holiday 87 catalog (and Wine in stores only), the final appearance of the flightsuit. Without price tags on it, it will be difficult to tell a khaki or teal #4711 from a #4701. #4711 does not have the darts in the midsection and shoulders, just like the #4701. Wine or Teal colors were only offered with the #4711.

Wine colored flightsuit below. eBay

eBay photo. Teal 47011 missing belt.

About The Author

Robyn Adams
Robyn's fascination with Banana Republic began in 1984 when her Alaskan adventurer father began buying the clothing and giving her the catalogs. She loved the clothes and as an artist she was drawn to the illustrations. She went on to study illustration at art college in BR's hometown of San Francisco and worked for years as a background artist for animation. She is now based in Oakland, CA as a graphic designer and illustrator with Secret Fan Base . She's been collecting and archiving at Abandoned Republic since 2011.

1 Comment

  • Karen Myers on December 9, 2022

    Really enjoyed reading the backstory on my favorite BR expedition jumpsuit! I had an original BR jumpsuit in Ivory (around 1986) which I loved and wore for years but finally (and, foolishly) moved on from my closet–to Goodwill–a decision which I still regret. I am turning 70 years old this month (w/a smashing figure, if I do say so myself!) and an hoping to re-locate one in Ivory–just like the one I used to have. Let me know if you see or hear of one in Medium…I could probably also make do with a Large though I’m on the slender side and suspect it might be a little too large in the midriff/belly area. Anyway, kind regards and many thanks for taking the time to explore this wonderful and wearable article of BR attire!

    Karen Myers

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