Inflatable life jackets, invented in 1928, quickly became part of the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) flight gear. What also came quickly was their nickname: Mae West.
After the plane hit on the tail and then went forward on to the nose it settled back on to the tail. I was completely submerged. I loosened my safety belt. This took me about 25 or 30 seconds as it was wet and seemed to be jamed [sic]. After I got it off I noticed that my Mae West had been torn off. I then stood on the seat of the plane and removed all of my clothes except my undershorts.
The life jackets were given their nickname due to the generous bulge they gave airmen around their chest—a bulge similar to the physical endowment of the movie star they were named after.
Mae West was a racy actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age who was known for her voluptuous body and bold playwriting (she was arrested for one of her plays for ”corrupting the morals of youth”). She was a shameless temptress and proudly made her name as an American sex symbol.
Mae West was sent a greeting from the Goldfish Club after the war. Their members solely include those whose lives were saved by a life jacket or another floating device after jumping from a plane (crashed or still airborne). She replied saying that she was flattered to have the life jackets nicknamed after her.