The History of Bomber Jacket
It’s amazing to think about how greatly fashion has been influenced by workwear or purely functional garments. Most functional clothing might not have started out as “fashionable,” but sometimes happy aesthetic accidents can occur. And as we know with trends, sometimes things just catch on. Everything from blue jeans, to camouflage, to work boots have clocked in some time on the runway. One prime example of this phenomenon is the bomber jacket.
This classic silhouette is instantly recognizable, and has found it’s way into many closets as an item worn purely for fashion.
While it used to be a heavy-duty aviation garment, it is now a closet staple that exudes “cool” for the wearer. Of course we know that this wasn’t always the case.
The origin of the bomber jacket, or flight jacket, can be traced back to World War
I. While flight via airplane was entirely possible, it still did not look much like air travel today. During World War I most airplanes didn’t have enclosed cockpits, Between the high altitudes and breakneck speeds, it could definitely get cold up in the air. Military pilots had enough to worry about without freezing temperatures distracting them, so they needed something to keep them sufficiently warm during flight.
To solve this issue, the Royal Flying Corps in Belgium and France wore long, heavy-duty leather flying coats around 1915. At the time, leather was believed to be the strongest material option to combat the harsh elements. While the Royal Flying Corps - favoured long leather coats, the U.S. Army established the Aviation Clothing Board in September 1917 and began distributing heavy-duty leather flight jackets.
They featured high wraparound collars, zipper closures with wind flaps, snug cuffs, and waists, which we now equate with the instantly recognizable bomber.
Once the Aviation Clothing Board was established, it became clear that these would be an important part of the uniform to implement. The army decided to issue leather flight jackets of their own. In 1932, the style of bomber that we probably most recognize was released by the US Army Air Corps- the A2. A2 jackets were so durable, that originals still exist today, even in good condition.
From here, the bomber went through many variations. The B-15 featured a fur collar, cotton outer and leather straps on the chest to hold oxygen masks in place. This helped to accommodate the pilot’s more modern needs when faced with advanced technology and higher altitudes.
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The 1940’s and 50’s brought a few changes to the B-15 style. This new version, the MA-1, was relatively similar to it’s predecessor, but with a few differences. The most obvious difference was that the fur collar was replaced with a knit collar.
It also featured a reversible orange liner to aid in visibility if a crash should occur. A nylon body was added so that the jacket could be water-resistant.
By the mid-1950’s, bombers began to make their transition from military to civilian
life. Following the Korean and Vietnam wars, people began to appreciate how warm the MA-1 was, even on the ground. The jacket could keep one warm in temperatures ranging from 14-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This made it an ideal garment to be worn from the fall, through the winter and straight into the middle of spring.
As more civilians began adopting the bomber, changes were made to better suit a customer base with fewer functional needs. For instance, the previously wool collar and cuffs were switched out for an acrylic knit (so as to prevent moth damage). A non quilted liner was substituted in, and water-repellent treatments were included for those who lived in damper climates.
By the late 60’s through the 80’s, the bomber began crossing into a more trendy “fashion” territory.
The jacket was perfect for the mild winters in Europe and Australia, and it became a highly popular fashion item for those associated with various countercultures.
Ironically, the bomber transitioned from a uniform to a symbol of rebellion in places like Europe, the U.S. and Japan.
The jacket was a big part of the punk movement, often paired with t-shirts, skinny jeans, and Doc Martens. Jackets dyed in bright, acid colours were especially popular, and created a style that was much more distinctive than its traditional military counterpart.
The bomber’s popularity exploded in the 80’s, as it was featured in several hit films of the decade. Two notable examples were Steve McQueen in The Hunter, and of course, Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones. Additionally, Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun helped to cement the bomber into popular fashion. The combination of celebrity promotion and the fact that the jacket fit so well into the quintessential 1980’s wardrobe made it a classic piece of the decade and years to come.
Today, the bomber jacket still remains in fashion.
The bomber is the jacket version of the little black dress: stylish, functional, and timeless.
It is frequently worn by celebrities such as Kanye West, and re-interpreted into more modern versions by various brands. It seems every label, from high-end such as Raf Simons and Rick Owens, to fast fashion like H&M and Forever 21 has created its own version on this timeless piece.
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