If there’s one jacket that has stood the test of time, it’s the bomber jacket. Tweed, velvet and more may have come and gone, but the bomber remains in service.
As with many classic wardrobe items, the bomber jacket is embedded in military history, with a past spanning from as far back as WW1.
From its modest beginnings through to the transformation it has taken to become the various styles we see today, here is a brief history of the bomber jacket.
The inception of the brilliant bomber can be traced back as far as WW1, where the Americans took inspiration from the French and Belgians, who wore long, heavy duty leather flying coats around 1915.
Aircraft cockpits weren’t enclosed and due to high altitudes and breakneck flying speeds, it could get extremely cold up with the Gods. The original leather and sheepskin designs were developed to keep pilots warm in their unheated cockpits.
The Americans devised a leather bomber known as the A2; a leather jacket that had high wraparound collars, cinched cuffs and waists, and zipper closures protected by wind flaps. Some versions of the A2 packed additional warmth with added fur linings.
However, when leather jackets like the A2 got wet from rain or perspiration, they became extremely uncomfortable to wear. The water froze in the higher altitudes and made the jackets hard and cold – not exactly the warm wind protection that had been intended.
Jacket designs developed
Still on a mission to keep those daring pilots warm, the A2 went through many variations in design, most notably the B15 and the MA-1. The B15 featured a fur collar, cotton outer, and leather straps on the chest to hold oxygen masks in place while in the middle of a dogfight.
The bomber jackets that we see today are more closely related to the MA-1. The MA-1 design removed the fur collar of the B15 as this got in the way of the parachute harness – hardly what you’d want in a catastrophe. This was replaced with a knit collar, and a reversible orange liner was introduced to aid the brave patriots in visibility if a crash crisis was to occur. A nylon body was added to the jacket to make it water-resistant, to prevent any icy mishaps that the A2 encountered.
In contrast to the classic green you would associate the nylon jacket with today, the bomber was originally a standard issue midnight blue. This changed to the current sage green after the change in terrain when the US waged war with Vietnam and Korea.
After the Korean and Vietnam wars, the bomber jacket began to be worn by civilians as well as military personnel. The jacket could keep people cosy in temperatures ranging from -10 to 10 degrees Celsius, so was perfect for those in milder climates.
Civilians soon saw that the bomber jacket could be worn through winter to spring. However a creepy crawly problem arose when the jacket went into the wardrobe for the warmer months; the hapless bomber fell victim to moths in damp houses of the age. The wool collar and cuffs were replaced with an acrylic knit to prevent moth damage, as well as a switch to a non-quilted liner. Some manufacturers even added extra water repellent treatments for those who lived in wetter conditions.
These changes ensured that the bomber’s service wasn’t ending just yet, as many found uses for the practical design.
60s – 80s
The bomber became particularly popular in punk culture with controversial bands such as The Sex Pistols and Bad Brains donning the look. This was paired with t-shirts, skinny jeans, and Doc Martens. Jackets dyed in bright acid colours were especially popular; not something you’d see in the barracks.
The British answer to the bomber was the Harrington jacket, taken into the wardrobes of the mods. In rejection of this more middle class option, the original London skinheads (non-racist reggae fans) adopted the bomber as their staple look.
80s – present day
Popularity of the bomber jacket rocketed in the 80s due to being featured in several hit films of the decade; most notably Steve McQueen in The Hunter, and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones. Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun secured the bomber’s place in popular fashion.
The bomber jacket still remains a popular wardrobe accompaniment today, being worn by the likes of Kanye West in current fashion. Most high street labels have created their own versions inspired by these original military garments, making sure that this particular garment has no plans to retire any time soon.