The Bomber Jacket – Always in Fashion

The Irvin Jacket – Cold Weather Bomber Jackets

The comfortable roomy jacket with the waist hugging hem and versatile function has made yet another comeback in the 2020s. Just check out some of the Best Jackets lists throughout the fashion world. The new Gucci, Paul Smith and John Elliott jackets for 2020 prove the bomber’s appeal is still world-wide. Year after year, decade after decade, the bomber jacket appears at the top of outerwear fashion trends. Widely popular and considered a staple of any fashion closet, this respectable jacket proves anything but staid. So, how did it get to be one of the relatively few fashion elements to remain basically unchanged and yet popular enough to never truly go out of fashion?

Could it be because it’s classic, wearable and versatile with a hint of adventure? Roger that!

The Original WWI Flight Jacket

The flight jacket was created at the turn of the century when aircraft took to the skies. While all air corps eventually adopted the leather flight jacket it was issued in the United State in 1917. The US Army Aviation Clothing Board defined it as a heavy long leather jacket designed specially for pilots. Early pilots needed the hefty leather outwear because the WW1 aircraft had open cockpits and while those early aircraft flew at less than 11,000 feet MSL, the air temperature is literally freezing a little over just 7,000 feet where these planes commonly flew. Fashioned out of heavy horsehide leather, with a long length and wrap around collar these jackets helped stave off the bitter cold of flying in the open high altitude air. While the length shortened and the buttons were replaced by zippers, the material, wind flaps, snug cuffs and sometimes the fur trim carried over into several iterations designed, again, with cold weather flight in mind.

The A-1 Bomber Jacket and Charles Lindberg

The next major change to the iconic WWI flight jacket came in 1927 with the production of the A-1. The snug cuffs were replaced with an even tighter cuff in knit. The body was shortened and a knit hem was added to trap the jacket and hence body heat. This gave the jacket the more recognizable bloused look. The wrap collar was replaced by a shorter knit collar which could still be pulled up but being knit, fit tighter against the neck. One of the best improvements in this style was the addition of functional pockets. This is button up jacket is the style Charles Lindbergh wore before he became famous for his trans-Atlantic flight. The A-1 jacket was replaced in 1931 by the A-2, a slightly more fitted, zippered version with a full leather collar. Still present were the knit cuffs and waistband and the useful pockets. This is the most classic, recognizable bomber jacket to date. It’s the style worn by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

The A-2 Bomber Jacket and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

Following the A-2 came the current standard, the G-1. The plain leather collar of the A-2 was replaced with a sheep skin or mouton skin and the sleeves and body were styled better for greater arm movement. The windflap disappeared but the zipper, pockets and knit trim stayed. While it replaced the A-2 in 1938, it wasn’t officially adopted by the Army Corps until 1943. This is the jacket seen in Top Gun, worn by JKF, George Bush, Sam Shepard and many other icons. A note to history buffs, the A-2 is still issued today but as a re-issue dating from the 1980s and is a different jacket, though similar in function. Also of note, the G-1 wasn’t called the G-1 until after the US left the Korean Conflict. It was called the M-422 and then the ANJ-3A.

The Original and the Re-Issued G-1 (M-422 / ANJ-3A)

So where do all the other features we’ve seen on various fashionable bomber jackets fit into the timeline? Sheepskin, patches, split sleeves, lightweight materials, epaulets … they all had their reasons and their functions.

The sheepskin jacket, B-3 or Sheerling jacket showed up in the 1930s as part of the Royal Air Force issued uniform and became a staple for WWII high altitude fliers. Heavy bombers conducting raids in WWII flew ever higher into temperatures as cold as -58º F. The uninsulated cabins of the Lancaster, Wellington, B-17 and other heavy bombers required the crew be outfitted in something that would keep them from freezing to death but still be able to do their jobs. Leslie Irvin, a stunt pilot who created the rip-cord parachute is also credited with creating the iconic sheepskin jacket. Its single panel bodies and sleeves consumed an enormous amount of fabric, actually from a particularly warm sheep skin from Devon sheep and was eventually abandoned for the more economical and now more popular split seams seen in the A-2 and G-1. Some people argue that this is not a true bomber jacket because it maintained the longer style, slightly fitted cuffs, no knit hem, no patch pockets and bulky look of the WW1 flight jackets. However it WAS worn by bombers, so technically it is a bomber jacket. General Patton wore a B-3 style sheep skin jacket.

The Classic Sheepskin B-3 and General Patton

The lightweight, slimmer fit jackets or the B-6, B-10 and B-15 came about in the mid-1940s when improvements to conditions aboard bombers meant the crew didn’t have to bundle up for such extreme weather. Fabric instead of leather, extra pockets like a pen pocket on the left sleeve (unfortunately not on the right sleeve for left-handers), and a variety of collars, these jackets added functional improvements that made the classic flight jacket appealing to other services, Hollywood directors and civilians. The B-15 is what Chuck Yeager wore when the US Air Force began as a separate branch of the military. Probably the biggest change in the B series jackets from the original A series is changing the fabric choice from leather to fabric. With the advent of heated interiors and heated flight suites, most pilots opted for the lighter weight and more comfortable fabric jackets.

The B-15 Bomber Jacket and Chuck Yeager

While the military uniforms moved away from the classic leather bomber jacket, the style has remained a popular civilian trend. How about those great mid-century vintage finds covered in various embroidered patches? The denim jacket? Other fashion finds from the recent past, inspired by the casual and functional bomber jacket are the 1980s puffy ski jackets, the Members Only jackets and heaven forbid, the hoodie.

The Many Faces of the Modern Bomber Jacket

Whatever the material and the year, the comfortable fit and great look of the bomber jacket make it a classic style that comes back decade after decade.

Want to fashion your own? There are several great patterns. Here is one downloadable link:

Purchase jackets (if in stock) from the last collage at J. Crew, Fresh Hoods, Nordstrom Rack, Levi’s, Todd Snyder, USA Jacket, All Saints, Hero Within, the Top Gun Store, Boogzel Apparel, and Net-a-Porter.

3 thoughts on “The Bomber Jacket – Always in Fashion”

  1. I gave my husband a leather bomber type jacket the first Christmas we were dating. 26 years later he is still wearing it. Good design never goes out of style. Bomber jackets are comfortable and look good on just about everyone too. Plus there is always room to hide a cat inside of one.

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