Evolution of bomber jackets
By Will Morley, 15 October 2015
If you want to look the bomb, grab a bomber. Starting out as a flight jacket for pilots in World War One, it wasn’t until World War Two that the modern short fit was introduced and was then developed one step further in the Korean war by eschewing bulky leather for sleek nylon. But you don’t have to be a military man to make one work. The bomber jacket has been a mainstay for stylish dudes since its inception and if you’re thinking of copping one, now is the time, as it’s perfect for autumn.
A-2 jackets were awarded to pilots upon completion of basic flight training and were seen as a symbol of pride by those who received them. Much like the later biker gangs of the 50s (who were, no doubt, influenced by their time in service), A-2s were often adorned with various patches and custom artwork – usually that of the plane the wearer flew in – riffing on popular cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse. A red satin lining not only meant that the airman had a keen sense of sartorial flare, but also that he had notched up no less than five aerial kills. Add a touch of vintage heat into your 'fit rotation, and pair with battered 501s, a slick pompadour and some leather work boots.
The A-2 was superseded by the G-1, which is very similar – buttoned patch pockets (no slits to stop dudes from looking sloppy with their hands stuck in them), full zip front and crafted in goatskin leather. The most important and ultimately most recognisable departure from the A-2 is the shearling collar. If a G-1 is a little too Top Gun for your liking, a shearling-collared plaid or denim jacket will give you a very similar silhouette, and bring you up to date and bang on trend. Depending on how you style the rest of your gear (dress down with sneakers and jeans, dress up with chunky Derbies and twill trousers), shearling can either look like the epitome of luxury or the most rugged of materials.
Perhaps the most popular of all the bomber jackets, the MA-1 has been a staple of various subcultures throughout the decades (from mods to skins to happy-hardcore ravers) and now, with Yeezy repping them on the reg, both hip-hop heads and fashionistas have rediscovered them. In the late 50s they were a prime example of the new jet age – nylon replaced leather for more maneuverability in smaller cockpits, the shearling collar was ditched as it got in the way of parachute clips and a polyester fibre filling provided superior warmth. Later models included a bright orange interior, so that if a pilot was downed he could turn the jacket inside out and be spotted from the air more easily. If nylon isn’t your thing, but you want a similarly cut coat with a round collar, opt for a wool varsity or baseball jacket instead.
So what next for the bomber? Well, if you’re a designer like Rick Owens, the only way is down. Take the iconic round collar and pencil-zip on the arm and add a good foot to the length for a thoroughly modern ‘jumbo bomber’ take. Perhaps flip the script on the colour, switching up the classic olive green or black for white, or even go full camo like Supreme did with their MA-1 and The Weeknd did here with his oversized version. Maybe street-goth is the way to go? Create a bondage/straight jacket hybrid like Raf Simons did in 2003. Because the cut is so simple, the MA-1 offers loads of opportunities for straight-up customisation with patches and pins or, even simpler still, layering. Add some visual interest by rocking one over a grandad collared shirt with a hoodie or a longline sweatshirt.