The Bomber Jacket
by Mark Smith
The story of the bomber jacket feels like a familiar one.
War begins, servicemen need something just right to keep them comfy while dropping bombs/firing guns on the baddies. That something just right turns out to actually be really nice looking, well made and following the end of conflict, all the cool lads decide they fancy wearing them, minus the weaponry.
The Ivy Style is rooted in functional Army surplus garments, the duffle coat, the peacoat, the parka... all examples of military clothing which needed a home in the post-war years and found it with several subcultures in the culturally buoyant post-war period. And beyond. Most modern clothing can trace its ancestors back to a war of some sort.
The story of the bomber jacket begins in the name. Also known variously as the flight jacket or the more posh-sounding bombardier jacket, let's stick with bomber jacket. It just sounds a better. Unsurprisingly, the bomber jacket was worn by bombers, or rather the pilots flying aircraft which dropped bombs.
In the First World War, many of the planes didn't have the luxury of an enclosed cockpit, so the pilots needed something that would keep them nice and toasty without restricting movement and taking up loads of space. Through this, the bomber jacket was born.
There's some dispute as to who was first in adopting or popularising the bomber jacket. The first versions were worn by the Royal Flying Corps around 1915, 99 years ago to be exact. The U.S Army adopted a similar idea shortly after. The Aviation Clothing Board was set up in 1917 and began distributing something more characteristic of what we now recognise as the bomber jacket soon after.
By World War Two, the American Leslie Irvine had designed and manufactured a classic sheepskin flying jacket. Irvine himself made his name as a stuntman in the early days of Hollywood, not to mention becoming the first man to make a premeditated parachute jump, which he did in 1919. Decent credentials when it came to knowing what to wear when acting like a nutcase on a plane. Later, his company manufactured all sorts of other stuff, mostly boring in comparison to that original bomber jacket. The company is still going today, despite Irvine parachuting his way into heaven back in 1966.
The early bomber jackets were in such demand that various subcontractors were engaged by Irvine, which accounts for variations in design and colour in the early jackets.
As technology continued to evolve, the open cockpit became a thing of the past, but while protection was now in place for pilots, the temperatures could still plunge to minus 50, meaning the need for a really warm jacket remained, and the bomber jacket remained very much in favour.
In time, variations became almost set in stone. The A-2 jacket and the G-1 were perhaps the most ubiquitous and both were American. The fact both remain a classic look says a lot about the old adage of form following function.
From the late 60s onwards the skinheads and scooter boys favoured the bomber jacket, once again due to its design as something to keep the wearer warm yet not drown them. The short design also continues to appeal in the U.S winter, where police departments tend to favour a version of the bomber jacket, while it has its place in hip-hop culture too.
In the modern era, the sportification of the bomber jacket is what appeals perhaps more than anything else. The evolution of a simple, functional design probably began when brands like Chevignon put their own spin on it, introducing proper 1980s pastel shades and slightly more fancy fabrication.
That new course in the flight path of the bomber jacket took place from the mid-late 80s onwards, to a soundtrack of New Order, Talking Heads, white kids dancing in soul clubs, pure sports casual vibes. Post paninaro, pre-Ibiza. Worn for dropping acid, not dropping bombs.
It was Europe's take on American prep, with the best of British added to it in all the right places.
Today it remains as relevant as ever. A classic garment, born of function and like all the best clothing it's never totally in fashion but never totally out. It's what bloggish buzz words like 'wardrobe staple' were invented for. Everyone owns a bomber jacket of some sort.
While pilots have long since needed to wrap up warm while trying to blow stuff up, the evolution of the bomber jacket means it will be around for a while yet. Here's to another 99 years.