Steadfast In Style: The Iconic Bomber Jacket

The Bomber Jacket; one of the most storied and versatile pieces of clothing you can ever own. Starting with its origins in the military through differing iterations becoming iconic variations each decade since its inception, it truly is a classic item of clothing. You can view our take on the classic bomber on the following link: Bomber Jackets.

In this post we cover:

  • The origins of the Bomber Jacket
  • What makes it such an iconic piece of clothing
  • It's unique design characteristics that suits all body shapes

When you think about the flight jacket, what is the first picture that comes to mind? If you grew up in the 80s, you might happen to visualise a dashing pilot by the name of Maverick donning a brown leather, badge-adorned, fur-collared G-1.

A couple decades earlier and it may have been Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in a significantly svelte iteration. It’s no secret that in his heyday, Brando would’ve looked good wearing a bin bag.

Whatever decade you happened to grow up in, if it were any point from the 1940s onwards, the chances are some of your favourite silver screen stars, musicians and sportsmen were likely pictured in a flight jacket at one point in time, or a version of one, anyway.

While the G-1 and shearling jackets may be the first port of call, other aviator icons have travelled throughout history, society and culture without much alteration at all. Steadfast in style, let’s dive into the origins, history, and modern importance of the Bomber jacket.

The Bomber is probably one of the most distinctive flight jackets currently in sartorial rotation for several reasons. The simplicity of its design being one; you’ll most often see it with a ribbed collar and cuffs, devoid of any unnecessary fixings or additional pockets.

Bomber Cuff
Bomber Jacket Collar

The silhouette itself is classic in style – voluminous around the shoulders and body for ease of movement, with the elasticated ribbed hem giving it a little shape.

Bomber silhouette

It was this, almost insignificant detail in particular, that I feel has allowed it to be such a staple, for such a long time. It harks back to 1950s and ‘60s America, taps into the stylings that saw much success in the ‘90s (Brooks Brothers, anyone?) and retains all of that in one very timeless piece of outerwear.

Whilst its sibling, the Letterman, owns the preppy title that has had a resurgence in recent times, the Bomber feels like the slightly edgy, not-from-around-these-parts sort of jacket that has a unique, daring, appeal. It can pretty much work with any smart-casual look, which also helps — but more on that later. First, let’s take a closer look at how it came about.

The Bomber's Origins

When I write about outerwear, I often find myself repeating the sentence, ‘As with most jackets, this one was created out of necessity for militaristic purposes’, and yes, this article is certainly no exception.

The only slight difference with the Bomber, however, is that we have to cross the pond. As technology advanced, so did fighter planes. In the 1930s, the majority of jackets that pilots used to wear would be made of leather and shearling in order to keep them warm. However, due to the advancement of military plane capabilities, the higher altitudes they could now climb to often resulted in significantly colder temperatures. 

The risk was that should the jackets get wet, there would be greater risk of water freezing. Not very ideal. A new and improved jacket, the MA-1, was shortly introduced and worn by the United States Air Force.

Significantly less bulky, they were made from lighter fabrics — most typically cotton and later nylon, and the collar was removed as to not interfere with straps and other elements of the cockpit.

It provided pilots with the necessary warmth whilst proving to be lightweight and therefore ideal, whatever the conditions looked like. Also created around the 1950s was the slightly souped up version, the MA-2.

It followed the same principles but with a few alterations including larger pockets, a traditional folded collar, slightly shorter cut and designed in a way to further enhance and support movement. Due to the add-ons, this particular style didn’t really gain as much of a cult following outside military usage, other than with Marilyn Monroe of course.

The Bomber also had one particularly important feature, which strangely defined a part of my childhood: a reversible, bright orange lining. Honestly, when 10-year-old me first had a bomber jacket, I lost my mind at the fact that I could wear it inside out.

The snap buttons were external and internal, as were the pockets. I could wear the black nylon side during the day, and then turn it inside out—the blaze orange outlined by the black trim—for later that day (I was 10, I wasn’t exactly allowed out in the evenings).

The other thing about being a 10-year-old is that you don’t really care much about why things are the way they are. I had never wondered why the internal lining was orange. I just loved the fact it was. The presumed reasoning behind the bright colour was that of search and rescue. Pilots who were downed and on enemy territory could turn the jacket inside out to be located by their allies more easily. Essentially, it’s hi-vis, which makes complete sense and probably better justified than it looks pretty cool...

As I touched upon earlier, these new iterations were usually made from cotton and nylon, and most frequently in navy, black and sage green — the latter specifically during the Vietnam War given the nature of the grounds and surroundings they were in.

Following the war, military use of this specific jacket died down, and it would eventually be discontinued. However, simultaneously at that point, it was given a new lease of life. These jackets were adopted by European military and personnel in the ‘50s due to high demand.

When it started to be worn in more casual circumstances by ordinary civilians, the popularity of it grew pretty much around the globe, rather than just in the United States. Whether it was the punk and skinhead culture and movements of 1970s United Kingdom, the mods of 1990s Japan, or the all-stars of America, the jacket was taking on a new form as the must-have fashion statement. The final catalyst to propel it into sartorial folklore? Cinema, of course.

Who wouldn’t wish they could have been Alain Delon, Steve McQueen (below), or Marlon Brando at one point in their lives? These guys, for all intents and purposes, were the style icons your style icons wanted to emulate.

While Delon proved to be a significantly controversial figure in his later years due to his allegiances, for a lack of a better phrase, the younger version no doubt swooned his way into the hearts and minds of many. The ‘Is-It-A-Harrington-Or-Is-It-A-Bomber?’ Bomber in Once A Thief would look just as good on someone today as it did on him back in 1965. Which, incidentally, isn’t thirty-five years ago, but rather fifty-six. I’m not even that old in the grand scheme of things but just writing that sentence has aged me infinitely. I suppose you’re probably as keen for me to move on as I am.

The celluloid kings of the ‘60s and ‘70s ensured the modern generation had a lot of inspiration when it came to wearing the jacket. But it was adapted by such a wide range of society that it, at one point in time, became synonymous with the working class. These groups stood to go against the grain, often specifically in regards to government flailings and a disregard for the working class societies.

Fast-forward to the early ‘90s, and it was American hip-hop that reinvigorated the love for the Bomber. Naughty by Nature, Onyx and NWA were but a few iconic names that would often be seen sporting the jacket in music videos and shows, and this would continue through the decades thanks to artists like Missy Elliot, Rihanna, and many more.

It transcends borders, backgrounds and society, and unlike many jackets that come from military lineage today, the Bomber is arguably the most universal. One often wouldn’t find peacoats worn by the Equator, nor would you see a Greatcoat adorned in countries that don’t have cold winters. The Bomber jacket, however, thanks to its ability to be made up of light or heavy fabrics, can fit in, no matter where in the world you may happen to reside in. So how would you wear a Bomber today?

A way that taps into my personal style and preference is the preppy, pseudo-Ivy League look. A sage or navy bomber would go quite well with an Oxford Cotton button down, silk repp tie, high waisted trousers and derbies. Throw in a v-neck jumper for the slightly colder days and you’ve got a look that will keep you warm enough all throughout the autumn and into winter.

On a more universal appeal, there’s nothing quite as classic as a simple white tee and dark denim jeans — pretty much any jacket would work with this, so if in doubt, this is how you can go about wearing it. Swap out the denim for cotton chinos trousers when it gets hotter. 

The primary reason it works so well, however, is because the shape of the jacket itself is very flattering. The volume in the shoulders and chest gives the element of broadness, whilst the elastic trim is designed to nip in at the waist. Essentially, it works the same for all different body types, heights and shapes, while still retaining a certain elegance which is hard to find with most other jackets.

I am very stocky for example, so it’s a perfect option for me to wear and gives the illusion that I am somewhat in shape, which I can confirm to you, is definitely not the case. And yet, it would work just as well on my friends that are tall, slim or athletic. There’s beauty in the simplicity of its design, and that, after all, is what makes design beautiful.

You can view our bomber jackets on the following link: Bomber Jackets.