The Flight Jacket – A Fashion Staple For Men and Women
The flight jacket, also known as a bomber jacket, was created to keep pilots warm in the cockpit. It eventually became a fashionable clothing item.
Many aviation advances took place between the two World Wars, including the evolution of flight jackets. Cockpits were becoming narrower and more cluttered with technology, leading to the introduction of insulated leather jackets such as the US Army Type A-1.
The flight jacket was a necessity as airplanes began operating at higher altitudes. During World War II, bombing raids saw pilots soaring to heights of up to 25,000 feet, where cockpit temperatures dropped to extremely cold levels. The G-1, or M422A, military-issued leather flight jacket became the recognizable jacket of choice for U.S. Air Force and Navy fighter pilots. It also caught on with a host of subcultural movements, such as scooterboys and skinheads.
Pilots at that time didn’t have enclosed cockpits, so the Aviation Clothing Board began distributing heavy-duty leather jackets with high wraparound collars, zipper closures with wind flaps and snug cuffs and waists in goatskin or sheepskin. But it wasn’t until the advent of the jet aircraft that a slimmer, warmer jacket was developed to fit the needs of new planes. The MA-1 jacket was standardized in 1944 and featured a knitted wool waistband and cuffs, capeskin with shearling lining, two cargo pockets and horn buttons.
Flight jackets have become a fashion staple for men and women alike. You can wear them with jeans or a pair of high-waisted denim shorts, and accessorize with sneakers or a crossbody bag. You can also pair them with a t-shirt or crop top for a casual chic look.
The jackets grew in popularity between the two World Wars as aviation advancements made pilots fly at higher altitudes where they were exposed to cold air and unpressurized cockpits. The first of these new models was the leather US Army Type A-1, introduced in 1927. This jacket was designed with a flattering fit, and the knit cuffs and waistband insulated it from cold air.
Often, flight jackets have art on them to promote esprit de corps, as well as notation of how many missions the owner has completed. Although this art wasn’t sanctioned by the military, commanding officers took a tolerant view as it improved morale.
As a staple of flying, a flight jacket should be crafted from fabrics that stand up to intense conditions. Look for materials that resist flame and heat and are lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking. This ensures that you’re comfortable and able to maintain focus throughout your mission.
In addition to fire resistance, look for a flight jacket with thermal properties that help regulate temperature. This can be especially important when flying at high altitudes.
Sheepskin is often used for its insulating abilities, which is especially critical in flight jackets that are designed to be worn at high altitudes. For example, heavy bombing raids took place at altitudes of 25,000 ft or higher, and pilots relied on their A-2 jackets to keep them warm during these missions. You can also find flight jackets crafted from wool, cotton or silk. If you want to find a genuine military-spec flight jacket, consider purchasing one from a military retailer or buying it from a vintage dealer at a collector show where you can inspect the product in person.
Between the two World Wars, advances in flight technology saw planes ascending to much higher (and colder) altitudes. To combat this, the jacket was updated again. The B-15 jacket replaced the sheepskin and mouton fur of earlier models with a nylon shell and wool-knit waist and cuffs. It also featured a sleeve pen pocket and leather straps to hold oxygen masks.
This version would endure for decades. It was eventually replaced by the G-1, but remains one of today’s most recognized versions of the flight jacket.
It was around this time that the jacket found its first sartorial fans among British youth, in the form of the original skinheads. These youth culture groups embraced the jacket as part of their sartorial expression and appropriation of music, such as soul, ska, and reggae. It wasn’t long before the LGBTQ community also adopted the jacket for its sartorial statement. Today, the jacket continues to be a symbol of subcultures and countercultures.