Origins: Bomber Jacket

Doolittle Raiders Pilots Bomber Jacket WWII

Members of the Doolittle Raiders of WWII

The Bomber Jacket was originally created for pilots (as the name implies) but has become a part of mainstream menswear. As with most military apparel, the Bomber Jacket was first and foremost functional and that was its purpose, but that doesn't mean it couldn't contain other uses as well. 

In the early 20th century, airplanes were first widely used as part of a country's military arsenal. The design of the plane's cockpit at the time was an open design which left the pilot exposed to frigid temperatures thousands of feet up in the air. This is in addition to the high speeds which they were traversing leading to buffeting winds. The environment was not suitable for human habitation, therefore specialized clothing needed to be designed to combat the problem.

In 1917, the US Army issued leather "flight jackets" to their aviation personnel. These jackets were characterized by their zipper closure, high collar and fur lining. This would be a significant step towards the widespread adaptation of the bomber jacket. 

Richard Byrd Flight Jacket

US Navy pilot Richard Byrd wearing a flight jacket. 

As the 20th century progressed, technology allowed planes to fly at ever increasing altitudes and along with that, progressively frigid temperatures. In order to solve the issue, the US Army would issued a new and improved design, the A-2 Bomber Jacket. This is the foundational piece that the modern bomber jacket is designed off of. The A-2 features:

  • Waist length for mobility inside the tight confines of a cockpit
  • Elastic closures for the armholes and waist to minimize wind entry
  • Thick leather and front zipper closure for added warmth
  • Plentiful pockets for increased functionality

WWII A-2 Bomber Jacket

The Iconic A-2 Bomber Jacket

Popularity would increase for this jacket design as variations were created. The US Navy would issue their own version called the M44. Other types of military servicemen from paratroopers to tank crew would adopt a variation of the bomber jacket to suit their own needs. As a result, the bomber jacket design could be seen in virtually all theaters of combat in WWII. 

During the decades after the war, the bomber jacket would be popularized by celebrities which led to the design garnering interest from the public. Steve McQueen and Tom Cruise are 2 notable actors that mainstreamed the bomber jacket. 

Tom Cruise and Steve McQueen Bomber Jacket

Steve McQueen and Tom Cruise rockin' bomber jackets. 

The Takeaway: The bomber jacket is a product of changing times. As aviation technology advanced, it led to the demand for warmer clothing for a frontier of human advancement with harsh weather. The demand led to the fulfillment of these needs which in turn led to the adaptation of the design due to the public's recognition of the design's functionality. It has now become a staple in the EveryMan's wardrobe. 

Another Piece that was popularized by movie icons is jeans! 

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