The Bomber Jacket: Where It Came From & Where It’s Going

Easily one of the most popular outerwear styles today, the bomber jacket has quite the history. As you may or may not know, most menswear is derived from military history. Ranging from outwear to shirts, most of today’s common outfits come straight from the military.

The bomber jacket, more technically known as the MA-1 bomber, originated in the middle 20th century. The jacket began as a way to keep World War II pilots warm in the cockpit but evolved into something much more.

Want to know more about the history of the bomber jacket? Read on.

1940’s: The Original

Air combat became popular during World War II and pilots needed outwear that would keep them warm in high-altitude chilly weather. But, they needed jackets that were functional and would not get in the way of plane operation.

As aircraft technology advanced, the cockpit became filled with tech, allowing planes to fly higher and faster. So, the bomber jacket went from leather and fur to wool and waterproof nylon.

Today’s bomber jacket would not exist without influence from the A-2 and B-15. The A-2 was a “horsehide leather jacket with snap button closure, a neck flap, and two flap pockets that adorn[ed] the front of the jacket.”

The B-15 resembles today’s MA-1 bomber and featured a fur collar, ‘pen’ zip pocket on the sleeve and the signature ‘slash’ waist pockets that are still prominent on today’s bombers.

1949-1950: The Official MA-1

The switch to MA-1 jackets happened between 1949 and 1950, but with a few changes. The fur collar of the 40’s were replaced with a knit one as the fur collar would get in the way of the parachute harness. The signature orange liner was added in an effort to promote visibility in case of a plane crash (the jacket was reversible).

The nylon body became the signature thanks to the materials water-resistant ability.

Though sage green is widely associated with the Army – or just about anything military related – the original MA-1 bomber was actually midnight blue. During the Korean War – and the beginning of the 60’s and Vietnam War era – the jacket switched to the classic sage green in order to blend in with the surrounding plant life.

Mid-1950’s: Public Service

After the Korean and Vietnam War, the MA-1 bomber was introduced to the civilian world. Just like the bombers kept pilots warm in cockpits, civilians were kept warm during the winter months. The traditional bomber jackets will keep someone warm in 14 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit weather so they were ideal for those looking for a fall to winter to spring jacket.

For functionality, the wool collar and cuffs were switched to acrylic knit to prevent insects from eating the wool in storage. The lining became non-quilted and some manufacturers added additional water repellents.

During this era, police departments added the bomber jacket to their uniform – especially those in cooler climates.

The Late 1960’s to 1980’s: The Rebellious Phase

Australia and Europe – thanks to their milder winters – were the first to wear the MA-1 bomber in the ‘real world’. When bomber manufacturers began civilian production around the 1960’s to 1980’s, many subcultures popped up in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

Style-wise, the English ‘punks’ would wear their MA-1 jacket over tucked-in tees, cuffed skinny jeans, Doc Martens, and some other military-inspired outerwear such as M-65 jackets and M-51 fishtail parkas.

Punks would shy away from the traditional midnight blue and sage green, preferring to wear a new color: dyed burgundy.

During Japan’s “Americana” phase in the 1960’s, there was an interest in American clothes. Traditionally associated with preppy styles, it also applied to American military wear. The Japanese men wore the MA-1 and even earlier B-15 jacket during the 1960’s and 70’s but styled it more like the previous decade.

1980s: The Hollywood Bomber

We wouldn’t be able to discuss the bomber jackets history without mentioning the films that made it uber-famous. Movies like the “The Hunter” (1980) showed how awesome the bomber can be while Indiana Jones wore the iconic “custom brown bomber inspired by the A-2.”

And of course, Top Gun introduced the A-2 leather jacket with patches – solidifying the MA-1 bombers place in pop culture.

Other films – like This is England and American History X – show the ‘80s and ‘90s styles, too.

The 2000s to Now: MA-1 Meets High Fashion

The bomber jackets of today closely resemble the classic or are tailored to more modern designs. Classic streetwear brands like Supreme or Stussy constantly reinterpret the bomber jacket  - sometimes collaborating with industry icons like Alpha Industries or Schott NYC.

High end labels, on the other hand, will make amazingly accurate reproductions of the classics – down to the last detail.  

Kanye West is reliving the 80s with his confederate flag “Yeezus” Alpha Industries bomber while Raf Simons created a “Pyramid” bomber during his Spring/Summer 2000 Summa Cum Laude collection. Helmut Lang had the famous “bondage” bombers in 2004 and Balenciaga created a floral version.

Fast fashion brands even jumped on the MA-1 bomber bandwagon. Topman and H&M designed versions for the cash-strapped fashion obsessed.

No matter what style MA-1 bomber jacket you’re into or how you style it, there’s no denying this jacket is here to stay.

Looking for a new bomber jacket? Check out our selection here.

Thanks to Complex for inspiration for this article!

(Images via Complex* - Helmut Lang image from Grailed) 


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