What started out as a long leather coat to keep pilots warm while flying in open cockpits during World War I, has now become a fashion staple worn world-wide.
In the U.S.
In 1917 The U.S Army had established the Aviation Clothing Board and distributed heavy duty bomber jackets to their flight crews. These were long and cumbersome, but did the job and also started a trend.
In the U.K.
In 1926 Leslie Irvin set up shop in the United Kingdom as the main supplier for flight jackets for the Royal Air Force. He had designed and manufactured the classic sheepskin jackets and now with World War II, along with demand rising, he contracted with several other shops, explaining the differences in design on jackets from that day.
Back In the U.S.
In the 1930s the U.S. Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force, issued the A-2 bomber jacket. Made of seal skin leather with a cotton lining, the jackets soon changed to horsehide as that was much more readily available. The A-2 was the waist length jacket with webbing at the waist and end of the sleeves to keep the cold out and are similar to what we wear today. Later on, MA-1 flight jackets were made out of nylon to reduce the weight and add mobility. Though there were several variations of design and materials, the leather flight or bomber jacket is what is most popular to this day.
And On to Fashion
Many groups of society have latched on to the flight jacket as an identifier of their affiliation. The Mods of England in the sixties, Skin Heads world-wide, and Punks, Goths and every sub-group in between has adopted the MA-1 flight or bomber jacket at one time or another. Famed Sci-Fi Author William Gibson once remarked, “The MA-1 is a very complexly iconic garment, having manifested in a number of subcultures since its initial military issue in the 50s.”
Hollywood Pitches In
Flight or Bomber jackets have been seen in movies for years and once Hollywood latches onto a style, its popularity soon follows. Steve McQueen in the Hunter, Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones present just a few of the iconic visions of the flight jacket seen in popular movies.
Where Are They?
Google flight jackets and you’ll get something like 9,800,000 hits. They are available everywhere clothing is sold. Prices and quality range from cheap knockoffs to high quality versions. A quality example can be found at Remington 1816 as they wed the famous name of Chuck Yeager into the flight jacket style with their Yeager Flight Jacket for $889.
Variety is The Spice of Life
Any style or color imaginable is out there today. They come as versions of the A-2 the MA-1, the G-1 or many other variations. Still called Bomber or Flight jackets, they can be lightweight made with nylon or cotton or heavier made with lambskin, leather, sheepskin or goatskin. Whatever style you pick, you are wearing an icon, so wear it proud and wear it well.