The bomber went through the lastest decades without a wrinkle. It has transcended its original purpose to become a real icon of the pop and fashion culture. Many pieces of the men wardrobe today take their origin from the past military clothing, and the bomber jacket can be considered as a typical example of transition from the military to the civil world. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the story of the bomber jacket:
Actually, when talking about bomber we mean the MA-1, the one made of nylon, with an orange lining and patches. To understand its story properly, the whole story of the aviator jacket has to be told.
The A-2 bomber
The A-2 bomber has become today one of the most iconic US Air Force jacket. The one american pilots were wearing from interwar years. It was adopted by the US Army as a replacement of the A-1 jacket (wich is dated from 1927), on the exact 9th of may 1931.
Though its present shape could vary according to different brand’s versions, or even according to contracts the army may had with such or such manufacturer at that time, all A-2 jackets had similar features anyway: two flat pockets form the front to warm hands (though hands in pockets was frowned upon into the millitary), a shirt-like collar, leather shoulder pads, elastic cuffs and waist, a light fabric lining (cotton or silk), a leather strap sewn into the jacket to hang it and the “military id card” of the jacket’s owner from the neck. Only one color was offered: brown.
Where to find it?
To be sure about quality, check from “classic” leather brands: Chevignon, Oakwood, Schott, from Forzieri which leathers have a good reputation. We also spotted this jacket from Superdy, then a cheaper one from this brand called Chyston. For those who shoot for a higher range, Gant has this year a nice fashion/military style leather jacket, but real ones would check from Pilot brands: Aero Leather, Cockpit, Eastman Leather, Gibson & Barnes, Real McCoy’s, US Wings…
As more powerful, faster jets were seeing the day, the aviator jacket was also updated in a more modern version. The B-15 appeared to replace its bulky predecessor for U.S. Air Force soldiers. Most of all, it was lighter, ending then the era of military leather jackets worn during World War 2 and starting a change to closer version of the MA-1.
Basically, the B-15 is the fist aviator jacket made with synthetic materials, it suited well for mid-seasons and aviators appreciated the fact that it was thinner, giving them more comfort in the very narrow cockpit of their jet. On the B-15 shape was added new features which can still be found on today’s models: a “pen” pocket on the left arm, slanted zipped pockets and a place to clip an oxygen mask.
Actually, various B-15 types exist. On of the most famous is the one with triangular yokes on the chest so pilots can leave their oxygen mask hanging around their neck when not in use. Later, further features were added to the B-15 like a vertical fabric yoke to keep the oxygen tube in position during high-altitude flights.
Finally, the B-15 has the closest shape to the MA-1, the main difference remains a wool collar.
Where to find it?
Finding a quality B-15 today is no easy task as it looks like brands totally abandonned it. Nevertheless, Schott, Ben Sherman or Canada Goose still offer their own version of the jacket. Small budgets will only have to type magic words on their favorite browser to find a wide choice of B-15 (here for example), but quality will not be guaranteed in this case.
The MA-1 was designed by the U.S. Air force and historically manufactured by Dobbs Industries (will become Alpha Industries later) under the MIL-J-8279 spec. It is originally made of high-quality nylon for the outside and the lining. Bewteen those two nylon layers is inserted another wool layer to keep the body from the cold. After years, it was replaced by polyester, much lighter and preserving the heat better. Both models are very close but the MA-1 had few distinctive features compared to the B-15.
The wool collar was not really adapted to the parachute harness, then it was replaced by a knitted collar (in cotton or wool). On some jackets (from the 1960s), the lining was chosen in a very flashy orange so pilots could be seen in case of crash.
The Alpha MA-1 is the official commercial version of the MA-1, the one we call bomber jacket, probably the most popular version today. As military jackets were made according to “governmental” norms, many features were modified or added when it was launched on the market, most remained over the years. In general, except case of some crazy designer, they leave the jacket’ shape intact. So: waterproofing, using acrylic instead of wool for the collar, changing the lining material were all adopted to make the MA-1 and everyday jacket.
The MA-1 in the popular culture
The jacket has done good service for soldiers since its creation, and the Vietnam War (broadcasted even though the American public opinion was against it) took a wide part in popularizing the MA-1 in the US. People sought after the MA-1 then, so Alpha Industries started comercializing it to other armies and to the public. It soon became popular from young people and remained linked to the international pop culture. At that time, one of the most important movement was the mods which dissidents became skinheads. There, in the UK, the youth indentifying with such a movement started wearing the jacket and liked it for being a simple and versatile piece. A dresscode was created: skinny jeans and high Dr Martens.
Those years were creative in every field of art. At that time, designers really were responsive, quickly adapting their creations to the world they were living in. Thanks to that, the bomber will start to break away from the bad option surrounding it: the official Sknihead jacket.
The MA-1 comes in Hollywood through the front door with Steve McQueen (the hunter, 1980), then confirms with Tom Cruise (Top Gun, 1986). Meanwhile, the bomber jackets enters the youth wardrobe but still keeps its Skinhead reputation. Paradoxically, these years will also see the MA-1 explore new horizons with features in fashion magazines and new movements like hip-hop, worn by MC’s with looser cuts.
Today’ silhouettes are most of the time fitted. According to many trend changesover the years, bomber jackets kept updating while keeping their original recipe. Nowadays, many haute-couture as ready-to-wear designers inspire from it to present their own version of the MA-1. This piece formerly created to resist the most extreme temperatures and to fly in high-altitude has now become a classic. A piece found in collections from brands all around the world which shows no signs of slowing.
Where to find it?
As the bomber comes back under the spotlight, it can be found in every possible way: from many brands, coming in various shapes and colors. From the “classic” (the one we all lost the patch from Schott) to the most luxurious (Margiela, Balenciaga) through many actual brands offering this year their revisited version of this iconic jacket: APC, Diesel, Olow, American Vintage for higher budgets, Jack & Jones or Topman for the lower ones. But if you are a real fan of this kind of jacket and whish to acquire a nice piece, check out the collab between Schott and American College released this year, or maybe the original: the MA-1 From Alpha Industries.