Clothing trends come and go, but the American bomber jacket has stood the test of time. More popular than ever, the fashionable leather jacket is over 90 years old, but many civilians don't know how the bomber jacket got its start.
The bomber jacket's roots can be traced to WWI, where "bomber" pilots with the Royal Flying Corps in Belgium and France were the first military to be issued long leather flying coats in 1915. At that time, cockpits in the fighter planes were not enclosed and leather was believed to be one of the warmest materials available to shield pilots from the harsh, cold elements.
U.S. Takes Notice
The warm coats did not go unnoticed by the American forces for their practicality and warmth, and two years later, the U.S. Aviation Clothing Board was established and they soon began issuing fighter pilots their first leather flight jackets and the term bomber jacket was born.
In 1931, the U.S. Army Air Corps issued its new design–the A2 Bomber Jacket, a waist-length version that became part of the standard uniform issue for the U.S. military and remains today the most popular. The thick leather provided much of the warmth that pilots needed, but it was the additional features that made the real difference. With tight, front-zippered closures, extended high wrap collars, extra-thick wind flaps on the front and tight cuffs with webbed stitching at the bottom, the well thought out design ensured as little wind as possible got into the jackets while pilots were in flight.
Navy officials soon followed suit with their own version of the bomber jacket, the M44 Flight Jacket. At that time, both versions were made from horsehide leather and seal skin. Eventually, demand exceeded availability of both those materials, and today all of the standard-issue bomber jackets worn by the U.S. military are made of only cowhide leather or goatskin.
The fashion industry was quick to take notice of the bomber jacket's popularity and soon civilians were donning their own versions of the leather flight jackets. Through the years, countless Hollywood actors have also helped to glamorize the military bomber jacket that, today, not only symbolizes manliness when worn, but has become synonymous with adventure, honor and many great legends. Now considered a fashion icon, the first bomber jackets made still help to shape the design of many of the flight jackets worn by civilians today.