One might not always associate fashion with functionality. It is amazing though, how, a lot of workwear or purelly functional garments have left their marks upon fashion’s history. There are plenty of happy aesthetic “accidents” of this sort, like blue jeans or camo, or workboots. A prime example of one such accident is the Flight Jacket.
This classic silhouette is instantly recognizable, and has found it’s way into many closets as an item worn purely for fashion. While it used to be a heavy-duty aviation garment, it is now a closet staple that exudes “cool” for the wearer. Of course this wasn’t always the case.
The origin of the Bomber or Flight jacket can be traced back to World War One. In those early days the first wearers of the flight jackets were the French and Belgian Royal Flying Corps. The pilots used to wear long leather coats intentended to keep them warm in high altitudes, as leather was believed to be the strognest material option to combat the elements. The year was 1915.
The American Army wasen’t late to notice theese particular garments and after the establishement of the Aviation Clothing Board in September 1917, started producing their own flight specific jackets. The first were made out of leather but as technology evolved so did the needs of the modern pilots change as well as the options in materials to use. Jet airplanes had cockpits full of equipement which called for a slimmer silhouted pilot, which in turn ment that the bulky leather flight jackets of old had to be abandoned.
So the American Army started using high quality nylon, which was thinner, waterproof, warm and highly durable. That led to the introduction of the B-15 the forebearer of the most recognisable of all flight jackets the MA-1, which was introduced in 1949 and stayed in use by the Army until the 90’s.
But were does a pure military garment meet the civilian and in extent the fashion world? Well, it all started in the late 60’s and carried on through the 80’s. The jacket’s natural characteristics(warmth, durability, easy to wear, lightness, functionality) made it perfect for Europe’s and Australia’s mild winters. That fact, coupled with the Americana craze of post WW2 Japan and the use of military clothing by the English Skinheads and Punks helped it cement it’s place as an item of the modern street culture. Things really took off though when it was featured in several hit films of the 80’s like “The Hunter” starring Steve McQueen, “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise and “Indiana Jones:Raiders of the lost Arc” starring Harrison Ford.
So the flight jacket was born in the 1920’s, got the silhouete we know and love in the late 40’s and entered civilian service in the late 60’s, shinning all the way through the 80’s. But were is it standing now? Right about in everyone’s closet is the answer. The timeless garment is worn by everybody. From Celebrities like Kanye West, to the high-fashion runway shows of Rick Owens, Raf Simons, Balenciaga and others, to collaboations of staple streetware giants like Stüssy and Supreme with veteran supliers of military spec clothing like Alpla Industries.
Even fast fashion retailers like H&M and Topman have designed their own versions for those on a tighter budget (albeit at the cost of functionality). While newer versions may not be cockpit-ready, there’s a reason that most guys want a bomber jacket: You can’t hate on something that’s as practical as it is stylish. To put it in one word, timeless.