Guide to Bomber Jackets

Bomber and Flight Jacket Guide

Like many classic men’s garments, bomber and flight jackets were originally created as highly functional work wear for members of the military.
Bomber jackets are often called flight jackets, and in fact, the terms can be used interchangeably to refer to one garment. They have a long history, come in a wide number of variations, and are great for casual attire.

Bomber raids over Europe

Bomber raids over Europe required specialized clothes for the extreme conditions

What is a Bomber Jacket?

Today, the “bomber” or “flight” jacket is a general term that describes a set of garment characteristics that was originally derived from military issue jackets that were issued to personnel in the first half of the 20th century. Though the original bomber jacket was designed to keep the wearer warm in very cold temperatures, most bomber jackets today retain many of the same features that made it so iconic in the first place. The jacket is typically constructed from leather, sheepskin, or fabric. The jacket is cut waist length, is closed with a zipper or buttons, and features elasticized cuffs and a hem. The collar can be worn flipped up and secured around the throat for extra protection from the elements.

History of the Bomber & Flight Jacket

Like many other military-based garments, the flight jacket was named after its basic purpose. In the early days of flight after the turn of the century, the open cockpits of planes made flying a cold, windy task. The jacket was initially designed by the military to protect pilots from these conditions with heavy insulation, tight closures around the waist, wrist, and neck, and a tough, weather-resistant exterior. In World War I, the performance materials of the day were all natural products, so flight jackets were constructed of sheepskin, fur, and tough leathers.

Open cockpit flight was cold and windy

Open cockpit flight was cold and windy

Great advances were made in flight between the two World Wars. As the second international conflict was set in motion, planes could climb to even higher altitudes, which exposed pilots to even more extreme conditions (as low as −50 °C) in the unpressurized, unheated cockpits of long-range aircraft. In response to the changing needs of pilots, Leslie Irvin, a British aviator and businessman, created the first sheepskin flight jacket intended for the extreme conditions found at high altitudes.

In addition, planes were now carrying non-navigational crew and high-altitude, long-range bombing raids over Europe had become one of the main aerial missions of the war. It was during World War II that the flight jacket also became known alternatively as the bomber jacket.

Flight and Bomber Jacket Models

Over the years, many different iterations and models of the flight and bomber jacket were created. In the US, “B” jackets were typically based on sheepskin, while “A” model jackets were leather lined with wool, cotton, or silk.

Jimmy Doolittle in a flight jacket

Jimmy Doolittle in a flight jacket

The first of the famous flight jackets was the model Type A-1, which was issued between 1927 to 1931. It was worn by the flying superstars of the day, such as Jimmy Doolittle. The A-1 was the first jacket to feature a knitted wool waistband and cuffs, which would set the design standard for flight jackets going forward. It also featured a capeskin exterior (a kind of sheepskin), two flapped cargo pockets, a heavy cotton lining, and horn buttons for fastening. The military eventually abandoned capeskin, as it was not durable enough to survive the utilitarian purpose it was created for.

Type A-2 Flight Jackets

Type A-2 Flight Jackets

The US Army Air Forces introduced the successor of the Type A-1 Flight jacket, the model Type A-2, in 1931. It was produced in by a wide range of manufacturers across the US until 1943, so many different materials and design modifications were employed over that time. In general, a Type A-2 was constructed of horsehide leather, which was much harder-wearing than capeskin, and lined with silk. It was still designed for open cockpits, which explains the sturdy snaps and reinforced pockets. The A-2’s collar could be closed completely in order to protect the wearer from the wind and the rather slim, functional cut was ideal for the cramped cockpit. As it became clear that the US would join the fight in World War II, the demand for original A-2 materials increased and the A-2 specifications were modified to use goat leather and cotton linings. For a more detailed look at the A-2 jacket, read our A-2 Flight Jacket Guide here.

B-3 B-6 and A-2 Flight Jackets

B-3 B-6 and A-2 Flight Jackets

The owners of A-2 flight jackets were the elite aircrew among military personnel, and they frequently decorated their jackets with artwork and embroidery detailing their combat exploits. The cache surrounding the A-2 eventually carried over to the American public, where it became a classic garment coveted by civilians and military personnel alike. It remains one of the two most famous models of flight jackets, along with its replacement the model G-1, decades after its official discontinuation. Even though the A-2’s successor was originally referred to as either the model M-422A or the model ANJ-3, the model G-1 is now the colloquial term for many variations on a leather flight jacket with or without a fur collar. The jacket got its start in World War II, and was used extensively in various forms in the following decades.

General Patton wearing a b-3 bomber jacket

General Patton wearing a B-3 bomber jacket

In the early 1930’s, the American military took inspiration from Leslie Irvin’s sheepskin flight jackets and created their own: the B-3. The hefty model B-3 flight jacket featured a wide sheepskin collar with two leather straps that could be used to fasten it tightly around the neck. This jacket, like it’s A-letter cousins, was modified frequently in the 30’s and 40’s. Once the cockpits of planes were closed, the need for a less bulky version of a sheepskin flight jacket arose, and the streamlined model B-6 jacket was the result. It featured a slimmer cut, a single leather throat latch, and angled slash pockets.

In 1943, the military introduced the model B-10 as a replacement for the A-2 and the B-6 jackets. As the first flight jacket with a fabric shell and an alpaca lining, it was intended to be lighter weight, less bulky and more versatile that it’s predecessors. Though it was only useful for temperatures ranging from 25-55 degrees, they quickly became the favorite of fighter pilots. The B-10 was so coveted it was worn by many non-flying generals who chose to wear the jacket despite it not being part of their uniform.

MA-2 Flight Jacket

MA-2 Flight Jacket

Despite its popularity, the B-10 was quickly superseded by the model B-15 in late 1944. This jacket was also shortlived, and it wasn’t long until the military shifted models yet again to the fabric MA-1 and MA-2 models as the Jet Age was beginning around 1950. These jackets were typically dark blue or sage green with a bright orange lining, and they featured knitted cuffs and a waistband. The MA-2 had a fold down collar while the MA-1 had a knitted collar. The look of the MA-2 is what most people think of as a “bomber” jacket in the terms of modern fashion.

Top Gun G-1 Jacket

Top Gun once again popularized the G-1 Flight Jacket

Flight and bomber jackets continued to evolve within the military and they were consistently popular with the American public in the last half of the 20th century. Then, in 1986, the bomber jacket, specifically the G-1, would be launched again into the sartorial spotlight with the release of the film Top Gun.

How to Wear a Bomber Jacket

Since the flight or bomber jacket was technically part of a work wardrobe, it doesn’t necessarily have a distinct sartorial purpose in the way a navy blazer or a pair of seersucker pants has. There aren’t any specific occasions or events in which a bomber is the garment of choice.

Modern bomber jacket style

Modern bomber jacket style

This is a jacket that one chooses to buy and wear specifically because of the look, which makes it a flexible jacket to have around when you want to create an interesting combination. A bomber, even though it was part of a uniform, has always been more casual in nature since it was paired with other similarly performance driven clothing, such as flight suits and khakis. It’s easier to have fun with since there aren’t many “rules” to consider.

Here are some tips on how to what to look for in a bomber jacket and how to wear one:

  • Choose a plain, unadorned bomber for the most classic look
  • The jacket should be leather, suede or fabric in classic colors, such as shades of brown, blue, or green; avoid black, which is too formal for a casual jacket
  • The jacket should fit well, don’t buy it oversized or undersized; you should be able to zip it and wear it as a regular outerwear
  • Pair a bomber of flight jacket with elevated casual attire such as khakis, denim, cords and button-down shirts
  • A bomber looks great with casual textures such as knit ties and checked shirts
  • Choose to pair it with leather or canvas shoes that reflect the functional-cool aesthetic of the jacket, such as work boots or brogues; avoid overly casual shoes like trainers and dressier shoes such as loafers
  • Don’t wear a bomber or a flight jacket over another jacket; it adds too much bulk
  • Don’t let your shirt hang much more than an inch lower than the hem of a bomber jacket, or you’ll end up looking sloppy; tuck in your shirt or wear a shorter shirt
  • You can wear it with a t-shirt as a base layer, but keep your pants and shoes polished
Casual bomber jacket style

Casual bomber jacket style

 

How To Buy a Bomber Jacket

There are three main ways to buy a bomber or flight jacket: vintage, reproduction, or fashion. You can buy a genuine vintage flight or bomber jacket, but they often fetch many thousands of dollars and the sizing may be a challenge for the average guy. Since the quality of the original jacket was so high, many vintage pieces are still in great shape. If that’s not for you, we recommend buying a reproduction or a fashion bomber jacket. A reproduction is best for someone if an authentic look, high quality, and longevity are important, and you have at least $500-1500 to spend for a leather jacket. Reproductions of fabric jackets are much more affordable. If you want to spend less or prefer a more modern take on the bomber or flight jacket, a fashion jacket is the best option.

Eastman Leather Reproduction A-2 Leather Jacket

Eastman Leather Reproduction A-2 Leather Jacket

Sources for Bomber Jackets

For authentic or vintage bomber and flight jackets, eBay and specialized collectors are typically the best resources. For reproduction jackets in leather, Eastman Leather (which we wrote a profile about here), Cockpit USA, and US Wings offer a range of leather options in various models. US Wings also offers nylon flight jacketsAlpha Industries offers reasonably priced fabric reproduction jackets.

Conclusion

What do you think about bomber jackets? How do you keep the look both fresh and classic?

Summary
Bomber and Flight Jacket Guide
Article Name
Bomber and Flight Jacket Guide
Description
An in-depth guide to bomber jackets; history, where to buy, and how to wear them in style.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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30 replies
      • Lance says:

        Actually, there’s nothing really warm about a leather flight jacket unless it’s lined with a high-grade insulation. Plan to wear a sweater underneath a regular leather jacket if it’s cold – the colder the weather, the thicker the sweater. The jacket actually serves more as a windbreaker.

        Here in casual California leather jackets are sometimes worn with a shirt and tie in place of a sport coat – but not for serious or formal occasions.

        My well-worn Navy flight jacket has patches from the U.S. and Commonwealth squadrons, ships and bases I worked in as a civilian, but I only wear it to reunions or at sea.

        Reply
    • Monty says:

      I’ve got an A2 and I usually wear it in the early autumn and mid-spring (in Hungary, when weather is moderate, not too cold and not warm). This is when a pullover can be fitted underneath, if necessary. However, I don’t like the fact it has only two outer pockets. But it is a fashion icon, anyway, and I love it.

      Reply
  1. David K. says:

    Raphael, I enjoyed this article a great deal. I’m curious: What can you tell us about the role of the German bomber/flight jacket in German fashion? Does it have similar status? Are American-style bomber jackets also popular in Germany? I’m wondering if other countries all enjoy the idea of a flight jacket, but look to their own designs for adoption.

    Reply
    • Alexander_F says:

      I don’t know in how far my opinion is representative, but having grown up in Germany, I might give an insight. In fact, WWII-style bomber jackets of leather might not be seen everywhere, but the police used to have jackets similar to the M2 and it would not be seen as something too strange to wear one.
      As to the MA 1 and 2 however, I dare to say they don’t have the most positive connotation. At least when I grew up, they were mostly associated with pimps, bouncers, mobsters or nazi-skinheads. This may have changed now and before all within the younger generation, with bomber jackets being now sold in every H&M. However, I, being now 32 years old, am very reluctant to buy one and I guess most of my generation would think similarly.

      Reply
      • David K. says:

        Alexander, thank you for your reply! I was definitely thinking about the A-1 and A-2 jackets, but forgot to be specific about that. (Sorry) I had wondered if those styles might have had a negative connotation in Germany due to our countries’ conflict during the war, but was quite surprised to learn that they are associated with some unsavory citizens. I am 50 years old, and ever since I was a teenager in the 80s, the A-1/A-2 jackets have been consistently popular here in the DC area. I love wearing mine in the Fall and early winter. It gives me a sense of nostalgia for a time period that I never experienced. Fortunately, in U.S. culture, the jackets aren’t connected with the types of folks you described. So, please come visit us and feel free to wear an A-1 or A-2 without judgment!

        Reply
        • Alexander_F says:

          You’re welcome, and I’m glad I could help you.

          And don’t you worry about grudges about your fathers for that bombing thing. Most of us do understand the reason why this happened, and after all, the Raison Bombers and the Marshall Plan more than made up for that. As matter of fact, it would be more dangerous to walk around in clothings associated with the side our grandfathers fought on nowadays, except for some really specific areas :-/.

          I guess, however, that this thing of associating A1/A2-jackets with not exactly cultivated people might be a European thing in general. As a matter of fact, I now live in France, and the associations made with these garments are quite similar, and I see mostly punks or at least rather, let’s say, rugged kind of people walking around with it.
          And thanks for the invitation. It’s good to know there is some place where these jackets are rather appreciated for their function and their, after all, considerable comfort.

          Anyway, with these jackets now being presented on fashion blogs, they will become more accepted, in the end. After all, the TRENCH coat, chinos and t-shirts had a similar background story and they’ve ended up classics.

          Reply
          • TeB says:

            The skinhead association is whole Europe thing. I live in Czech Rep. and there is the same feeling about it like you described, Slovakia and Poland also.

            Reply
    • Lo says:

      During WWII the German Luftwaffe did have at least two leather flight jackets that appeared to be either a form of shearling jacket and light colored and a black leather jacket with a wide fur collar. However, fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe purchased their own leather jackets from civilian sources and followed a range of patterns. Evidently, as long as the jacket was black or dark brown with a collar and modified to accept the appropriate insignia it was acceptable. There are also several photographs of German pilots wearing A-2 jackets modified with German insignia.

      Reply
  2. Eric Langlois says:

    One error I’d like to address: The M-422/G-1 didn’t replace the A-2. The A-2 was an Army design phased out in favor of the B-10 and B-15. The M-422 was a Navy design, replacing the Navy-spec A-1 and 37J1 in the ’30s, and has been issued continuously to Navy personnel since then, except for a brief gap from ’79-’81.

    Reply
  3. Mark in OZ says:

    Dear Raphael,
    Take a look at those made in the UK by the company WESTED LEATHER ; they are superb . The company has been around for many years and are famous for making the jacket worn by Harrison Ford in all the INDIANA JONES Movies .
    Each jacket is individual in construction and a good variety of styles from high quality hides . Send your measurement avd it takes around 21days .

    Reply
  4. James de Saxton says:

    One of my seven or so careers was corporate pilot, and I have an old and very hoary A2 with the finish coming off here and there, fade marks from where patches once were, and wear marks in the elbows and near the cuffs. About every fourth time I wear it, someone will ask if they can buy it from me.

    Reply
  5. Alan says:

    Hello Raphael,

    It would be nice to have a video on this topic. Could you please make one anytime?

    The problem I see is that a lot of bombers are cut wide, I.e. You look like a potato sack… what about that? What to choose as a more athletic build guy? I ordered one model in two sizes last winter, but either the jacket was too tight or it was la la in the chest area but the sleeves were way too long, maybe for an orangutan, who knows…

    All the best from Germany

    Reply
    • Lo says:

      Alan,

      I would suggest looking at the Eastman Leathers jackets or the Real McCoys Jackets. They are cut on original sizes and patterns and consequently have a much more tailored and slim fit. The shoulders also line up properly and you don’t have the appearance of the jacket shoulders ending up somewhere on your upper arm.

      Reply
      • Lance says:

        Alan, you raise a good point. American naval and air force flight jackets are actually cut a bit slim, as the aviators who wear them are assumed to be in top physical shape. I suspect that the ones you’ve seen were considered too snug by their purchasers so they may have bought a size up. uswings.com, mentioned by Sven in the text, will help you find a suitable size.

        Reply
  6. Glenn says:

    Great article. Not affiliated with them in any way, but I recommend Overland for bombers and other quality leather outerwear. I own a bomber and another from them and frequently get asked/complimented about them.

    Reply
  7. Jim says:

    Excellent article! I am a collector myself. There are MANY books out there for those interested and I highly recommend Lost Worlds inc. http://lostworldsinc.com/ for spot on, technically correct reproductions. Their website is a bit dated but contains hours of information glanced over by others. Information such as lists of most styles and variations, different company patterns and deviations, types of leathers/fabrics/liners ,etc., even contract requirements and tag information. They are one of the pricier makers (In Military jackets, you really DO get what you pay for) but they sometimes run awesome closeouts/overruns. And importantly they are one of the few that are produced right in the USA in NYC!

    Reply
  8. Simon says:

    Excellent, well written and informative article. I love many of these jackets. However, it’s important to be aware that in some European countries these jackets have become closely associated with the neo-nazi movement. For example, you might attract the wrong kind of attention if you visited Sweden or Denmark in one of these, unfortunately.

    Reply
  9. D.W. says:

    Be careful the look you you choose with a m-a1. This jacket paired with combat boots or the like with coloref laces. Is often donned by neo nazis and other hate groups. I hope we can all agree this image is a negative and not how we want to represent ourselves as proper gentlemen of the world.

    Reply

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