The bomber jacket: from the Korean war to the Milan catwalks (via Millwall terraces)

Who hasn’t noticed in the last couple of years that the bomber jacket had become an unavoidable item in a fashionable wardrobe?

However before becoming a mainstream fashion piece, the bomber jacket (or flight jacket) has been in existence for at least five decades; the original model being the MA-1 flight jacket.

From the 1950’s on, it was worn by U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots as well as ground crew. Earler flying jackets were fleece-lined and featured heavy fur collars; these were very warm but not adapted to the new military jets that could fly at much higher altitudes than ever before, which meant that a jacket that had become wet through rain or perspiration, turned into an uncomfortable frosty crust. Also, their cumbersome design could interfere with emergency exit from cockpit. The nylon bomber jacket however was perfectly adapted to cold temperatures while being sleek and light.



F-102 Delta Dagger Pilots of 438th FIS, 1959

While companies like Dobbs industries made flying jackets, it is Alpha industries which secured a US government contract in 1963.

Typically made of nylon, with knit cuffs, knit collar and waistband, with a a pencil pocket on the left upper arm, two flap pockets, a heavy front zip, made for teh jacket to be reversible. Originally navy blue and sage green, with a bright orange lining for visibily should a pilot need to be rescued.

Later on a black model was produced, and Alpha industries started to sell to the general population in the 1970’s (under the names Concord Industries and Intercon Apparel). Other companies, often former military contractors were present on the same market and this further helped expand the range of colours available.

As a civilian item of clothing, Steve McQueen made it an iconic piece in “The Hunter” (1980).


However on the streets it is mostly the skinheads that will wear the bomber jacket from the very late 1970’s onwards. For nearly a decade it became nearly synonymous with the right-wing urban tribe (99% of skins in those days – unlike their 1969 predessessors – would have been right wing sympathisers).

kop boulogne
French skinheads supporting Paris St Germain in the mid 1980’s.

However when the fascist skins started to die out, or got replaced by a new crop of less violent, non-racist shaved heads, the bomber jacket started to lose the stigma it had acquired (at least in Europe) during the 1980’s. Worn sporadically by young people – no longer suburban, but rather educated and wealthy – during the 1990’s and 2000’s, it literally exploded towards 2013-2014, and is now nearly unavoidable on the runway.

Below, some examples of how it is worn these days.

Dsquared had naturally made inroads in the style with the “Skihead” collection, but the last few years have seen the jacket declined in every fabric and colour.


Above, various bomber jackets from recent D2 collections. As you can see it is very much variations on a theme.

For some reason, I still do not have one. I am very tempted to get the AW16-17 model, which was the last look of the recent Milan show. My only concern is that I might look like a latecomer to a party that is nearly over…Well, even if it is over soon and people get sick of the look, no doubt it will resurrect ten years or so from now. Long live the bomber jacket!

AW16-17. Will I or will I not???

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