A bomber jacket is one that practically every man has in his wardrobe these days: it’s short, zip or button-up, with cropped hems, knitted cuffs, a little attitude and a lot of versatility. However, there are many variations of men’s bomber jackets and this broad, undefined brushstroke it’s been painted with belies its original functionality and purpose – to serve pilots in the military.
But the bomber jacket – in all its mutations – has become much more than a relic of time-gone-by; it’s shed its war-time skin and become one of the most popular outerwear pieces of all time. It has featured in numerous classic films, been adopted on and off-screen by everyone from Marlon Brando to Ryan Gosling, and played a part in the uniforms of countless subcultures and style tribes. In short: never in the field of menswear has so much been owed by so many.
“The [bomber jacket’s] silhouette is universally flattering,” Alexandre Mattiussi, founder of young Parisian label Ami, tells FashionBeans. “It’s cinched in at the waist while keeping a broad shoulder, and it’s also immensely practical. It’s perfect as a mid-season piece – not as heavy as a coat and can be layered, so it’s versatile.”
What is a Bomber Jacket? A Brief History
The bomber jacket (not to be confused with the Harrington jacket) is just one of many menswear pieces with a heritage entrenched within the armed forces. Similar to the peacoat, trench coat, and parka, the bomber has a timeless appeal that transcends seasons and trends; it was born out of military means and has adapted to form part of popular culture.
The first iteration of this endlessly cool jacket can be traced back to the 1920s. Before this, airmen wore longer, heavyweight shearling jackets that kept them warm – cockpits were open-air at this point – but were largely impractical. The hem needed to be shortened to allow increased movement when piloting, cuffs needed to be knitted to restrict airflow up the arms, and large pockets needed to be added for essential airborne items.
America’s answer was the US Army Type A-1, which was first issued in 1927. From then on, the basic bomber recipe was set. In the successive years, the A-1 was altered and reinvigorated in various forms, from the A-2 that followed in 1931 with its zip, button snaps and leather collar, to the nylon MA-1 introduced in the 1950s.
The bomber’s popularity with civilians is not surprising, especially when you consider the cultural icons pictured in one. Think Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape or Tom Cruise in Top Gun. These films placed the bomber jacket in starring roles.
The bomber has also long been associated with skinheads, from the 1980s-era subculture itself to Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton wearing a khaki version in the opening scene of Trainspotting. More recently, style icons from Ryan Gosling to Kanye West to David Beckham have worn it. The jacket works whether your look is preppy, hip-hop, Scandi, sports luxe or streetwear.
The Best Bomber Jackets for Men
H&M MA-1 Bomber Jacket
Undoubtedly the easiest form of bomber to wear, a pared-back version of the MA-1 jacket from H&M has a slimmer body and no zip pocket on the upper arm. Characterized by a simple zip front and slanted flap pockets, the MA-1 is the most recognizable bomber jacket style and its subtle swagger has seen it widely adopted in fashion and streetwear. This minimal take can be worn with selvedge denim, tailored trousers, tracksuit bottoms, wide-leg chinos – the choice is yours.
Everlane MA-1 Flight Jacket
Everlane’s version of the bomber is a fresh take on the iconic MA-1 flight jacket that originated back in the 1950s as a cost-saving measure. A sustainable choice in menswear, Everlane is a brand that has eliminated 90% of virgin plastic from their production line, so you can feel good as you rock this classic jacket.
US Authentic A-1 Bomber Jacket
If you’re looking for an authentic, high-quality version of the A-1 bomber jacket, try the New York-based company US Authentic. The A-1 was the first mass-produced flight jacket to be issued to the US Army in 1927. Early pieces were made from tough sheep leather and lined with cotton, with later models (like this version) cut from horsehide. You can’t get much more authentic than this, as the original A-1 jacket also featured a button-up front, a characteristic much less common today.
Aviation Leathercraft Irvin Flying Jacket
The ‘Irvin’ RAF Flying Jacket was Britain’s answer to the US bomber and the first iteration of the shearling pilot jacket that would keep thousands of pilots warm during the Second World War. First produced in 1931, the Irvin was fully lined and featured a wider fit to accommodate heavy knitwear underneath. Aviation Leathercraft was founded in 1958 by Simon Green, who himself was a keen pilot, and their version of the Irvin flying jacket is as close a replica as any.
Schott NYC A-2 Bomber Jacket
The successor to the A-1 bomber, the A-2 differed by boasting a zip front as opposed to buttons, a leather collar as opposed to knitted, and shoulder epaulettes. It remains one of the most recognizable bomber jacket styles, though more modern takes have removed the epaulettes on the shoulders and simplified the pocket designs. Schott NYC’s version is crafted based on military specs and is made from natural cowhide with a nylon twill lining.
Overland G-1 Bomber Jacket
Based on the M422A model that came before it, the G-1 jacket of the 1940s looks similar to the A-1, with the most notable departure being the addition of a sheepskin collar. Another classic bomber style, the G-1 was utilized in the military up until the Korean War in the 1950s. Overland has several variations of the G-1 bomber that are crafted with lambskin leather, but have modern updates like the fact that the shearling collar is detachable.
One of the most influential modern designers when it comes to bomber jackets is Kim Jones. During his seven-year stint as the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Jones propelled the bomber into the limelight, showcasing everything from an orange silk version for spring/summer 2015 to metallic and nylon styles for his final autumn/winter 2018 show. Current versions remain at LV, including a monogrammed style crafted from lightweight cotton.
Cult-favorite designer brand Vetements carries oversized versions of the MA-1 bomber that have since become a staple streetwear silhouette. With logo patches and a sporty design, these bomber jackets are far from traditional, but they take the best pieces of the silhouette and add a streetwear edge to bring the style to the masses. The wealthy masses, that is.
Bomber jackets continue to steal scenes on the big screen. Even 007 got on board, with Daniel Craig sporting an Armani bomber jacket for his debut Bond film, 2006’s Casino Royale. That version of the jacket isn’t available for sale anymore, but Armani still offers a line of simple, pared-down bomber jackets with class enough for Bond, like a leather version of the MA-1.
How to Wear a Bomber Jacket
Depending on the iteration you go for, it’s possible to authentically reference the jacket’s air force history. But with a slew of designers from high-end to high street interpreting the bomber season after season, it can be worn in whichever way you choose; from formal looks with a shirt and tie to minimalist ensembles.
“Over the past few seasons, [the bomber] has gone through somewhat of a transformation with [styles] now available oversized, fitted, hooded, streetwise or smart,” says Mr Porter style director Olie Arnold.
Ultimately, the bomber jacket is what you make of it. Regardless of your style, there’ll be one to suit your look, especially given that it’s also available in an increasingly broad selection of fabrics, from velvet and satin to soft moleskin.
The Weeknd perhaps summed it up best, when he told Billboard in 2017, “For my generation, the bomber jacket is like a replacement for the suit jacket. It’s a piece that men wear every day, and it’s something that I would wear for any occasion, whether it’s on the street or going to an awards ceremony. For me, bomber jackets are smart, but they are also street and have a lot of attitude.”
FAQs About Bomber Jackets
Why do they call it a bomber jacket?
Bomber jackets were originally worn by fighter pilots who operated bomber aircrafts to execute strategic raids. They were first worn back in World War I by these gentlemen, which led to the colloquial name used today, the bomber jacket.
What are bomber jackets good for?
Historically, they were designed to keep pilots warm in their open-air aircrafts while they were on their missions. Today, bomber jackets are used as a fashion piece as much as they are used as warming outerwear. A men’s bomber jacket can be dressed up or down depending on the material they’re made from, which makes them a versatile menswear piece commonly found in modern wardrobes.
Is a bomber jacket professional?
With traditional suits falling out of favor in recent years thanks to menswear’s new relaxed direction, the bomber jacket has stepped up and established itself as a viable alternative to full tailoring and can be worn in professional settings. Try using one in place of a blazer with a T-shirt or lightweight knit and finish with sneakers.