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The Complete History Of The Bomber Jacket

These days, the quintessential bomber jacket is as ubiquitous as a pair of high-top sneakers. From streetwear devotees to the rebellious youth and fashionably-keen city-to-summit dwellers, bombers are now a staple piece of outerwear in the modern wardrobe for both male and female wearers. Things didn’t always use to be so omnipresent, however, as the original bomber jacket — a variant of the iconic flight jacket — was originally reserved for the Armed Forces in both the U.S. and Europe.

For obvious reasons, the crossover of this once military-centric staple is as prevalent as they come. That’s because, at least today, the contemporary bomber jacket fits just about any style preference, keeps the wearer relatively warm in cooler climates, and boasts just enough of that tribute militaristic look and feel to provide wearers with a stylistic edge over their peers. Clearly, we’re fans ourselves but like anything else, knowing what started the trend and what origins dominated the motivations behind the bomber jacket are just as valuable as the sometimes $600+ price tag modern brands are charging for today’s iterations.

First Appearances

Up In The Air

First off, we’ll begin with the basics. As we’re sure you can imagine, flight jackets — and bombers by default — were initially designed as function-first pieces of outerwear. Why? Because when the flight jacket was first introduced during the tumultuous times of WWI, most airplanes did not have an enclosed cockpit. Needless to say, pilots required a piece of clothing to keep them warm while in flight. It was the U.S. Army that began distributing heavy duty leather flight jackets with their recognizable fur-lined wraparound collars, zippered closures, wind flaps, snug cuffs and waist —certainly something worthwhile in an uninsulated aircraft flying at 25,000 ft where air temps could dip as low as -60°F.It was the U.S. Army that began distributing heavy duty leather flight jackets with their recognizable fur-lined wraparound collars, zippered closures, wind flaps, snug cuffs and waist.

Cue the bomber jacket — the now logical conclusion to smaller cockpits, higher altitudes, and the need for both comfort and insulation for both Air Force and Navy personnel. This all manifested itself in the distribution of the B-15 jacket, now arguably the great original ancestor of the modern bomber. Later, in 1949, the B-15 was upgraded to the now well-known MA-1. And as the most renowned and replicated model since, the MA-1 —  for style purposes — is what most people conjure up when they visualize a bomber jacket. It was also here where the standard midnight blue colorway of year’s past transitioned to a more sage/olive green exterior, especially during its presence throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars for purposes of camouflage with the surrounding environment.

Photo: Original Grain

Function Over Form

Breaking Down The Specs

But what made the bomber so special for our Armed Forces and why does the jacket have such a cult following today? Well for one, it’s all about insulation. As previously stated, the early bomber hosted fur lining for warmth with a wraparound collar as well as cinched cuffs and waists to help keep that warmth in place. Original versions were also constructed from leather as it was the strongest and most heavy-duty material around for jackets. However, as technology advanced and needs changed, fur collars were then replaced with the knitted, elastic collars we’re familiar with today which — at the time — allowed for more room in parachute harnesses. Additionally, it was also at this time when the standard bomber jacket, the MA-1, mind you, began to house a bright orange lining for rescue purposes if needed.

The Original Grain Scout Bomber Watch

A sleek and handsome military-inspired timepiece, the Original Grain Scout Bomber watch boasts a bezel and link accents built from reclaimed ammo wood crates and a strap made from reclaimed military bomber jackets. It’s a subtle yet statemented piece of everyday carry that ticks along thanks to a Japanese Miyota Citizen quartz movement. And it’s also built to last compliments of a Sapphire Crystal glass and 316L jet black stainless steel case.

Purchase: $269

The perceived comfort of the MA-1 bomber jacket also came from the jacket’s silhouette. It’s a true test of timeless style that the bomber jacket remains largely untouched or altered in the more modern iterations. We’re speaking, of course, on the masculine silhouette, fitted waist and relatively generous fit for comfortable movement throughout. Naturally, more modern constructions of the bomber jacket have changed over the years with contemporary designers utilizing materials such as fine leather, wool, silk, satin, and even neoprene. Of course, progress and change are inevitable but the fact that the bomber remains as recognizable as ever proves its purpose in longevity.

The Civilian Crossover

From The Armed Forces To The Big Screen And Beyond

Strangely enough, the utilitarian purposes of the bomber jacket were not technically realized until the ‘60s via the counterculture movement and eventually Hollywood. This was all kicked into high gear when Alpha Industries — previously known as Dobbs Industries — received a military contract (i.e. money) to produce and distribute these jackets across Europe and Australia. Later that decade, British skinheads began adopting these jackets as a means of satire and anti-militaristic expressionism. It also gained notoriety amongst the working blue collar force at the time — and into subsequent decades — as that group started recognizing military-inspired clothing for its durable and affordable nature. The utilitarian purposes of the bomber jacket were not technically realized until the ‘60s via the counterculture movement and eventually Hollywood.

All the while, Hollywood was inadvertently promoting such military-inspired clad in big screen releases with Steve-McQueen-centric films such as The Great Escape and The Hunter. As the lead protagonist in both films, McQueen demonstrated his classic cool vibe in congruence with a Type A personality that’s landed him in the motivations of many fans to this day, all while sporting the highly versatile — and well-fitting — bomber jacket. Combine those efforts, among a myriad others, with the streetwear sensation brought upon by Kanye West decades later and you have your recipe for a solid resurgence in bomber jacket enthusiasm.

Photo: Coldsmoke

Today's Landscape

An Everpresent Tribute To The Original

Today, the contemporary bomber jacket can be seen sported by everyone from streetwear devotees to blue-jean-sporting mechanics and throttle-turning gearheads. It’s a jacket that doesn’t discriminate and it’s clear the bomber jacket is here to stay. Relatively unchanged since the first design broke away from the standard flight jacket in 1949, the bomber is a living example of a timeless design that will remain intact throughout whatever one-and-done fashion fads decide to disgrace us with their presence in the years to come. No hard feelings, of course.

On top of that, we can’t ignore the ever-present charm the bomber jacket has bestowed upon us, with individuals from all tax brackets reaching out for one that suits them in particular. An afternoon at the lake house? No problem. Touring your local aviation museum? Be our guest. Cruising Rodeo Dr. for that perfect gift? Go ahead, that pricy bomber is meant for it. What’s the most important kicker, however, is that by sporting one, whether you like it or not, we’re attributing — and paying tribute — to those who put their lives on the line to keep their countrymen out of harm’s way. And that’s just sheer brilliance.

Original Grain's Reclaimed Military Watch Collection

Looking for a military-inspired timepiece to complete the getup? Nothing completes the task at hand better than a field watch. And with this new collection from Original Grain, each inspired field watch is built from reclaimed military materials including ammo boxes, olive drab tent canvas, and — you guessed it — leather bomber jackets.