Bomber jackets were originally designed with functionality in mind. Pilots in WWI needed something to keep them warm while they flew at freezing high altitudes. They were immortalised in fashion when Tom Cruise wore one in the movie Top Gun. Every man, woman and child wanted one as they epitomised the virtues of suave and cool. Bomber jackets gave wearers an edgy, intrepid-adventurer look. It’s doubtful that many slaves of fashion gave any thought to the fact that their latest acquisition saved the lives and limbs of countless airmen in both world wars.
Aeroplane cockpits in WWI weren’t closed as they are today. It was clear that pilots needed something to prevent them from being frozen to death or losing limbs to hypothermia as temperatures could go as low as -50 degrees Celsius. In an effort to solve the problem the US Army established an Aviation Clothing Board. In 1917 they started distributing heavy-duty, fur-lined leather flying jackets. On the opposite side of the Atlantic, the British Royal Air Force was trying to come up with a solution of their own. It was only in 1926 that Leslie Irvin found a solution when he designed a sheepskin flying jacket that was immediately snapped up by the RAF.
While they have kept the classic look and style of traditional bomber jackets, modern designs have been tailored to fit modern men. In general, men were smaller in the 20s and 30s than they are now. They were thinner and didn’t have the V-shaped bodies that define today’s fit young airmen. The shoulders in particular have had to be broadened to fit modern physiques.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the period after Top Gun, bomber jackets were at their peak fashion-wise. Their popularity slowly declined after that, with only bomber die-hards keeping them in the front of their cupboards. But they are expected to make a comeback, as fashion fundis predict their resurgence in autumn and winter of 2007/2008.
The prospected trend is borne out by the fact that some of the hottest celebrities have been spotted out and about wearing bomber jackets. While it’s doubtful whether Tom Cruise will be able to lead the fashion
Nowadays the jackets are made from a range of materials ranging from traditional leather to silk and synthetics such as nylon. They are even available in metallic colours, as opposed to the traditional black or brown. Those in the know say that they can be worn with tailored shirts and skinny ties: a trend that is sure to amuse war veterans. It seems that however you choose to wear them, they will always carry the air of a maverick.