The history of the streetwear staple and why you need one
Justin Theroux. John Legend. Kanye West. Pharrell Williams. James Franco. Joe Jonas. Bradley Cooper. David Beckham. Aside from being A-list celebrity men at the top of their respective industries, what do these guys all have in common? In the last few months, they’ve all been photographed by paparazzi in bomber jackets. From the sage green MA-1 flight jacket to quilted jackets to vintage embroidered silk versions, all of these guys have proven that a bomber works for practically every scenario and with every style aesthetic. It’s the rare streetwear item that has transcended its niche positioning to become a menswear phenomenon.
Here at UrbanCrews, we recognize the power and appeal of the bomber jacket. We’ve recently launched several versions to suit every guy’s taste. From the faux leather to quilted to camo to basic cotton, we have a wide range of styles, fabrications and colors to keep you in style throughout the fall.
But the bomber jacket wasn’t always a fashion statement. It actually started out as a more utilitarian item. It was initially so much more than a symbol of great style; it was part of a uniform of those who served and protected.
The Bomber Jacket – A History
In Drive, Ryan Gosling channeled a modern day James Dean in the grisly crime tale. But the other star of the film was his bomber jacket-an off-white satin number embroidered with a gigantic yellow scorpion across the back. As the small indie film gained in popularity, so did this jacket, which was custom made just for Gosling. Today, you can find knockoffs of the movie’s original everywhere from Amazon to eBay. But the popularity of the look back in 2011 is a testament to the staying power of the bomber. It’s a hyper stylish and masculine style move that never gets old.
The real history of the bomber starts back in the early 1940s. According to Complex, World War II pilots faced unprecedented challenges at high altitudes. The weather was cold, but due to the ever-increasing size of modern cockpit technology, these poor guys were left with little room to bundle up. They needed outerwear that wasn’t cumbersome but still provided enough warmth. That’s where the bomber came in.
In the beginning, there was the A-2, a jacket made of horsehide leather that had a button closure and neck flap for extra coverage. The B-15 built on this design with even more function. It had a fur collar and sleeve pockets with metal hardware. These details, mainly the fixed collar and sleeve pockets, lived through to today’s bombers.
It wasn’t until around 1950 that the MA-1 flight jacket appeared. Instead of the plush fur collar, a knit collar was added to reduce complications experienced with the pilots’ parachute harnesses. The jackets were lined with orange synthetic fabric to improve visibility in the event of crashes. It was also here that jackets were made with nylon for the first time. Nylon was a new material and had many advantages since it was water resistant.
Today, the MA-1 flight jacket is most often sold in a sage green, a color that was adopted to help with camouflaging during the Vietnam War. But they originally started off as blue jackets.
Later in the 50s, the general public started to reap the benefits of the bomber’s warmth and water repellent qualities. No longer just a staple of the military, civilians everywhere began to enjoy the jacket, more for its functionality than its style. Even the police adopted the jacket as part of their uniform.
From the late 1960s to the 80s, the bomber jacket made its transition to official style icon. Mod dressers and British skinheads adopted the outerwear piece as a signifier of their signature aesthetic. Despite the fact that these guys weren’t in the military, they often paired the jackets back to other military items. The look was desirable around the globe, including a military-inspired counterculture movement in Japan.
But soon, the jacket abandoned the counterculture and become the item of choice for Hollywood’s tough guys. To be clear, the bomber jacket had been around in the movies for quite some time. Marlon Brando and James Dean, two guys who are typically credited with the popularity of the basic white t-shirt, proudly rocked distinct bomber jackets in their classic films, A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel Without a Cause, respectively. Steve McQueen and Robert DeNiro kept its spirit alive through the 60s and 70s. But in the 1980s, the bomber jacket showed up more often, and thus became more desirable.
Guys everywhere wanted to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun back in 1986. A movie star for the ages, Cruise rocked a brown bomber with a flamboyant fur collar and dozens of military patches. It was a look that guys everywhere wanted to emulate in their everyday lives. In fact, it’s one that guys still harken back to on Halloween.
Other Hollywood tough guys kept wearing it from Bruce Willis to Edward Norton. In the movies, the bomber jacket became an indicator of toughness.
Since the early 2000s, designers have taken repeated stabs at the piece. Instead of sticking to the basic qualities, they’ve turned it upside down by changing the colors and adding modern details that make it distinctly current. From mass market brands like Express and H&M to luxury design houses like Tom Ford and Saint Laurent, the bomber jacket became an absolute must.
And today it still is. The bomber jacket started as an easy solution to a military warmth problem. It evolved to become the ultimate symbol of masculinity for two generations.
Why You Need One
Like the pilots of WWII, you need an easy solution for warmth that isn’t bulky. The problem with most outerwear is it becomes your outfit. Think about pieces like a duffle coat, trench coat or Macintosh. When you’ve got these on and fully buttoned, all anyone sees is your coat. Sure, they’re all timeless men’s fashion pieces that have style on their own. But in order to stay warm or dry, you have to sacrifice your fashion sense. If you ask us, that’s a lot to give up just to fight the elements.
A bomber jacket is rare in that it helps you stay warm and dry, but it also ups the style ante of your look. It’s a piece that packs in a ridiculous amount of style on its own thanks to color, fabrication and minor details. Unless it’s especially treacherous outside, you can wear it unzipped and show off what’s underneath. So instead of camouflaging your outfit, you have yet another element of style.
Not to mention, bomber jackets are just bad ass. They’re sleek and trendy but not to an exhaustive degree. They add just a bit of “bad boy” feel to your look and, thanks to their sleek cut, work in favor of flattering your physique. Additionally, they work with every type of aesthetic. Whether you’re on your way to an important date or a coffee run, this jacket is the definition of versatility. A bomber jacket is a win-win situation for every guy.
How It Should Fit
In order to get the full benefit of wearing a bomber jacket, fit is really important. If you’re a fan of vintage shops, the bombers you’ll encounter will seem a bit oversized. It’s likely these are the real deal, designed to keep pilots warm while they were in the air. But the modern bombers call for a more appropriate fit.
For a jacket like our Quilted Bomber Flight Jacket, the following fit details are a must.
With any jacket, the spot where you’ll notice fit right away is your shoulder. An old-school fit test involves trying on a jacket and wrapping your arms around your torso. You’re basically hugging yourself, which seems silly. But it’s actually a good indicator of whether or not your jacket fits. You should be able to comfortably cross your arms without feeling any type of restriction. If you feel like your shoulder is going rip open when you do this, size up.
A visual cue for shoulder fit involves your shoulder seam. The seam should fall directly in line with your shoulder bone. If it hits the middle of your trap or falls down closer to the top of your bicep, your sizing is all wrong. The modern bomber is all about nailing the fit. Experiment with different sizes until you find the one that fits your shoulders correctly.
Around your torso, your jacket should fit comfortably. The “hugging test” will be a good indication of this as well. But ideally, the jacket should fit slim without squeezing or feeling tight. Like a good t-shirt, it should simply rest atop your body without squishing it. If both your shoulder and torso fit well, then your collar should be perfectly aligned. It should rest gently around your neck without pulling. If you feel any discomfort in this area, it’s likely something else is off with fit.
As a general note, expect that bombers will still look slightly bulky around your midsection despite their slim fit. Due to the depth of pockets, quilted designs and insulation, they’ll add on a little size. This is normal-the warmth has to come from somewhere.
How to Wear Them
When it comes to styling, this is where you have full autonomy. A well-fitting bomber jacket looks great with just about anything but there are some suggestions to make it look amazing.
With color, bombers tend to look best in rich, fall colors. Black is always a winner of course. But you can also get more adventurous with colors like Olive and Timber. These are jewel tones that are appropriate for the season and add some depth to your look without being overbearing.
For those guys who lead a more casual life, add in some layers to help your bomber stand out. Underneath, try mixing in a hoodie and a bold graphic t-shirt. Finish it off with a pair of tailored sweatpants or joggers and some understated trainers. The look is relaxed but doesn’t sacrifice one bit of style in the pursuit of comfort.
If you’re hoping to add a little flair to your look as you head into the office, keep the other aspects of your look simple so your bomber can shine. Underneath, try a solid woven dress shirt and a knit tie. The variation in textures will add depth to the look without having to rely on color or design. Pair your look with chinos (trousers might be too formal) and finish it off with some classic shoes.
For a little bit of punk edge, our Faux Leather Bomber Jacket with Hood gives you a dark, masculine edge that can work in either scenario. If you’re looking for the jacket to do most of the work, try our Camo Bomber Flight Jacket. The design works well with lightly colored garments like light blue denim, gray hoodies and white tees.
To make things a little more fashion-forward, try adding in a longline. The length of the tee creates a play on proportion that gives your look some fresh, new layers.
At first glance, bomber jackets may have seemed like the hot men’s fashion item that’s clouding your Instagram feed. But these jackets have been around for decades. Unlike other men’s staples, the bomber has always been stylish and functional. It has continued to get better with age without losing any of its original appeal. Whether you’re a devoted streetwear fan or a guy who just wants to liven up his look a little, the bomber jacket can work wonders for you. It’s the rare item that looks good on every guy, in every color, in every fabric and in every aesthetic. When you think of versatility, it really doesn’t get any better. If you were still on the fence about adding one to your wardrobe, rest assured this is one style move you have to make.