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How the Bomber Became Your Go-To Jacket

From a military staple to a fashion favorite, here’s everything you need to know about the bomber…

The bomber jacket in all of its varieties—from rugged leather-and-shearling to sporty nylon and the emblematic varsity jacket—has become one of the most instantly recognizable hallmarks of classic American style. The zip-up jacket, which traditionally features a slightly rounded shape cinched in by an elasticated waistband and cuffs, was originally a purely functional garment—designed to protect American fighter pilots from the elements during the cold war. From there, the jacket, thanks to the likes of the Steve McQueen and Marilyn Monroe, quickly became a civilian staple, and today both military contractors and high-fashion designers continue to produce a huge range of styles.

Alpha Industries’ MA-1 BomberJacket

One of the most iconic of these designs is Alpha Industries’ MA-1 bomber jacket—made notable by its blinding neon-orange lining, which helped make pilots visible in case of an emergency. Alpha Industries CEO Mike Cirker explains, “Our first [military] contract for the MA-1 jacket came in 1960, and the first true Alpha Industries MA-1 was manufactured for the navy in 1963. We haven’t stopped making it since.” The MA-1’s popularity, in part, comes from its sleek, practical design. Cirker elaborates, saying, “I think people are always attracted to the utility or purpose that a military product can serve…also its simple design [makes it] kind of timeless.” Although the brand’s original army-green nylon style is still available to purchase today, for a lighter spring-ready option try a lightweight version of the classic MA-1 in a creamy white ($140).

Belstaff Stonefield Bomber Jacket

Luxury fashion brands have long put their spin on the bomber, and many—like Opening Ceremony and controversial French label Vetements—have even tapped Alpha Industries to reimagine its classic styles for a high-fashion audience. For an upgraded take on the classic MA-1 style, look to the Stonefield jacket from Belstaff ($695). The style’s sporty lines and waterproof nylon keep the jacket’s military roots on full display, making it the perfect piece to throw on to protect yourself from spring and summer showers.

Berluti Flight Jacket

Berluti—under its new creative director Haider Ackermann—also released an elevated version of the military staple, reimagining the classic leather flight jacket in an ultra-luxe high-gloss lambskin ($8,950, call 212.439.6400 for availability). The style is equipped with the flight jacket’s hallmark shearling collar that, when removed, reveals a cheeky red alligator under collar. The timeless jacket will carry you through spring’s remaining chilly days, and is sure to be a wardrobe heavyweight come fall and winter—it is part of an exclusive pre-release of the house’s fall collection.

Gucci Leather Bomber Jacket with Intarsia

For a twist on the bomber’s classically minimal design, go for a flashy souvenir jacket. The heavily embroidered and embellished style originated in Japan during WWII, where American soldiers covered their army-issued leather aviator and nylon bomber jackets with traditional Japanese symbols and motifs. These ornately decorated jackets have since become a favorite among fashion designers, with brands like Gucci making flashy souvenir jackets—such as this vintage-looking dragon and tiger emblazoned style ($7,500)—cornerstones of its recent collections. For something a little bit more subdued, go for an upgraded version of the classic varsity jacket, a close cousin to the bomber.

Saint Laurent Leather-Trimmed Wool Varsity Jacket

This style from Saint Laurent ($2,390) features the style’s iconic contrasting striped cuffs and waistband, and is upgraded by super-soft melton wool, making it a style that is easy to throw on, no matter the season. (alphaindustries.com; belstaff.com; berluti.com; gucci.com; mrporter.com)

 

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