From the cockpit to the streets to the runway; no other item of clothing has meant so much to so many different people, from pilots to punks to proud feminine feminists. A brief history of the badass bomber jacket.
The bomber jacket as we know it today – lightweight, zip-up, fitted waist – was an invention of the jet age. The heavy leather flight jackets worn by Amelia Earhart and her generation of aviation pioneers were perfect for propeller airplanes and already had that iconic ‘cool factor’ (to give hers a ‘properly veteran appearance’, Amelia would sleep in her jacket a few nights before wearing it). But with the launch of the jet aircraft in the 1930s, planes could fly at much higher altitudes and wet leather jackets would literally freeze in the cold temperatures. Besides, they were too bulky for the streamlined jet cockpits. A sleeker, lighter, cotton version was manufactured with a fur collar: the godfather of our beloved bomber jacket. After World War II, nylon became the fabric of choice and the fur collar was replace by a knitted, elastic collar (allowing more space for a parachute harness). Bright orange lining was added so that a crashed pilot could turn the midnight blue or sage green jacket inside out and be more visible. Voilá, the iconic MA-1 was born
A symbol of toughness and pure ‘badassery’, the bomber jacket or MA-1 would soon cross over to popular culture. Marlon Brando smoldered in a leather bomber in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951), while Marilyn Monroe never looked sexier than when she hopped off a plane to support the troops in South Korea in 1954, wearing black pants and a bomber jacket: a style that highlighted her femininity even more than ‘that’ white dress. During the late 1960s, British skinheads adopted the jacket, pairing it with Doc Martens and rolled up jeans for a hypermasculine look. But a decade later, their look would be re-assimilated by the gay community in a clever and stylish subversion of the skinheads’ far-right idealism; think of Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Sommerville performing the politically-charged ‘Smalltown Boy’ in a burgundy bomber. Within a few years, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier started reinterpreting the bomber for the catwalk, creating fabulously fashionable versions – cropped, embroidered, etc.- that were worn by feminist style icons like Madonna.
And so, the bomber jacket has always stayed in fashion, riding the wave of subcultural explosions, conquering the catwalk again and again. Just recently, former commanderin-chief Barack Obama was spotted wearing a sleek black bomber jacket, prompting Tweets that described him as ‘officially badass’ and ‘totally slaying it’. And ‘Queer Eye’s’ Karamo Brown, who is coming out with his own line of bombers, declared the MA-1 ‘the LBD for men’. Because however we interpret the bomber jacket – whether we wear it as an aviation classic, a hot trend or even as lingerie – it will never be limited by gender, age or style.
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