The Ultimate Guide To Flying Jackets
Gone are the days when men’s flying jackets were reserved exclusively for pilots. Evolving into timeless, stylish and functional pieces, these bomber-style jackets are now a key asset in any wardrobe.
But how did these jackets come to be made? And how did they transcend military uniforms to permeate the fashion market?
Follow our ultimate guide to flying jackets as we explore their history, the types available and how to style them.
Table of Contents
- What is a flying jacket?
- This history of flying jackets.
- What are the different types of flying jackets?
- How to style a flying jacket.
What is a flying jacket?
A pilot's jacket is called a flying jacket or a bomber jacket - likely called so because of the WWI bomber plane pilots they were designed for. They are characterised by insulation, ribbed waistbands and cuffs that keep the wearer warm.
Since their creation, flying jackets trickled into mainstream fashion, eventually bursting into the mass market thanks to their use in popular culture.
The history of flying jackets
World War I
The original flying jackets were created in 1917 by the US Aviation Clothing Board. They were shearling jackets lined with fur, designed to keep pilots warm when flying at high altitudes in open-air cockpits. In a zip-up style, flying jackets also had knitted cuffs and a waistband for maximum insulation.
World War II
As aircraft technology improved, the altitudes that pilots could fly at increased. As the cabins were uninsulated, the need for a heavy, warm jacket was essential for every pilot. Designs evolved, and we saw the introduction of nylon materials to create lightweight jackets that offered the same warmth and comfort but were water-resistant and kept perspiration out.
In the 1970s, bomber jackets became a popular style with subcultures. British skinheads became one of the first subcultures to adopt bomber jackets which saw the jacket become associated with anti-establishment beliefs. Offshoots of the skinheads subculture later saw the jacket become synonymous with radicalism and far-right beliefs until LGBTQ+ communities took a stand against the skinheads by appropriating the clothes they wore.
The late 1980s saw the release of Top Gun, with Tom Cruise sporting the brown leather G-1 bomber jacket adorned with patches. The film’s success resulted in bomber jackets soaring in popularity and cemented their place in fashion for the future.
In the early 2000s, bomber jackets became a popular symbol in hip-hop fashion, as we saw the emersion of the bomber jacket style we know today. A more refined jacket, bomber jackets appealed to the masses as they became easier to wear with jeans and trainers for a more casual aesthetic.
During the 2010s, flight jackets had a resurgence in popularity as celebrities were often seen wearing the styles; celebrities like Kanye West, who collaborated with Alpha Industries nearly 100 years after the creation of the original flight jacket. To this day, the bomber jacket remains a style staple, popular across the globe for its functionality and popular silhouette.
What are the different types of men’s flying jackets?
G-1 Flying Jackets
G-1 flight jackets were designed for fighter pilots during World War II, crafted from leather and featuring fur collars. Originally made with horsehide, newer jackets are available in goatskin and cowhide varieties.
After the Second World War, it became common to see flight jackets with patches as pilots added patches to signify types of aircraft flown, total flying hours, deployments or more.
Tom Cruise wore a G-1 flying jacket in Top Gun, popularising this style in the mainstream and cementing it in the fashion books.
MA-1 Flying Jackets
The MA-1 men's flying jacket was developed in the 1950s for American military personnel to enhance pilot performance and provide safety and comfort.
As technology advanced and new aircraft could fly at higher - therefore colder - altitudes, bulky leather jackets would freeze if they became wet due to rain or perspiration, making them cold and uncomfortable.
Aircraft also became more streamlined, meaning pilots flew in smaller cockpits and bulky flying jackets made it difficult to move freely. A new type of jacket - the MA-1 - was created to provide a more lightweight but just as warm jacket with water-resistant properties.
Made from nylon, the jackets were usually dark blue or sage green with a bright orange lining and featuring knitted cuffs and a waistband. In 1963, Alpha Industries won the contract to manufacture the MA-1, which expanded the jacket's popularity into Europe.
B-3 Flying Jackets
The B-3 flight jacket is an American-issue World War II flying jacket designed to withstand the freezing temperatures experienced at high altitudes of up to 25,000 feet.
Unlike other flying jackets, B-3 jackets did not have a knit waistband but were made with leather on the exterior and lined with sheepskin for ultimate warmth and comfort.
B-3 flying jackets also had sheepskin collars with two leather straps that could fasten to close the open collar and maximise insulation.
B-15 Flying Jackets
Released in the mid-1940s, the B-15 flying jacket showcases a knit waist and cuffs and is crafted in various materials with leather, cotton and nylon exteriors.
Functional in design, the B-15 jacket features pockets on the upper arms of the sleeve and the front of the jacket, as well as leather straps to hold oxygen masks.
Irvin Flying Jackets
The Irvin flying jacket was created by Leslie Irvin and issued to the RAF during the Second World War to keep pilots warm.
Fully lined with wool, the Irvin jacket had a wider fit to accommodate layers of clothing and heavy knitwear.
Nowadays, Irvin flight jackets are still made in the United Kingdom, made with the same keen attention to detail and quality materials to keep the wearer warm and comfortable.
Are flying jackets in fashion?
Since their creation, men’s flying jackets have proven popular thanks to their warmth and style. From trickling into subcultures to imbuing the fashion market, bomber jackets are now a style staple that isn't going anywhere.
How to style a men’s flying jacket
Impressively versatile, you can match flying jackets with various outfits to create different styles.
Style a brown bomber jacket with jeans and trainers for a laid-back appeal. Wear a plain t-shirt underneath for a classic look, or add a hoodie for an off-duty aesthetic.
Popular in baseball and other American sports, the letterman jacket or varsity jacket is one of the popular variations of the bomber jacket. Pair these styles with chinos and loafers for an academic look or joggers and trainers for a more on-trend fitness look.
Wear a flying jacket with a fur collar with jeans and leather shoes for a timeless look. Match with a collared shirt underneath or a knitted jumper to exude a classic, retro style.
Explore our selection of Flight Jackets at Flightstore
Now you know the differences between men's flying jackets and the options available, explore our impressive flight jacket selection at Flightstore.