About a decade ago, bomber jackets were suddenly everywhere. You spotted them with their knit or fold-down collars, somewhat relaxed silhouette, and very distant military origins.
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10 years in, bomber jackets are no longer a flash-in-the-pan moment and, instead, mark a transitional cornerstone of many men’s wardrobes. Understand how they emerged, and all the possibilities currently out there.
About Bomber Jackets
Like chinos, pea coats, and balmoral boots, bomber jackets started as a military-issue garment initially designed to protect pilots in the frigid, unprotected cockpit environment before lighter nylon versions emerged. Toward the mid-20th century, they transitioned from military essential to civilian basic.
By design, a shorter, waist-hitting silhouette defines a bomber jacket, ending with a knit or other gathered waistband. This key attribute is joined by a zip front, two to four pockets, knit cuffs, and a fold-down or knit collar sitting flush with the shoulders.
Their origins go back to World War I, a period when airplanes were used for fighting but didn’t feature enclosed cockpits.
During these years, both the U.S. Army and the Royal Flying Corps in Belgium and France started wearing heavy, lined leather flying coats, initially called a “flight jacket.” Today, this distinction is still bandied around for shearling-lined bombers.
Over a decade later, the A-1 bomber emerged, setting the template for more modern jackets. This featured a knit waistband and matching cuffs to block out the cold. The A-2 followed in the 1930s, using a streamlined design with horsehide leather and featuring snaps, reinforced pockets, and a collar with more coverage.
By World War II, the B3 bomber jacket featured sheepskin construction and leather straps. Not long after, the B6 and then the B-15 shrunk this template to accommodate developments in aviation – specifically, an enclosed cockpit.
The MA-1, meanwhile, diverged from this design with nylon construction and contrast lining. Unlike its leather brethren, its lighter form allowed for more seamless adoption by various subcultures during the post-war years.
Modern Types of Bomber Jackets & Our Recommendations
Why has the bomber jacket woven in and out of menswear? Simply put, the waist-hitting, not-too-structured form flatters a broader spectrum of body types and equally matches a range of styling options. Stemming from its military origins, modern types of bomber jackets include:
The Flight Jacket
Modern forms often build from the B3 through B-15 jackets, starting with leather and adding shearling or sheepskin lining. Unlike the other types listed here, this is more of a cold-weather bomber and is equipped with a fold-down collar designed to snap in place. Further true to its origins, flight jackets rarely sport a knit wait.
This Polo flight jacket strives for and achieves a vintage vibe through leather, including sustainably produced patches, with an aged, worn look. This is paired with shearling lining and a higher collar for warmth and a greater level of coverage.
The military influence is apparent from this calf-leather jacket aged slightly for a vintage character. You see it in the prominent flap pockets and turned-down collar, as well as the knit waist to better block out the elements.
A classic pilot character – whether mid-century or Top Gun – emerges through this lined faux leather flight jacket. Extra pockets and a stand shearling collar cement this attitude while giving you more substance for transitional conditions.
Nylon and Polyester Bombers
This later military advent has been streamlined down for everyday use. Compare it to your options at a military surplus store, and both the arms and body contain less bulk. Still, its construction alludes to the MA-1, and today, you’ll spot shell to lined versions with a more streamlined, lightly sloped form.
While the olive green shade alludes to the bomber’s military history, Ralph Lauren gives it an easygoing feel here with more stretchy double-knit fabric, making this jacket ideal for lightweight fall wear or even as a layer.
Larger flap pockets on the body and sleeve enhance this lightweight bomber’s military origins while still sufficing for the present streetwear afficionado. For a techier angle, its polyester and nylon combination is treated to be water repellent to better keep out the elements as you’re out and about in the city.
Although the nylon, lightly padded foundation is absolutely classic, the pale blue hue and seasonal anthropomorphic graphic are fully for today’s consumer looking to push the boundaries of menswear in a more playful, less serious direction.
Athletic and Varsity Jackets
You don’t have to earn an athletic distinction to wear a varsity jacket, which starts with a bomber silhouette, adds some cool-weather warmth through wool construction, and stands out with prominent colorblocking. As menswear dabbles with both 1950s and ‘80s-rooted trends, this classic style is worthy of a revisit.
Get your style on point without compromising comfort. This Polo baseball jacket pulls out all the signature moves – contrasting raglan sleeves and striped trim – while using a cotton/polyester fleece blend for a softer feel and more warmth.
We’re living in a period of menswear maximalism, and this varsity jacket attests to that. Nylon reflects classic bomber construction, while contrast elements, a large letterman-styled logo, and oversized fit suit the present.
Even staples can be reconstructed. This is Riccardo Tisci’s modernist take on a 20th century icon, starting with Italian viscose before adding a large and angular yet subtle logo across one side. Pockets, meanwhile, are trimmed with the same knit material used for the collar and waist.
Souvenir Jacket or Sukajan
American soldiers returning from World War II and the Korean War left with these silk jackets featuring detailed, intricate embroidery.
Harry Styles revived this look by sporting a Louis Vuitton souvenir jacket in One Direction’s “Drag Me Down” video, and since then, the silhouette has provided a lightweight, more statement-worthy alternative to a traditional nylon bomber.
If the athletic jacket is too heavy or gives you strong jock vibes, this colorblocked Superdry style takes a lighter yet more adventurous approach, based on vintage sukajans and featuring a design inspired by Japan.
A more understated take delivers a solid-black sukajan bomber with cotton and an embroidered branded graphic on one side and solid satin on the other. Contrast trim alludes to the original.
Baseball-inspired stitching down the front gives this satin bomber a slight athletic allusion. However, the colorblocking combination, contrast trim, and satin-like material both pay tribute to the classic sukajan.
Oftentimes when bomber jackets get rounded up, James Dean’s iconic red Harrington jacket from Rebel Without a Cause gets cited as a source of inspiration.
Purists will tell you a Harrington isn’t a bomber, but both share similar elements – notably, the defined knit waist, lightweight nylon construction, and functional pockets.
Named after Ryan O’Neal’s character on Peyton Place, the jacket was seen throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s on Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Steve McQueen, giving it an edge of cool.
Multicolored candy stripes give this revisited style more statement appeal. Pastels keep it relevant, while the multiple shades and paneled design create a colorblocked effect.
This is the classic Harrington silhouette – fold-down collar and defined waist – made with sustainably produced suede for an elevated, more modern interpretation that doesn’t stray far from its origins.
The recognizable Burberry check pattern gets a grayscale makeover with subtle pops of blue. For more versatility, this Harrington jacket reverses to solid light gray.
Another reversible option, this Harrington jacket starts with camel-toned fabric treated to be water resistant and reverses to solid black. Composing both sides is a blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester.