A brief history of the Bomber Jacket – from the cockpit to Kanye

A brief history of the Bomber Jacket – from the cockpit to Kanye

The bomber jacket is one of the most popular pieces of outerwear in modern times, and probably the most famous piece of military clothing to find crossover success as an item of civilian wear.

It possesses such a rich history which can be traced from its military origins all the way through to various subcultures such as the skinhead movements and beyond.

As widespread as its appeal has been, the iconic jacket has always managed to strike a chord among emerging youth movements, which explains its current status as a well-known and much-loved streetwear staple.

Bomber jackets are not just part of a passing trend; they are an everlasting wardrobe essential, built to last despite having a mostly conservative price tag.

HÖRFA take a closer look at the history of the indomitable jacket, a piece of clothing that you most likely have in your closet right now.

Where it all started – The A-2 Bomber

In the days of propeller aircraft, pilots wore leather jackets such as the A-2, which is an important ancestor of the modern flight jacket.

The fleece lining meant the jackets were warm and, from a fashion perspective, very stylish, with elasticated sleeves and waist, a wraparound collar, and front pockets.

However, the invention of the jet aircraft meant planes could fly at higher altitudes and, in turn, much colder temperatures than before.

The design of the A-2 leather jackets meant they would get wet from rain or perspiration; the water would freeze at higher altitudes making the jackets cold and uncomfortable. Also, the new jet aircraft boasted a more streamlined design meaning less space in the cockpit.

A slim, lightweight, yet warm jacket was needed as an answer to the evolved jet technology, and it came in the form of the B-15 - the godfather of the modern bomber.

The B-15 Bomber

The B-15 had fur collars and were made of cotton at first, but after the war ended in 1945, nylon became the material of choice because of its versatility and water resistance.

The iconic MA-1 Bomber

In 1949 the B-15 was upgraded to become the MA-1, which has since become the most recognised and replicated version.

The design of the jacket was once again a reaction to the technological advancements of the aircraft  and requirements of the pilots; cockpits had better insulation so the fur collar was no longer needed; instead it was replaced with a smaller, elastic collar which allowed more room for parachute harnesses.

It was at this stage that the familiar and covertly clever orange lining was added so that in the event of a plane crash, the pilot could turn it inside out to aid rescue visibility.


Colour Changes

It was also around this time that the jacket started to be produced in new colours other than the Air Force’s standard issue midnight blue.

Throughout the Vietnam War, the jackets were produced in a sage green colour to provide camouflage for American troops in the instance of landing in hostile areas.

Going Global

The jacket was originally developed by Dobbs Industries for the U.S. Air Force. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the jackets first appeared in Europe, via government surplus stores and even black market or second-hand sales. This is when the jacket began its universal transition.

A crucial event in the bomber’s history first happened in 1963 when an offshoot of Dobbs became Alpha Industries, and they received a military contract to produce the jackets.

It was then that more jackets were shipped to Europe as Alpha began to export to European Air Forces and commercial customers. Coincidentally, it was around the same time that a number of important subcultural movements started popping up all around the globe that would make the jacket an integral part of their principles for the next few decades.

The Skinheads

In the 1960s, the original British skinheads were among the first to adopt the jacket as a sartorial expression of the changing social conditions of the time.

A split had developed amongst the group known as the ‘mods’ in London; the more affluent mods could afford such luxuries as suits and scooters that represented the culture; whereas the ‘hard mods’ of the working class lived in the same poor neighbourhoods as immigrants, exposing them to black culture and music, including soul, ska and reggae.

These lower-class mods were also more likely to work in factories or blue-collar jobs, meaning that they couldn’t have long hair and favoured workwear like jeans, work boots and military-inspired clothing including the bomber jacket.

The jacket itself may have been a direct rejection of the more bourgeois Harrington jacket that was a favour of the mods. This offshoot of non-racist reggae fans began referring to themselves as ‘skinheads’, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and the commercialisation of punk that they moved further away from their multicultural origins and became involved with far-right, racist politics they're now synonymous with.


It might seem somewhat ironic that the gay community in London was one of the first to re-assimilate the skinhead uniform, but it actually makes perfect sense given the resilience of LGBTQ communities and their tendency throughout history to defiantly mimic that which has oppressed them.

Homosexuals dressing in the skinhead uniform was the ultimate rebellion of the skinhead values and mentality.

On the other side of the pond, it was a time when homosexuals were openly excluded from military service; an oppression which was again flipped on its head by the global gay community to copy the hypermasculine look which was jeans, Doc Marten boots, cropped hair and MA-1s.

The Far East

At the same time, Japan was having its own love affair with the MA-1, driven by a youth population who was increasingly interested in American fashion, style and culture that was brought on by the Allied occupation of the island country after World War II.

Riding the Wave

Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, the bomber jacket sustained a level of popularity, riding the wave of subcultural explosions such as the grunge and alternative waves of the 1990s.

In the 2000s, streetwear was experiencing a period of growth and evolution, gaining widespread appeal among young people of all social and economic status.

The Kanye Effect

Even though the bomber jacket had already cemented its place within fashion history, the ‘Kanye Effect’ helped to boost worldwide sales when he was spotted wearing a customised version of the MA-1 around the time of his Yeezus tour.

His endorsement as a global superstar introduced a new generation of youth to the iconic jacket with fashion retailers like H&M and Zara cashing in on the hype by creating their own versions of the style.

Everlasting Love

As the gender divide in fashion has reduced over the years, the bomber jacket has become a unisex favourite.

The bomber is here to stay, and while brands continue to create their own versions, it’s unlikely to change from the same tried-and-tested form that its kept since 1949.

There’s no denying that this piece has managed to not only withstand the test of time but to also resonate with a wide range of diverse people and groups over the last seven decades, regardless of social or financial status.

It’s the perfect example of how practicality, style and simplicity will never go out of fashion.

Stay tuned all week - May 13-17 - for a chance to win one of our stylish Bombers. Competition will be announced at 8am on Friday (May 17, 2019).

Make sure you're following HÖRFA on Twitter @HORFAWEAR

Celebrate the bomber with a £5 discount: https://horfawear.com/discount/BOMBER?redirect=%2Fproducts%2Fbomber-jacket-varsity-jacket-core-ss18

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