The Iconic History and Legacy of the Bomber Jacket

history of bomber jackets

The bomber jacket has earned its place as one of the most enduring outerwear garments, popularized for its warmth, style and versatility. Originally designed for pilots, the bomber transcended its utilitarian military origins to become engrained as a fashion staple. Tracing the bomber jacket’s development provides insights into its widespread cultural appeal and adoption through decades of changing trends.

Early 20th Century Origins

  • Bomber jackets emerged in the early 1900s as protective garments for military pilots against the extreme cold of high altitudes.
  • Insulating sheepskin and leather bomber styles were pioneered by Leslie Irvin, founder of the Irvin Air Chute Company.
  • These heavy sheepskin coats became synonymous with daring World War I fighter pilots battling in the skies over Europe.
  • Following the war, Irvin shifted focus to designing practical flight jackets for commercial aviation in the 1920s-30s. These set the template for modern bomber jackets.

Mainstream Popularity in World War II

  • Bomber jackets issued by the U.S. military reached widespread use during World War II among bomber crews in Europe.
  • Standard A-2 styles made of seal brown horsehide leather gained iconic status after being adopted by the Army Air Forces and Navy.
  • High-altitude flight crews relied on the warm, rugged construction for protection in the brutally cold conditions.
  • After the war, veterans returning home brought their bomber jackets with them, popularizing the style across America.

Hollywood Solidifies the Bomber as a Fashion Symbol

  • Actors and films in the 1950s cemented the cool, rebellious image of bomber jackets in the public imagination.
  • Pop culture icons like Steve McQueen sported bombers on and off screen. Movies like Top Gun amplified the maverick aura.
  • Leather and nylon styles became fixtures in films, TV, and music associating the bomber with anti-establishment defiance.
  • By the 1960s-70s, bomber jackets had evolved into a staple badge of youth counterculture styles.

Fashion Symbol Spanning Generations

  • Bombers’ rich pop culture history and undeniable style has made them wardrobe essentials for decades.
  • Contemporary bombers come in diverse materials like satin and colors to match any look. But classic leather and sheepskin versions remain go-to choices.
  • From punk rockers to hip hop artists, the bomber’s youthful rebel image endures across generations and subcultures.
  • Women have widely adopted the bomber jacket in recent decades for its attitude and empowering swagger.

Timeless Practicality Anchors Ongoing Appeal

  • Beyond its aesthetic and cultural symbolism, the bomber remains beloved thanks to the practicality enabling its early military success.
  • The thick, insulating material provides ideal lightweight defense against cold weather and wind. The ribbed cuffs and hem contain warmth.
  • Signature elements like the front zip closure and knit collar seal in heat while allowing flexibility of motion.
  • Easily layered over other garments, the bomber is a versatile staple useable year-round in many climates.

The Bomber Jacket Stands the Test of Time

  • As a functional cold weather necessity that took on a life of its own as a cultural emblem, the bomber has proven its lasting power and influence.
  • The ubiquity of bomber jackets across every era of modern fashion reflects the enduring allure of its attitude and design.
  • Once associated solely with soldiers and outsiders, the bomber became a mass consumer commodity without losing its soul.
  • Whether made according to traditional WWII specifications or modernized with contemporary flair, the bomber retains its place in wardrobes and pop culture.
  • This complex history has consolidated the bomber jacket’s reputation as an always relevant staple with an unmistakable identity.


Few other garments have matched the bomber jacket’s cultural journey from military essential to mainstream fashion icon. Both this rich backstory and enduring practicality explain why the bomber remains one of the most beloved and recognizable pieces of outerwear more than a century after its creation. The bomber has rightfully earned its place in history and fashion lore.

  • August 20, 2023