As we consume fashion at ever increasing rates how often do we look down at our garments and wonder what their history is and how they came to be in shops and on our bodies? It is easy to think of everyday garments such as a t-shirt, a bomber jacket or a miniskirt as simply something to throw on or a passing trend but of course every garment we wear, lust after, or consider a “fashion crime” has a story. So as I sit here in my black bomber jacket I can take a clue from its name and assume it originated in the military but through what series of events did it come to be upon my back?
In the 1940s a jacket called the A-2 was born out of necessity for American military pilots who were faced with a cold and cramped cockpit environment (Babcock 2015). The jacket had to provide optimal warmth whilst being lightweight, enabling the pilots to move their small work space. Over the coming years the jacket developed as textile technology advanced and needs of the pilots were addressed (Babcock 2015). In 1949 the MA-1 was born which would remain largely unchanged and widely worn up until present day.
The evolution of the MA-1/Bomber Jacket. Image source http://au.complex.com/style/2015/03/a-history-of-the-bomber-jacket/
The bomber jacket (also known as the flight jacket) has over the years been incorporated into a number of subculture’s identities. In the 70’s and 80’s British skinheads made the jacket a staple in their everyday dress. The movement driven by non-conformist youth looked to military styled clothes such as the bomber jacket and lace up boots to create a “smart and hard” (Thomsen 2000, 7) image. Another factor said to have drawn the group to this style of dress was simply it’s affordability and durability (Thomsen 2000, 12). Pictured below is a group of British skinheads sporting green bomber jackets very similar to MA-1 (pictured above) along with tight blue jeans and lace up leather boots which came to epitomise their identity and culture.
The jacket continued to gain popularity and make it’s way into mainstream fashion with it first being debuted into high fashion in 1988 by Jean-Paul Gaultier (Behlen 2014). His interpretation of the original military jacket was called the Gaultier Junior cropped MA1-style jacket and was designed for women (behlen 2014). The picture below shows an advertisement for the jacket in the September 1988 issue of fashion magazine The Face. This is a powerful image which critiques conventions of the fashion industry relating to age and gender representation and highlights the jacket as a symbol of strength and rebellion.
Image Source http://blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/bomber-jackets/
Fast forward to 2016 and the bomber jacket has become a staple wardrobe item for both men and women with fashion designers using it as a blank canvas for endless re-imagination. Although it has become a mainstream fashion item being worn by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift I surprisingly still feel a hint of strength and rebellion as I slip into my black bomber jacket.
Babcock, Gregory. 2015. “A Brief History of the Bomber Jacket” Complex Magazine, 29 March 2015. Accessed 29 September 2016. http://au.complex.com/style/2015/03/a-history-of-the-bomber-jacket/
Behlen, Beatrice. 2014. “Bomber Jackets” Museum of London, 3 April 2014. Accessed 30 September 2016. http://blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/bomber-jackets/
Thomsen, Christian W. “Boots and Braces: Early Skinhead Culture and its Techniques of Constructing the Self” Accessed 1 October 2016. http://www.skinheads.ru/books/Christian_W_Thomsen-Boots_and_Braces-EN.pdf