The bomber jacket has come a long way since its militant beginnings.
Starting off as something called a 'flight jacket’; the original bombers were designed during the First World War as strictly functional items to stop pilots from getting chilly in their unenclosed cockpits.
Created by the aptly titled 'Aviation Clothing Board', these first, primitive flight jackets were made of heavy duty leather, with big collars and thick fur linings.
These were fit for their original purpose, but as fighter aircraft design improved and headier heights were reached, these chunky jackets became a problem. At high altitudes these jackets would literally freeze, which as you can imagine… isn’t great. They were also particularly cumbersome, and made escaping from an aircraft an absolute nightmare.
To combat all this, in 1958 the US Army developed a sleek, lightweight cotton flight jacket — the MA-1.
'But enough about history!' the writer yells, unable to find a good transition into his next topic — 'Let’s talk about some bomber jackets in films!'
So yeah, let's talk about some bomber jackets in films...
EWAN MCGREGOR, TRAINSPOTTING – 1996
To start this off, here's a little known film called Trainspotting.
Trainspotting is the jovial story of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his merry band of heroin addicts in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh and their various misadventures — wholesome family viewing for sure.
Taking inspiration from the Doc-Marten-wearing skinheads and the parka-glad scooter boys, these cats swapped big 'ol black stompers for adidas Gazelles and suede bombers.
MARLON BRANDO, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE – 1951
While this looks like the kind of bomber jacket everyone goes mad for these days, this photo is actually from the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire starring the main man himself, Marlon Brando. He may have been known for his acting, but his real talent was predicting jacketry trends 66 years into the future.
Anyway, A Streetcar Named Desire is the cinematic adaption of Tennessee Williams' play of the same name.
It concerns itself with Blanche DuBois, who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her aristocratic background, seeking refuge with her sister and brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon here) in a dilapidated New Orleans tenement.
It's been a fair few years since I've seen this, but I do remember two things about it: that glorious bomber jacket, and how depressed I felt afterwards.
HIROYUKI NAGATO, PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS – 1961
Pigs and Battleships concerns itself with Kinta (he’s that stylish chap stood up in that picture above), a young hoodlum caught up in the mutually exploitative relationship that existed in the years after the war between the U.S. military and the lower elements of Japanese society.
Jacket fans may be interested to hear that Kinta’s jacket is what’s known as a ‘Sukajan’, or ‘souvenir’, jacket. The story goes that after the Second World War, American pilots still posted out in Japan would get traditional Japanese patterns sewn onto their bomber jackets as a souvenir of their time in the East. These jackets were then re-appropriated by working class Japanese kids as a symbol of rebellion.
Anyway, seek out this film — it features the best pig stampede in cinema history.
TOM CRUISE, TOP GUN – 1986
Not going to go too in depth on this one, because a) you've all seen it and b) its the quintessential use of the bomber jacket in cinema.
For those unaware, Top Gun is the story of Maverick (Mr. Cruise) as he flies jet fighters, romances Kelly McGillis, romances Val Kilmer and does a bunch of various other badass stuff.
It's a thinking man's film.
There's nothing else that needs to be said here really: Tom Cruise at the height of his powers… bomber jackets at the height of their powers… fighter pilots… aviator glasses… U.S Navy recruitment booths outside cinemas… everyone looks cool and does cool things — cracking stuff.
While not really having much to do with cinema, bomber jackets chart an extremely fascinating journey, showing how military apparel was appropriated into the mainstream. Cinema is but a catalyst, capturing the world as it has changed through the latter part of the 20th century.
To round this off, here's Edward Norton looking mean-as-hell in a film about American history I haven't seen in a long time.