Bomber Command

The modern incarnation of the bomber jacket is key for Spring / Summer but has its roots firmly set in the military, and sporting attire, writes Mansel Fletcher.

Men’s clothing owes a huge debt to military uniforms, even when the connection is hard to discern. Bomber and blouson jackets, key items in Gieves & Hawkes’ SS 2018 collection, are a great example of this. Should a man arm himself with a lightweight jacket this spring, war is unlikely to be uppermost in his mind. However, without the innovations made by the designers of military apparel in the early years of the 20th century, contemporary blousons wouldn’t exist. And it’s fitting that a tailor such as Gieves & Hawkes, with deep connections to military tailoring, should draw inspiration from the bomber jacket for its latest collection.

When men first began to spend time in airplane cockpits they created a need for a new kind of garment. The long coats that cover a man’s backside in cold weather when he’s riding a horse, or walking around, weren’t very useful due to the ergonomics of a pilot’s position in a cockpit. The history of the flying jacket is a complicated business but its form was established by the early A-1 model, which was standardized by the United States Air Force in 1927 as a summer flying jacket. A quick look at the A-1 reveals the debt owed by all modern bombers and blousons to a leather jacket designed over 90 years ago. Its simple shape, which follows the line of the body and is gathered at the wrists and waist, hasn’t changed much because it so perfectly combines form and function.

Not that things have stood still. Since 1927 the materials have changed, mainly because the durability of capeskin leather (which originally came from goats for the A-1 jackets) is no longer a requirement. Instead softer, more flexible materials such as nylon are used in order to give the wearer the fullest possible range of movement, and the lightest possible garment. In fact, the only weight in the latest blouson jackets is the weight of the associations that they carry. Clothing historians might quickly spot the link to the old A-1 jackets but there are other more contemporary references, from the preppy style of 60s America (as recorded in the legendary 1965 book Take Ivy) to the late-90s heyday of Damon Albarn and Blur.

Contemporary blousons represent another step in the evolution of the bomber jacket, which for nearly a century has been the outerwear of choice for men in need of a sporty and functional garment. As is clear from Gieves & Hawkes’ SS18 collection, the jacket’s spirit persists even if these days they’re more likely to be worn over a lightweight sweater or a polo shirt on the way to the gym than with a flying suit on an airbase.

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