“I found this olive green aviator jacket in a shed at my grandparents’ house in Artemare (Ain). Since then, I have not taken it off, although it is too big for me.” This is how Renée, 26, appropriated this garment that belonged to Michel, her father. He had acquired it during his beatnik period thirty-three years ago, at a garage sale. Although worn, the garment still looks great.Its polyurethane coating, detachable collar in faux sheepskin, zipper and side pocket make it a perfect copy of one of the most iconic garments in men’s wardrobes of yesteryear: the aviator jacket or flight jacket .
Created in 1927 to allow American fighter pilots to endure low temperatures, the cockpits of their planes being open, this jacket was originally matched with an orange inner lining to spot airmen on the ground in the event of a crash. There flight jacket remained in use in the US Air Force – the British Royal Air Force and the French Air Force having developed their own models – until the Korean and Vietnam wars when it was popularized by photographers covering these conflicts. A snapshot from the 1950s captured Marilyn Monroe sporting one of these jackets alongside smiling GIs during a visit to the front.
Demilitarized, virile, then androgynous
Having acquired its letters of nobility, the flight jacket leaves the sky and the military changing rooms. Firstly because of the general public’s enthusiasm for US Army surpluses. This demilitarization is recorded at the turn of 1960 when designers, like those of the New York house Schott, offer diversified and lighter models intended for civilians. Whether it is called an aviator jacket, a pilot jacket, a bomber jacket or a bomber jacket, this jacket has been constantly reinvented over the generations.
The bomber puffs out your chest
The mid-2010s marked the frenzy of designers – such as Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons, Yves Saint Laurent – for the bomber. Chic, sporty, street style, printed, floral, embroidered or in an oriental version: they highlight it from every angle. New or second-hand, it is available in all materials, all colors and for all budgets. E-commerce and social networks have boosted its sales. On second-hand shopping sites, the flight jacket keep pumping out your chest. Renée does not want to give up hers. “It is a collector’s item, and I intend to pass it on to my children. Proof that the aviator jacket never ceases to please and knows how to last from generation to generation!
I collect bomber jackets
Before buying a second-hand flight jacket, Nicolas Chatelain, a fan of Elvis Presley and American clothing accessories from the 1940s and 1950s, advises you:
- Start by gleaning valuable advice from the Internet: collectors all over the world are connected and can tell you about the most authentic coins. → Always prefer beautiful natural materials to synthetic models.
- Know the difference between bomber jackets and bomber jackets. On the bomber jacket side: look for the A1 and A2, launched in 1927 and 1931 respectively, or their replicas. As for bombers: choose models inspired by the B3 (created during the Second World War) and the G2 (developed for US Navy pilots in 1947 and notably worn by Tom Cruise in Top Gun).
- If you’re a purist, like the hero of Top Gun, avoid the whimsical creations of contemporary designers; only the historic models (very expensive) or their faithful reproductions (much more affordable) count.