The evolution of the bomber jacket has gone from fighter pilots, to skinheads, to the backs of regular Joes everywhere. Its many iterations, including satin, leather, collared or collarless, are all testament to its staying power and thus our predicament in today’s fashion climate. As we’ve already established the bomber jacket trend isn’t going anywhere. It has firmly planted itself as a wardrobe staple and is almost beyond trendy now – it’s as much a part of the daily routine as skinny jeans and button-ups.
So we’re not going to show you another pick of the latest bombers and clog up your feed with new versions of the same old. No, we’re going to take a step back in time and dig deep into the history of the bomber jacket, through a style dissection of cinema. Because we feel that to fully embrace something, one needs to know the story behind it. And because the silver screen has long been a favorite source of sartorial inspiration. Less fleeting than fashion styles in music, cinematic style is like a fine wine to the record industry’s vodka daiquiri – one might appear more exciting, but you’ll pay for it later on. So take note as we delve in to the most iconic bomber jackets in film history.
Marlon Brando – A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
Marlon Brando was an early adopter of the bomber jacket as casual wear. Sporting leather, fabric and satin versions in early ‘50s films On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, you could say he called it pretty early. This version holds up surprisingly well and looks as if it could be straight from the current Fall/Winter 2013 collections.
James Dean – Rebel Without A Cause, 1955
James Dean’s iconic red blouson bomber jacket is almost as famous as the man himself. Dean’s turn as bad boy Jim Stark cemented the jacket’s status as the choice of outerwear for rebels the world over and it’s never really shaken that image since. Blazer jackets were the domain of any responsible member of society at the time, making Dean’s bomber all the more shocking.
Steve McQueen – The Great Escape, 1963
Preferring the more classic leather aviation bomber in the WWII-set film The Great Escape, Steve McQueen managed to leave another cinematic style legacy – even as a man in uniform. This period heralded the golden age of sartorial cinema and confirmed McQueen as a style icon.
Robert De Niro – Taxi Driver, 1976
Often overshadowed by the M-65 field jacket worn by Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, the bomber jacket in Taxi Driver is the quieter, understated option. By wearing military jackets in civilian life, it reinforced his character’s inability to let go and assimilate back into society. A standard issue olive drab version adds to Bickle’s complex Vietnam vet character, though sartorially speaking he sure had his shit together.
Jack Nicholson – The Shining, 1980
Audiences probably weren’t noticing Jack Nicholson’s burgundy corduroy bomber as he went on a killing spree at the Overlook Hotel, but we sure did. The slightly top-heavy blouson cut was indicative of the style during the period while the deep red shade was fittingly symbolic. Rumor has it that Nicholson already owned the jacket and insisted on wearing it in the film himself.
Tom Cruise – Top Gun, 1986
Tom Cruise’s cool factor was at its absolute peak when he brought pilot chic to the mainstream public. Maverick’s brown Naval Aviaton bomber emblazoned with military patches was as legendary as the Ray-Ban aviators he wore with it. A fur collar and boxy ‘80s cut kept it current for the time, even helping carry the trend across to the fairer sex with matching jackets. Jocks the world over rejoiced as bombers were no longer reserved for the fringes of society.
Bruce Willis – Pulp Fiction, 1994
As boxer Butch Coolidge, Bruce Willis cuts a mean figure in Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction. Oversized bombers were everywhere by the ’90s, particularly suede versions in autumnal colorways like tan and forest green. They weren’t particularly stylish anymore but they weren’t offensive either. A slew of action movies gave them a tough guy image that was epitomized by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. Or any of the 10 other films in which he plays the same character.
Ewan McGregor – Trainspotting, 1996
Trainspotting painted a bleak portrait of junkie life in 1990s Scotland, though the disheveled look of Ewan McGregor and his group of loser friends did set the tone for late ’90s fashion. Their style was a mixture of cheap fashion and thrift store finds, and the slightly feminine cut of Ewan’s jacket meant that it probably did belong to a woman at some point. Or a child. Regardless, this movie probably didn’t do much for the reputation of bombers except place it back on the outskirts of fashion.
Edward Norton – American History X, 1998
Skinheads throughout history have taken to the bomber jacket trend quite violently – pun intended – single-handedly cooling its appeal in mainstream fashion. When American History X was released, Edward Norton and his gang rocked some mean bombers, but nobody dared consider them style icons. Hence the film cemented the temporary demise of the traditional punk uniform.
Ryan Gosling – Drive, 2011
After over a decade of lying low, the bomber jacket was resurged with one fell swoop when Ryan Gosling showed up in a scorpion-embroidered white satin version in Drive. The combination of the film’s success, his level of cool as the Driver, and the so-wrong-it’s-right jacket instantly made bomber jackets at the top of the priority list. And luckily designers the world over heard our prayers, so here we are presently, in bomber jacket overload. Which has me thinking, maybe it’s time for someone to make another skinhead flick…