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How to Style the Bomber Jacket


How to Style the Bomber Jacket

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Bomber jackets have been a casual crossover between a winter coat and a light jacket for more than 60 years now and have become a stylish wardrobe staple for anyone trying to perfect their look. It has been a classic, culture-crossing garment that has been the perfect fit for the changing face of fashion throughout that time. Case in point: both the mods and the rockers had their own versions of the style, although the leather bomber jacket favoured by bikers was closer to the military original than the Italian designer versions of the scooter riding side of the dust-up.

Before we get onto bomber jacket outfits, we need to deal with the origins of that strange name. The bomber can actually trace its origins back to the dawn of powered flight at the start of the 20th century. The first planes didn't have covered cockpits, so they were exposed to the elements, thin air and wind chill, so an insulated jacket with tight cuffs was essential.

In fact, the "bomber jacket" was simply called a flight jacket until World War 2, when American pilots and bomber crews were issued with them. Although by the 1940s, planes had stopped being open to the elements, they were unpressurised, so they could become incredibly cold at high altitudes, which is precisely where they flew. Despite the name, the bomber jacket was worn by fighter pilots as well as bomber crews, but it was the tail gun Charlies, turret gunners and bomb aimers that became synonymous with the jacket, especially those stationed in the UK. The association, and the name, stuck.

How to wear a bomber jacket

The most important thing to remember when styling a bomber jacket is that it needs to fit quite closely. Some are narrow, and some have more padding, but they are all designed to hug the body with a comfortable fit. A bomber jacket that's too big for you will look wrong because, despite their informal nature, they are actually pretty tailored as jackets go. If there's too much room inside, it'll manifest itself on the outside with slovenly shoulders, overhanging waist and a general slack appearance. If that's the look you're after, you might be better off with a denim or blouson jacket.

That style point influences what can be worn underneath a bomber jacket. In short, you can't wear anything too heavy, like a jumper or multiple layers – it wouldn't leave you with any room to move. That's why you should always stick to T-shirts, sweatshirts, shirts and hoodies with your bomber jacket outfit, and even then, it's best to stick to light ones.

Bomber and crew neck T-shirt – the classic look

The ultimate in casual chic with the bomber jacket is simply to throw it on over a T-shirt, with a pair of jeans and trainers or boots. It's the look that will never die because the length of the bomber simply complements jeans perfectly to create a flattering silhouette. It works with a fabric or leather bomber jacket, and there are really no rules about the colours of any part of the outfit. Black leather works with any colour of T-shirt or with a printed tee. It can even look great with a black tee and black jeans, a kind of urban biker look. A coloured bomber, such as one in navy or maroon, goes well with a white T-shirt and blue jeans for that James Dean look that you'll never openly admit to wanting to emulate (but really do).

Bomber jacket and hoodie – an urban combo

You might have noticed one thing that the classic bomber jacket doesn't have, and that's a pronounced collar. That's one way that it diverges from the utilitarian flight jacket, which usually had a very noticeable borg collar, designed to be lifted over the neck. There might be a subtle raised neck or some stylistic detailing around the top, but a street style bomber shouldn't have a jacket collar.

That brings in the second style possibility: wearing it over a hoodie. Again, there are no colour rules here, as long as they vaguely complement each other. The main pointer is that the hood is worn loose outside the jacket (whether or not it ever goes over your head), and the sleeves of the hoodie should never extend beyond the cuffs of the jacket – that can look odd. Zipped up or open, the look is distinctly street, so you're going for a smart, clued-up vibe in your casual look. Mix it with narrow jeans or chinos and some good quality boots or your favourite sneakers to get the casual tone just right. A word of warning for this outfit – choose a lightweight hoodie. Some of them are designed to wear as outer garments and can be a pretty hefty weave that just won't work under a modern bomber jacket.

All zipped up

A smart way to wear your bomber jacket is simply to have it zipped up. Sounds pretty straightforward, but it's actually something of a stand-out look for a casual jacket. It takes advantage of the narrow form of the bomber, so you keep a slick silhouette, especially with narrow jeans and boots, or perhaps some dark chinos with chunky shoes. Because bomber jackets are generally lightweight, you won't overheat, and it doesn't matter what top you're wearing underneath. In fact, it's perfect for wearing a shirt if you're off to the bar after work or wrapping up for the spring commute. 

Polo shirt and bomber – mod it up

The mod look only ever fades in and out – it never fully disappears from fashion. It arrived in the 60s, re-emerged in the early 80s, and came back in the late 90s, so you could say it's slightly overdue on its 15–20 year cycle. You can get ahead of the game, though, and all you need is your smartest bomber and a basic polo shirt. You don't need Italian designer shoes this time around either. Comfy sneakers and light pants work with a dark bomber or go for a trad green bomber with a natural white polo shirt and blue jeans. It's a stylish way to dress informally – a 21st century take on a timeless pre-millennium look.

In nylon, cotton, leather or even suede, the bomber jacket has come a long way since it kept fighter pilots fighting fit at high altitudes. Pretty much all the subcultures that have sprung up in the free world after 1945 have adopted and adapted it to make it their own. It's a tradition that continues today, with the current crop comfortably cutting it on the street and, as we've seen, going with almost anything. It's a must-have casual jacket for modern times, whether you identify with a certain style or just want a complete outdoor outfit for looking your best. Keep your jacket light and your cuffs tight – the flight jacket is back.