These days, military-inspired jackets are a recurring element on the runway and the high street. But do you know the history behind this iconic wardrobe staple?
The bomber jacket has become the ultimate go-to for men's and women's clothing. Its fit, style, practicality, and manufacturing have made it an evergreen piece of clothing that can be worn by anyone, anytime, anywhere. However, did you know that this trendy jacket was actually one of the most requested items during the 1980s? And not only that, this classic item also comes from a long history of military jackets, dating back to the eighteenth century. Here is how military jackets changed the course of history and, eventually, inspired the fashion industry, which lead them to create legendary pieces such as the always-celebrated bomber jacket.
The original military jacket dates back to the eighteenth century with the regimental uniform of the Hussars, members of the Hungarian Cavalry. The top of the uniform was more of a tailcoat than a jacket, which consisted of a main axis of geometrical cuts in rectangle form, epaulettes, shoulder pads, and buttons on the front. However, the fabric made the coats heavy, and complicated movement in battle, so these tailcoats were more of an ornamental piece of clothing rather than an effective military item. The size of the tailcoat, as well as its colors and material, remained the same for years. By the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), military uniforms were more concerned about durability and practicality. Cuts got simpler, and so did colors (camouflage was crucial). These uniforms became coatees: they lost a few inches on the back, the collar got higher and and stiffer, and there were fewer buttons.
Picture by LIFE
Picture by LIFE
However, the greatest change in military wear happened during the first half of the twentieth century with both World Wars. World War I (1914-1918) marked the use of khaki, green, blue, and gray as primary colors for the uniforms. Coats were no longer part of the military uniform, whereas cleaner cuts, dynamic structures, and buttons that were intended to work rather than accessorize were some of the qualities of the new military uniforms. By 1924, military uniforms permeated into the fashion world. An atelier found inspiration in the military and the Scottish Navy to create one of the most revolutionary and iconic pieces of clothing that would change fashion forever: the tweed jacket by Coco Chanel. The French designer created a women's jacket that sought freedom of movement. Gone were the days of unnecessary buttons, and black and tweed were adopted for the sublime nature of the jacket.
By World War II, the German and American governments gave their uniforms a makeover. Hugo Boss, a Nazi sympathizer, used gray, black, and leather to create the infamous uniform of the SS soldiers. Cuts became even cleaner and looked for freedom of movement, while fabrics were chosen with the weather in mind. Also, both American and German uniforms started using zippers thanks to their practicality.
All of these changes were crucial for the invention of the contemporary military jacket. Synthetic fabrics were used since World War II, like with the American cold-weather uniform (another device of inspiration). By the early eighties, the military jacket entered pop culture and contemporary fashion. The military top got restructured one last time.
Strongly influenced by the American Army, some brands modernized the military jacket and created the world-famous bomber jacket. Brands like Members Only removed the pocket flaps, and placed the pockets diagonally, so they were more practical to use. Another thing that happened with the bomber jacket was that it was created for a pret-a-porter market, so brands focused on using synthetic textiles, which are much more affordable, durable, and warmer. The end of the sleeves and the down part of the jacket use flexible fabrics created with nylon, so they adjust to the wearer's body shape. Practicality became the main goal for this military-inspired jacket, since it could be worn in any season.
The bomber jacket stood the test of time and by the mid-nineties had already established itself as a classic piece of clothing. Many fast-fashion brands like H&M and American Eagle and even high fashion houses have included this iconic jacket in their collections. We can see them with more and more colors and even echoing pop culture. Moreover, the bomber jacket has proven to be beyond the boundaries of gender, since it's an item that fits everyone.
The history of military jackets reflects the passage of the time, people's needs, culture, and even technological advances. It’s fascinating to see how an everyday object like the bomber jacket could have such an interesting story that dates back to the eighteenth century and made its way to couture and modern-day street style.
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