Like many young people who enjoy believing that they're cultured, I love to travel. I love the adventure of it, I love to see new places, and I love to put real life on hold in favor of uncommon experiences. But unlike most of the others, I am happy to admit that I travel partly because it scares me. Not only do I enjoy, perversely, the feeling of shoving myself out of my comfort zone, but I happen to be relatively good at riding that eternal wave of uncertainty and fear - which means that the initial terror of departure is immediately replaced by acceptance, enthusiasm, and excitement.
From a stylistic standpoint (since that’s what we’re here to talk about), travel is interesting because it forces you to think about necessity. About what you’ll actually need where you’re going, since you won’t have a closet to fall back on. Packing tends to distill a wardrobe down to its most essential parts, and during the fall, my most-essential item is a flight jacket.
The flight jacket - a broad category, applied to bombers, blousons, and aviator-influenced jackets of all types - is wonderful because it occupies a strange space between romance, design, and utility. When I am on a plane, or wandering around a strange city, there’s almost nothing I find more useful than a lot of pockets, which flight jackets in all permutations tend to have. To me, they suggest exploration rather than invasion or destruction, which is a nice fantasy. And even if I’m not traveling - or sitting on a plane - wearing a flight jacket is a little reminder of adventures both past and yet to come. It makes walking to the grocery store that much more of an excursion.
These days, bomber jackets and blousons are so common and so entrenched in men’s design that most people don’t even notice that all of their outerwear is based on them. The classics are everywhere (although your standard, blousy A2 from Wilson’s has mercifully become less common), but just about every single menswear designer has a take on a bomber. That’s not an exaggeration, either - it is perhaps the single safest piece you can produce for the men’s market, alongside a “slim-straight” jean. I don’t mean to take away anything from the power of quality product design, but it is nice to see when designers play with an aggressively masculine piece. Think Haider Ackermann and his satin, reversible take on the form, or Dries van Noten’s regular experiments with the classic silhouette. And of course, Styleforum favorite Robert Geller releases at least one every season, to the delight of the bomber-faithful.
Robert Geller post-show in a jacket of his own design
Flight jackets, like all garments originally based on military pieces (read: 99% of contemporary menswear), were originally intended to operate as purely functional pieces. But imagery is an aspect of function, and flight jackets are admirably adaptable to many kinds of fantasy. For some, a classic A-2 or G-1 bomber jacket is the stuff of dreams. For others, it’s a thigh-length see-through MA-1 from Rick Owens.
My favorite interpretations tend to be less sleek and modern, and more evocative of open-cockpit flight than their later evolutions. I find that natural fibers, instead of nylon, add a little bit of wistful romance to the look, while removing a little bit of military fetishism. And if you can find yourself a shearling bomber jacket - like Aero’s reproduction of the USAAF’s “Arctic Edition” B-3, or the RAF “Coastal Commander,” you've hit the jackpot. With the addition of a rakishly-tied scarf, you’ll probably find yourself wearing nothing else all winter long.
Aero's Coastal Command Jacket
There are a few things I look for in a good flight jacket - and keep in mind I’m talking about all flight jackets, not just reproduction models: I like it to be mid-weight (though you’d be surprised at how versatile sheepskin is), I like it to have a collar (there are, of course, exceptions), and I like a lot of pockets (non-negotiable). You want a piece that you can wear open during the daytime so that you don’t overheat, but you want to be able to zip your jacket up at night when the temperature drops. The collar helps at night, too - but more importantly, collars look cool; especially if your jacket has collar that you can turn up and sink your chin down into. And finally, I get a little antsy if I have to make do with less than four pockets- where do I put my toothpicks? My chapstick? The interesting pebbles I find while out walking? You get the idea. Thankfully, most flight jackets are made with that kind of utility in mind, and the “arm-office” has become the single most ubiquitous jacket detail of the year.
Dries Van Noten reversible bomber jacket, available at Totokaelo
Most importantly, I look for that sense of romance I keep talking about. When I look at a flight jacket, what do I think of? Turboprops, high above the desert at night? The silence of the void beyond the Kuiper belt? Most importantly, does it look like a jacket Han Solo might have worn, the kind of jacket that works equally well for relaxing on your way to Bespin or for negotiating black-market deals in a hollowed-out asteroid? At this point in design history, the flight jacket is so firmly established and so common that it it’s essentially limitless - there’s no single type of man or single subculture to which it belongs anymore, which allows the wearer to dream about whatever he likes when he puts it on. Your fantasies are your own business, but I’d encourage you to experiment with an aviator’s jacket and see where your dreams take you.
My well-traveled Cloak Cadet's Jacket
For me, it’s the 2006 Cloak Cadet’s jacket hanging in my closet that best embodies the spirit of everyone’s favorite down-on-his-luck smuggler (alongside two Cloak shearling B-6 jackets - I have a mild obsession). It’s a strange piece that falls somewhere between a T-3 denim jacket and a lapel-less blazer, and I’m not sure it has any business being called a flight jacket at all - except that it is one. Mine has been all over the world with me. It’s faded, torn, and missing a button. It also has six pockets, which is just about enough. And I’ll be damned if I ever stop wearing it, because if there’s one thing you need to protect you from the adventure of travel or just the adventure of the everyday, it’s a piece of clothing that feels like a part of you.