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Flight Jacket vs Bomber Jacket: What’s the Difference?

If you’re reading this, it’s pretty likely that you appreciate pieces that stand the test of time, especially when it comes to wardrobe staples like outerwear. And if you’ve been looking for a classic bomber jacket, you may have stumbled upon the term “flight jacket”  — sometimes called an aviator jacket — during your research. 

While bomber and flight jackets share similarities, they are not one and the same. To help you make an informed sartorial choice, here are the key differences between a flight jacket and a bomber jacket, from history to features and styling considerations. 

The Bomber Jacket

What is a bomber jacket?

Since bomber and flight jackets are often mixed up, it makes sense to ask: what is a bomber jacket? It is a short piece of outerwear inspired by military aviation. 

Bomber jackets typically feature a waist-length design, ribbed cuffs and waistband, and a front-zip closure. They boast a flat, simple collar and are often made of nylon. They may have pockets, including a single zip-up sleeve pocket. The Frank And Oak Skyline Reversible Bomber is a good example. 

What is the history of the bomber jacket?

The bomber jacket traces its origins back to World War I. Aerial bombing was a new war strategy, which spurred the development of bomber planes and the training of bomber crews and pilots.

The planes had open cockpits, so the pilots needed protective clothing to keep them warm at high altitudes. Early bomber jackets were made of heavy-duty leather and fur to provide insulation and protection against the cold. 

The original bomber jacket was designed to offer a snug fit. The ribbed cuffs, hem, and collar prevented wind from entering the jacket. The front zipper provided ease of wear. As for the pockets, they were used to store maps and other fighter pilot essentials. 

By the time World War II rolled around, bomber jackets had become standard issue for most emerging air forces. A few years post-war, the fighter jet was born. 

This meant even higher altitudes and colder temperatures. It also translated into more cramped cockpits for fighter pilots. Both of these changes introduced the need for high-performance fabrics — leather was bulky and could freeze once wet. Developed in the 1950s, the MA-1, one of the most iconic United States Air Force designs, was born out of that need (many still consider it to be the best bomber jacket to this day). 

The MA-1 was made of warm yet lightweight nylon and was army green in colour for camouflage purposes. It also featured a bright orange lining that was more than a fashion statement: Pilots could flash the high-visibility interior of their jackets to help rescue crews locate them in the event of a crash. 

After the war, surplus military clothing became available to the public. The bomber jacket was adopted by civilians and gained mainstream popularity. 

From the gay community in the 1980s to hip-hop culture in the 1990s and 2000s, it has been embraced by various subcultures throughout the years, yet the bomber jacket manages to remain a fashion statement that can be worn by anyone, anytime. 

What are the key features of the bomber jacket?

Material: Bomber jackets come in a variety of materials, from nylon and canvas to cotton or leather.

Ribbed Cuffs and Hem: One of the most recognizable features of a bomber jacket is its ribbed cuffs and hem. 

Front Zipper Closure: Bomber jackets usually feature a front zipper closure, often with additional wind flaps for added protection against the elements. 

Pockets: Traditional bomber jackets come with multiple pockets, including welt pockets on the sides and sometimes a zippered pocket on the sleeve. 

Collar: The collar of a bomber jacket is often made from the same ribbed material as the cuffs and hem. 

The Flight Jacket

What is a flight jacket?

A flight jacket, also known as an aviator jacket, ​​is a classic leather and shearling piece of outerwear. Its design roots are also steeped in aviation history. 

Flight jackets feature a high neckline and a thick, warm lining. They have larger collars made of the same material as their lining, and they tend to come in neutral colors such as black or brown. 

What is the history of the flight jacket?

The history of the flight or aviator jacket is intertwined with the origins of the bomber jacket. In the early days of aviation, pilots required protective gear to stay warm in open cockpits. As mentioned above, leather flight jackets, which also happened to be the first iteration of bomber jackets, offered warmth and durability. 

In the context of military pilots, the terms bomber jacket and flight jacket can therefore be used interchangeably. 

That’s because all bomber pilots were pilots by trade. But not all pilots were bomber pilots, meaning they didn’t all fly military aircraft designed to drop bombs. For example, aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart also wore flight jackets. In other words, being an aviator simply means that you fly an aircraft, so it’s not exclusive to military personnel. 

In contemporary fashion, the words have evolved to denote slightly different styles. While flight jackets still maintain their original utilitarian design, bomber jackets have become associated with mainstream fashion and streetwear, often featuring lighter materials and sleeker silhouettes. 

What are the key features of the flight jacket?

Leather Construction: Flight jackets are often made from sturdy leather or faux leather. 

Shearling Lining: One of the defining elements of an aviator jacket is its cozy shearling lining. 

Tailored or Oversized Fit: Classic aviator jackets have a more tailored fit, but oversized options offer a modern take on the style. 

Zipper Closure: Flight jackets usually have a front zipper closure, and they sometimes include an additional storm flap or button closure. 

Collar: Aviator jackets have lined collars for extra comfort and warmth, and may feature a button or snap closure to keep it securely fastened.

Bomber jacket vs flight jacket: 3 key differences

Bomber jackets and flight jackets share a rich history. Despite their highly functional beginnings, they’ve evolved to become iconic pieces of outerwear. To better understand their distinct qualities and nuances, here are the three most important differences between the two. 

Collar

Aviator jackets often have a large shearling or fur-lined collar, which provides extra warmth and protection for the neck. In contrast, bomber jackets typically have a flat collar, often made from the same material as the cuffs and hem. 

Length

Flight jackets tend to be slightly longer than bomber jackets. They may extend past the waistline. On the other hand, bomber jackets typically have a waist-length design, which gives them a more casual and streamlined appearance.

Construction

Flight jackets are more heavily insulated and provide extra protection in the cold, whereas bomber jackets typically have a simpler construction and are more lightweight. 

Tips for choosing the right jacket

Both jacket types pay homage to their aviation roots and continue to be wardrobe staples that exude an air of effortless confidence. 

If you're aiming for a rugged yet sophisticated look, opt for an aviator jacket. Its longer length and shearling-lined collar provide extra warmth during colder seasons. Pair it with jeans and boots to complete your outfit, whether you’re headed to work, dinner or a concert. Go with a dark brown or black option to maximize the classic appeal of the style. 

If you gravitate towards a more contemporary and sporty aesthetic, a bomber jacket might be the way to go. Its shorter design and ribbed cuffs offer a streamlined silhouette that can easily transition from day to night. From casual streetwear to semi-formal attire, bomber jacket outfits pair well with crisp sneakers. Express yourself with a bold print or keep things minimalist with a neutral color. 

Ultimately, the choice between a bomber and aviator jacket boils down to personal preference and the occasion. Consider the vibe you want to convey — or get both. Take a look at Frank And Oak’s women’s bomber jacket collection as a starting point.
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