Military style on the streets I: the MA-1 jacket

ma1 vintage

When we look for functionality and style in men's wardrobes, we often find many pieces whose origins are based on military uniforms. Elements that were created for sole functionality, however ended up on the streets as part of everday civilian style.

The bomber jacket that we know today is actually based on the MA-1; a jacket that was desinged for the United States Army after the Second World War. The MA-1 took inspiration from the B-15, an older jacket model, and redesigned it eliminating several characteristics; like fur-lined collars, which impeded the placement of helmets and interfered with the opening of parachutes. 

The main features of the MA-1 are its materials; slippery nylon, perfect for entrance into small aircraft cabins; the small, upper sleeve pocket featuring zipper closure, allowing for swift access even with gloves; or the most curious detail of all, which was later added: the orange inner lining that turned the MA-1 into a reversible product. Pilots were shot down could maintain the original, exterior color should they not want to be seen, or turn the jacket inside-out to display the orange interior in case of encountering a rescue patrol nearby. Besides its orange color, the interior also displayed a message written in various languages, which offered a reward to anyone who would help a wounded or shot down pilot. At first, the message was displayed on blue fabric, but later it was changed to green to adapt to the conditions of war.

ma1 aviator

The design created for the United States Army was fabricated by various different manufacturing firms, however each used the same pattern. One of these firms, Alpha Industries, saw the potential in commercial use of the product in the 70's, when Punks and Skins converted the MA-1 into their uniform. The slippery nylon finish that once served to glide comfortably into aircraft cabins, now allowed for an effortless escape from the police. In the 90's, hip-hop recovered the MA-1 at a time when aesthetics drifted from Onyx to Wu Tang Clan. 

In the world of cinema, the appearances of the MA-1 and its by-products have had more relation to subcultures rather than the jacket's military origins. Steve McQueen wore it in The Hunter, Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, and it was a basic garment in films of hooligan-esque nature like This Is England.

On fashion runways, it has been included in the shows of designers along the likes of Raf Simons and Rick OwensAlyx took things a step further - wishing to preserve the jacket's history, the brand collaborated with Alpha Industries for its M 1999 - creating jackets which clearly were inspired by the MA-1 with worn-out details and the Alyx D-buckle on the sleeve pocket.