Flight Jackets—More Than a Fashion Statement, They’re a Rite of Passage
They’re practical, collectible, a fashion statement, an artist’s canvas, part of family traditions, and more.
By Meg Godlewski
March 7, 2022
There are few articles of clothing more iconic than an aviator’s flight jacket. It doesn’t matter if it is made from animal hide or a man-made fabric, if it was issued, purchased or a gift—there is something about the jacket that quickly makes it a favorite piece of clothing.
How it Began
The concept of the flight jacket traces back to 1910 when members of the Royal Flying Corps in Belgium and France took to the air in unheated open-cockpit biplanes, balloons, and airships. Leather was more windproof than cloth—therefore warmer—so it became the fabric of choice for an aviator’s outerwear. The first garments covered the pilot from neck to ankle.
By the 1920s, waist-length jackets started to appear. The U.S. Army adopted the Type A-1 flying jacket in 1927. This first leather jacket had knit cuffs and buttons as fasteners. Several different manufacturers were tasked to produce them for the Army, and as such the details, like the collar shape, varied from manufacturer to manufacturer.
In 1931, the A-2 appeared. Predominantly made of horsehide or goatskin dyed seal brown, the jacket featured a heavy-duty metal zipper made of steel or brass instead of buttons. The jackets featured a shirt-style collar with hidden snap points and a hook-and-eye throat latch—the latter proved to be a great place to attach the rescue whistle issued to military aviators.
The A-2 had knitted cuffs and waistband, snap-flap patch pockets on either side, and an interior map pocket. The back of the jacket was designed from a single piece of leather for strength. The interior of the jacket was insulated with cotton lining, and there was a strap of leather on the interior of the collar for ease of hanging, and below the hanging strap, the military spec tag that showed the manufacturer, place of manufacture, year, and the jacket lot number. These details are important because they help determine the age of the jacket—a critical piece of information for the collector.
The 1940s era jackets range in size from a men’s 32 to 54, and by today’s standards, those sizes tend to run small, especially through the shoulders.
Flight Jackets as Collectibles
Flight jackets are prized by collectors, and you can expect to pay for that prize.
“A basic A-2 in good condition with original liner, specification label, and cuffs/waistband that are present even if a bit worn (that is expected) will sell for $700 to $1,000,” says Jeff Shrader, the owner of Advance Guard Militaria. Shrader has been collecting and appraising flight jackets for about 20 years. You may have seen him on the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow” practicing his craft.
The jackets with original insignia and artwork fetch the most.
“Most good A-2s are in the $2,000 to $4,000 range,” he says. “A super jacket with truly excellent art and biographical provenance establishing authenticity can achieve $7,000 to $8,000 without much trouble, and there are jackets that have sold in excess of $10,000.”
The jackets often come from veterans and their families or can be acquired from dealers at collectible shows. Face-to-face acquisition is often best, says Shrader, because it gives the potential buyer a chance to examine the jacket, noting the interior details as listed above.
Shrader advises collectors to “purchase only from trusted sellers who know their material and will offer a money-back guarantee of authenticity.”
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Story credit: Flying Magazine Newsletter; https://www.flyingmag.com/flight-jackets-more-than-a-fashion-statement-theyre-a-rite-of-passage/