Aviator jackets fly high as Masters of the Air effect takes off on the high street | Fashion

The unlikely star of the Apple TV second world war drama series Masters of the Air, the last episode of which is released in the UK on Friday, is not the flight scenes or the solid performances from Callum Turner and Austin Butler, but the jackets. Call it the Masters of the Air effect, but aviator jackets are having a moment.

According to the high street retailer John Lewis, searches for the garment have increased by 68% since this time last year. They are soaring at the luxury end, too, with Matches Fashion reporting that sales have more than tripled in the same period. “The sexy older brother of a shearling coat, the aviator jacket is a wardrobe staple that stands the test of time,” says Damien Paul, the head of menswear at Matches.

The original aviators – then known as B-3 bomber jackets – were designed for second world war bomber crews. Crafted from leather or sheepskin, they finished at the waist – trimmed with leather belts as an extra defence against the cold – and invariably featured outsized collars, which could be popped to protect from the bitterest temperatures. The bomber planes flown by the crews operated at altitudes of 20,000-25,000ft, so the jackets were essential to prevent the pilots from freezing to death. Their trousers were often made of sheepskin too, as they could find themselves operating in temperatures as low as -40C.

It is no secret that men love buying and wearing garments that are rooted in the past. It’s why pea coats (originally worn by Dutch navy personnel in the early 20th century), blue jeans (first sported by prospectors and gold panners in the mid-1800s) and trench coats (donned by officers in – you guessed it – the first world war trenches), remain the basic staples of many masculine wardrobes today.

Brad Pitt sporting an aviator jacket
Brad Pitt sporting an aviator jacket. Photograph: PR

Aviators scratch that itch. “The storytelling around B-3 bomber jackets is unrivalled,” says Christopher Bastin, the creative director of the Gant brand. “The style has been worn and immortalised by a host of elite style icons,” he says, pointing at Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Marlon Brando and Brad Pitt as all helping to “cement the aviator’s status as the jacket of heroes on the silver screen”.

Now, any brand that values its male customer base has some take on the aviator. For his first outing at Dunhill earlier this month, its creative director, Simon Holloway, presented an outsized burnt caramel bomber jacket. While at Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams presented a simple tan leather aviator finished with proud “LV’’ branding, such is the aviator’s adaptability.

“For me, The Real McCoy’s make the best authentic aviator jackets,” says the street style photographer and menswear aficionado Robert Spangle.

There are plenty of serviceable vintage aviator jackets on resale sites such as Vinted, Depop and Vestiaire Collective. “I love the way that shearling fabric ages,” says Bastin. “You kind of have to break it in, but then it’s yours. The style also goes with both casual and more dressed up options, which makes it versatile, despite being such a specific, function-focused garment.”

The menswear expert Zachary Weiss believes some of the jacket’s current popularity has to do with the garment’s drama. “There’s a new swath of brands getting onboard with aviator jackets right now, and I think that could be due to the garment’s quite theatrical nature. We’ve entered an era of statement dressing in menswear, in which every man is the star of his own film. So why not play the role of aviation hero for the day?”

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