There are certain leather jackets that are inextricably linked with certain values. For example, the J-24 Buco/Schott Perfecto double-breasted motorcycle jacket conjures up images of a sneering Marlon Brando slouched against his Triumph motorcycle in The Wild One, and, as such, perfectly characterises the word ‘rebellion’. The A-2 aviator jacket, issued by the United States Air Force to officers since 1931, has been donned by such an incredible litany of real-life and screen heroes, from General Douglas MacArthur to Steve McQueen, that it will forever be associated with acts of immeasurable heroism. Who can forget McQueen in his A-2 made by American brand Rough Wear in The Great Escape, his jacket draped insouciantly like a flag of defiance against his German prison camp oppressors?
Throughout my life I’ve owned dozens of A-2 and G-1 (the Navy version with the fur collar, as seen in Top Gun) jackets, numerous vintage jackets, and several modern ones — and each time I’ve worn them I’ve felt connected to their rich and heroic history.
The A-2, or military specification number 94-3040, was the first modern aviator jacket. It was adopted as standard issue in May 1931 to replace the less practical knit-collar, button-front A-1 jacket. Because the jackets were sourced from several different suppliers, such as Werber and Aero Leathers, and even civilian suppliers like McGregor and Rough Wear, they could differ subtly in style, but they all had the following details in common: two snap-down pockets, initially without sidewarmer pockets, which were considered too ‘civilian’ for military use; epaulets for displaying rank; a snap-down collar, which could also be turned up against the cold; knit collars; and cuffs.
Early A-2s had wonderfully soft-spun silk linings, though these were later replaced by harder-wearing, heavyweight cotton drill. They were blouson cut, where the body tended to billow out and was gathered together at a snug knit waist. The entire back panel was crafted from a single piece of leather, as it was found that a centre seam would abrade pilots stuck in cockpit seats for long durations. On each side of the back was a deep pleat with an additional fold of leather to allow for maximum mobility.