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c. 1940s

Leather jackets of the 401st

The US Air Force officers made bomber jackets cool long before Brando stepped onto the scene

Leather jackets are, y’know, intrinsically cool. This much we know.

But while it may have been Marlon Brando who brought the Perfecto biker jacket to mainstream attention in 1953’s ‘Wild One’, forever associating it with the look of rebellious youth, these jackets and the men who wore them—and made them their own—were a decade ahead of Brando and his motorcycle.

These are, of course, bomber jackets—actually Type A-2 leather flight jackets, to give them their full name—and they had been the standard issue to USAAF officers since 1931. 

Pilots decorated their jacket as they wished, emblazoning them with patches, embroidery—any and all adornments.

Standard issue they may have been, but that’s where uniformity went out the (cockpit) window. Pilots decorated their jacket as they wished, emblazoning them with patches, embroidery—any and all adornments.

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But the back was where the main artistic action took place.  It seemed almost deliberately designed as a frame for personal painted expression. Owners added cartoons, slogans, nicknames—and, more often than not, kills.

Here we see some of the many customized jackets of the 401st Bombardment Group, which went under the slogan “the best damned outfit in the USAAF”.

This unit took 254 missions in B-17 Flying Fortresses during WWII, earning a staggering 12,000 individual decorations.

You were saying, Brando?

National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association
National Archives via 401st Bomb Group Association

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