The Birth and Rebirth of the A-1 Flight Jacket

Many of our classic clothing designs spring from sport or the military. The A-1 flight jacket has a history with both.

Before there were military specifications to formalize the design for aviation use, what became the A-1 began as a common civilian jacket. Used for hunting, golf, and other leisure activities, we really don’t know exactly who designed these proto-A-1s, or when they were first made. 

The Army Air Corps codified the A-1 model flight jacket specifications in 1927. These specifications described a jacket made of olive drab capeskin with knit waist, cuffs, and stand up collar. There were two front button flap pockets (the naval version had higher pockets), and a buttoned front, with two snaps at the bottom (some early models had bottom buttons rather than snaps).

But the A-1’s period of dominance was short lived. It was replaced as standard issue by the now ubiquitous model A-2 in 1931, a jacket that most envision today when they think “flight jacket.” Still, the A-1 would linger in official use for another decade until the dawn of World War II; some were even worn on that fateful morn at Pearl Harbor.

The A-1 largely disappeared from the American consciousness, only to be seen in old aviation photographs. But while Americans forgot their heritage, save for a few detail oriented repro makers and vintage aficionados, Italians - in particular Valstar, who first produced their A-1-esque “Valstarino” blouson in 1935 - kept the A-1 alive as a casual civilian jacket. Lightweight and slim fitting, the Valstarino recalls the A-1’s history as a summer flight jacket, its original military designation, while returning the A-1 to its civilian roots.

Comfortable and stylish, the A-1 is design that won’t, and shouldn’t, go away. It’s easy to see why it captured the eye of some Army Air Corps officer, making its way onto the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Charles Kingsford Smith, and even Ameila Earhart. With a resurgence in popularity, the classic A-1 is poised for another hundred years.

Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in March 2014.

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