The story of how the bomber flight jacket went from a practical item of clothing to a fashion item that thousands of people all over the world must have is not a new one. But what is surprising is how few people actually know anything at all about the story.

As its name suggests, the bomber flight jacket was made for, you guessed it, bomber pilots. These jackets were issued to pilots in both the World Wars, although in World War I they were much longer leather coats and not at all like the short bomber jackets that are so popular today. These were made in Europe and issued to Royal Flying Corp pilots who were flying high in the sky in icy conditions, in open cockpits.

The short jackets were first made towards the end of that war and used extensively throughout World War II. Both the US army and US navy issued these short jackets to their air force and marine bomber pilots, changing the designs from time to time. Perhaps the biggest change was when an American aviator, Leslie Leroy Irvin, came up with the now world famous shearling jacket.

Officially called the Irvin RAF Sheepskin Flying Jacket, these were made at Letchworth in the United Kingdom and initially supplied to members of the Royal Air Force. Similar shearling (or sheepskin) jackets were subsequently also manufactured in the USA and issued to their bomber pilots.

As aircraft became more sophisticated, and pilots no longer had to fly in open planes, the practical need for these jackets was no longer evident. However the style of the bomber flight jacket, in its many guises, captured the imagination of civilians who were keen to wear them too.

Interestingly, one of the people responsible for keeping these designs alive is a man called Simon Green, founder of a British steering wheel manufacturing company. In the 1970s, Green, himself a keen pilot, wanted a shearling jacket - preferably an Irvin jacket. Not being able to find one anywhere, he used a museum item as a pattern for one he made for himself. Today his company still makes reproduction Irvin jackets which are faithful to the original design.

While the contemporary bomber flight jacket, including the shearling jacket, remains a practical item of clothing, it has become a status symbol and fashion item all over the world. This is a mens bomber jacket that has been around for a very long time, and is surely here to stay.