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History of Cool: Military Jackets through the Years

November 1, 2014 by
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Military jackets symbolize adventure, strength, and honor—it’s the reason why movie stars like Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Steven McQueen wore the classic leather jacket as an embodiment of effortless masculinity. The military has influenced the fashion world for years. The time-worn practicality of each piece has a history of its own that reflects the valor and determination of generations of soldiers.

The Peacoat  

Although the British navy is credited with popularizing this style of outerwear, the origin of the peacoat dates back to the 18th century with the Dutch word “pijjakker,” meaning “coat of coarse cloth.” The Dutch were a naval power, and thus designed a jacket that protected against the harsh weather experienced at sea. The British Army began issuing the peacoat to sailors in the mid-1800s, and soon after, the U.S. Navy adopted the jacket. Today, the Navy follows specific directions for the style and wear of the peacoat, including ownership markings: Center the last name and last four digits of the SSN three inches from and parallel to the bottom edge of the peacoat. (See more instructions here and customize one for yourself).


World World I brought the advent of aerial and trench warfare, and the need for a new strategy to keep soldiers hidden. Soldiers, naturalists, and artists worked together to pattern the camouflage jacket, pulling inspiration from Cubist paintings and Renaissance trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) art. With each new front, a new design is required to match the surroundings. Soldiers in the Vietnam War donned the “tiger stripe” for jungle warfare, while troops in the first Gulf War wore the “cookie dough” or “chocolate chip” style that mimics the desert landscape.

The Bomber Jacket

Developed by the U.S. Army Aviation Clothing Board in 1917, the bomber jacket was made to keep pilots warm in open-air cockpits. As aerial technology advanced to include heating, the jacket became lighter. But the simple, no-frills style has remained the same. The bomber was designed for the job: the unstructured shoulders and large sleeves make movement easy, and the cropped length works well for sitting down.

The MA-1

The 1940s heralded the beginning of the jet age, and pilots encountered new conditions as aircrafts reached higher altitudes. Airmen became uncomfortable in bulky jackets that froze when rainwater and perspiration met colder temperatures. The new MA-1 jacket was made of nylon, a lightweight material that allows greater mobility and provides warmth. Later models of the MA-1 included a bright orange lining, so that downed airmen could reverse the jacket to send a visible signal to rescue teams.

The M-65         

Introduced during the Vietnam War, the M-65 jacket is named for the year of its inception. Monsoon rains brought extremely cold weather to ordinarily hot Vietnamese plains. The M-65 kept soldiers warm in frigid temperatures yet comfortable in humid climates, making it a perfect transitional piece. The jacket’s four large pockets (two hip pockets and two breast pockets) provide ample space for supplies—an asset that continues to make the M-65 popular today.

Embody the sharp-dressed, rugged style that spans years of military history. Browse our extensive collection of military jackets. Contact MSC to customize yours today!

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