This Old Thing?: Vintage Military Styles

From bomber jackets to fatigue pants, vintage military clothing has become a staple in the fashion world across many different styles, with many appreciating the unique edginess that the military look provides. However it’s probably safe to say that most aren’t aware of the functional histories of the designs their pieces of vintage military clothing are based upon, and how they evolved over the years to suit the needs of those serving in our country’s armed forces.

In this article, we’ll explore the functional histories of some popular vintage military styles we stock at Harry’s. You’ll not only look cool in that leather flight jacket, but you can also impress your friends with the knowledge you’ve gained of the story behind it!



Throughout the late 1940s, the B-15 flight jacket was used by Air Force pilots and crews. It was designed for cold temperatures with a Mouton fur collar and 100 percent wool knit waistband and cuffs, and featured tabs to hold the pilot’s oxygen mask and headset wires in place. The design went through several revisions, most notably the switch to nylon fabric making the jacket water repellent.

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Introduced into service in the mid-1950s to replace the B-15, the MA-1 became the official flight jacket of the US Air Force and Navy ground crews. This design ditched the fur collar as it got in the way of parachute harnesses worn by aviators, but still retained its other cold weather features like the 100 percent wool knit waistband and cuffs and was good to go in temperatures between 14 and 50 degrees. The notable feature of the MA-1 is its reversible Indian Orange lining, which allowed pilots an extra distress call measure in the event of a crash in order to be noticed by rescue personnel.

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While the nylon fabric of earlier flight jackets gave it a nice water repellent quality, it later proved dangerous to pilots as it was prone to melting into the skin in the event of an aircraft fire. So in 1972, the CWU (Cold Weather Uniform) 45/P flight jacket was introduced retaining its protection against freezing temperatures but now made of NOMEX flame-retardant material, which also provided chemical and radiation-resistant qualities that proved useful should aviators and ground crews be faced with such threats.

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2362Paratrooper pants, also known as “jump trousers” or simply “cargo pants”, were first utilized by the United States Armed Forces in the 1940s during World War II, seeing action the in the North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy campaigns. The first design was known as the M-42, which was supposed to be wind and water resistant. Paratroopers issued the pants unfortunately learned the hard way that they were not, and so they were updated to the M-43 model which featured leg ties to help lock out water and wind. The M-43 also saw the addition of the distinctive billowed cargo pockets, which allowed soldiers added room to store radios and extra ammunition. Cargo pants became huge fashion trend among young people in the 1990s, and the overall style remains prevalent today popularly as shorts.

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2644_1The M-65 field pants and jacket were widely utilized by the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, especially by those serving in the cooler climate of the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, and overall to keep a soldier warm in the chilly temperatures that resulted after monsoonal rains.

Originally issued to troops in olive drab, the M-65 pants are now produced in a variety of different colors and patterns like woodland camo and tiger stripe, and enjoy popularity in their retirement from service amongst a variety of lifestyles from outdoor sports enthusiasts to alternative music scenes.

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8731_bigThe M-65 jacket went on to become one of the most iconic pieces of military clothing in existence, and has been largely featured in pop culture as the jacket of choice for many big names such as Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver (1976), musician David Bowie in the “I’m Afraid of Americans” music video, Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984) and many more.

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usn-peacoatMentions of the US Navy sporting the legendary peacoat date back to as early as the 1720s. The coat is characterized by a short length, broad lapels, and a double-breasted closure, and was designed to protect sailors from the cold, miserable weather that resulted from being surrounded by all that water and the chilly wind coming off of it. While it was historically made of wool, the peacoat was also once made of a heavy, coarse twill fabric known as “pilot cloth,” sometimes called “P-cloth,” and thus the coat itself began to be referred to as a “P-coat.”

The peacoat’s impact on contemporary fashion really needs no introduction, adding a touch of class to really any outfit. One simply needs to look in a magazine or watch television to see that anybody who’s anybody sports a peacoat as a part of their fall or winter wardrobe.

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