When the first fighter pilots took to the skies in World War I, they decked themselves out in leather gear. Pilots flew in open cockpits, and it was bone-chilling cold up there. Leather, which is impermeable to wind, helped them to retain body heat. In the jet-set 1950s, the leather jacket lost out to nylon flight gear. But in the late 1980s, after the release of the movie Top Gun, fighter pilots wanted to look like the aces of old. That's when the Air Force reissued the classic A-2, a waist-length leather jacket with wristbands, a dress collar, and epaulets.
Willis & Geiger, now a division of Lands' End, builds its jackets almost exactly to the original military specs - in horsehide leather or in a less-expensive goatskin. "The jacket is a mark of the fighter-ace era," says Burt Avedon, president of Willis & Geiger. "It's part of the elan that separates pilots from the rest of the world."
Editor's note: As of January 1, 1999, Willis & Geiger was liquidated. Lands' End may continue to offer this item at www.landsend.com.
A version of this article appeared in the October 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.