Bruce Springsteen’s decision to don a classic American pilot’s jacket for the cover of his new album, at the age of 71, got me thinking. Are we ever too old to wear an aviator? Admittedly, they do tend to be favoured by men who buy a sports car when they hit a “certain age”. Yet, when teamed with a chunky roll-neck and a pair of slim-fit khakis, they can be the anchor to a contemporary winter wardrobe.
Created to keep pilots warm during the First World War, the aviator has gone through countless upgrades and reinventions over the past 100 years. While the weathered-sheepskin heritage style (the A-2) that we instantly recognise as a flight jacket is still popular, there are many modern hybrids that are more versatile and better-geared towards civilian life. Tommy Hilfiger, Sandro and Gant have all adapted the classic A-2 flight jacket with contrast sheepskin collar in an easier-to-wear woven fabric.
Gant’s aviator, in a soft wool-blend with recycled synthetic padding, is a boxier fit, so is great for shorter men like myself, while Hilfiger’s, in virgin wool, features a detachable shearling collar, so that it can also double up as a more formal-looking bomber jacket.
Lee Jeans and Mr P have pushed the envelope further by using check. Lee’s 191J model has been reworked in an outdoorsy blanket-style plaid; Mr P’s is more refined in an elegant Prince of Wales pattern.
American Vintage’s Akocity aviator is also a bit of a maverick. Made from a polyamide fabric, so it’s super-light in weight, it has a very modern edge and can be worn with a heavy-knit or layered under an overcoat.
As strange as it may sound, the high street is actually the best place to find truer representations of the original pilot’s coat. Zara has a fantastic selection, including one that has Biggles written all over it (not literally) in double-faced faux-leather and completely lined in faux-sheepskin. Spanish retailer Mango has one in chocolate faux-sheepskin with a tone-on-tone collar, and another in classic black that works across the casual/smart divide.
So is it age-appropriate for midlifers? Well, like most things, it’s all about context. In other words, don’t channel your inner Tom Cruise if your Top Gun days are behind you. But Springsteen has spoken, and who wants to argue with the Boss?
Eight great aviators
Faux suede jacket with Borg collar, £65, Next
Double-faced faux leather jacket with asymmetric zip, £89.99, Zara
Akocity jacket (ocean blue), £210, American Vintage
Pile-lined jacket, £59.99, H&M
Faux-shearling aviator jacket £89.99, Mango
Wool flight jacket, £325, Gant
191J check wool jacket (red ochre), £150, Lee
Virgin wool flight jacket with shearling collar, £290, Tommy Hilfiger