In Apple TV+’s new World War II series Masters of the Air, Major John C. “Bucky” Egan (Callum Turner) fearlessly soars through the skies in state-of-the-art Flying Fortress planes advancing against the Nazis. At 25,000 feet up in the clouds, the World War II commander pilot stays warm, and in uniform, in his “lucky” shearling B3 bomber jacket.
“It was freezing up there,” Turner tells The Hollywood Reporter, explaining the physical and mental, risks the real members of the 100th Bomb Group endured through their harrowing missions. “It was a hostile environment not only because of the German [fighter jets] but also because of the atmosphere and the weather. They were in sheepskin jackets for a reason.”
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Also known as the “Bloody 100th” for the staggering number of lives lost in combat, the squadron helped liberate Europe through new and constantly advancing technology — also as illustrated through the evolution of the airmen’s commanding leather jackets.
But Bucky’s prominently worn white and camel-paneled coat also helps distinguish the character as a loyal and heroic hothead. He’s prone to starting bar fights but always has his officers’ backs, especially best friend Major Gale “Buck” Cleven (played by Austin Butler), who exudes valor in his brown and black B3 jacket. “There’s this real arc, actually, emotionally for the jacket,” says Turner, while explaining that the stylistic differences in the duo’s outerwear stay true to history.
During flight training, the real-life Egan and Cleven were deliberate in what they chose to wear, as they assembled their flight gear. “The white jackets were prototypes and Bucky just went and took it. He said that he liked it the most and he didn’t want to be like everyone else,” explains Turner. “Buck took the mick out of him and said he was an idiot for wearing a white jacket because it made him more of a target. But he didn’t care.”
“It was the hardest jacket to make,” says Masters of the Air costume designer Colleen Atwood of Turner’s bomber coat. The costume designer — working with the actor for a third time since the Fantastic Beasts franchise — first referenced an original but “falling apart” — piece and then searched for sheepskin in the right weight and color. But the resulting silhouette looked too bulky. “I shaved the inside, so it wasn’t quite as thick,” continues Atwood. “So his jacket was a three-step process. But we had to get it right because it was such a story point for Bucky.”
For the cast’s expansive and continuously progressing military wardrobes, Atwood poured through historical documentation, personal photos from veterans’ families and the archives of the American Air Museum in Britain, near the 100th’s Thorpe Abbotts airfield in England. She meticulously depicted the gradual evolution of the U.S. military jackets, starting with the A1 brown leather zip-up, similar to the bombers of Great Britain’s RAF. “Americans borrowed bits and pieces in the beginning,” says Atwood, who collaborated with England-based Eastman Leather Co. to build upwards of 200 jackets. “But as the war went on, the manufacturing caught up,” she says.
Keenly aware of the rationing and material shortages that occurred during the war, Atwood employed similar “economical and precise” pattern-making techniques and incorporated period-authentic materials when possible. As the war advances toward the finale, new pilots arrive, along with a lighter-weight nylon zip-up, with a plant-based pile lining instead of shearling. In a Dee Rees-directed episode, the Tuskegee Airmen (the African American fighter jet and bomber squad) wear their dark brown A1 leather zip-ups emblazoned with the signature cougar insignia of the 332nd Fighter Group.
Aging and dyeing the outerwear proved integral in depicting the passage of time and harsh realities of war. Atwood’s team rubbed oil and dirt into the leather and even used paint and paraffin spray to mimic biting snow and ice. “It really looked lived-in and not just like everybody went to the same store and got the same jacket,” says the four-time-Oscar and double-Emmy winner. “It helped individualize the costumes a lot.”
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But, despite the military’s emphasis on precise homogeneity in dress, the aviators do boast subtle flourishes within their flight uniforms. The 332’s Second Lt. Alexander Jefferson (Branden Cook) coordinates an ivory silk ascot with his rich brown A1 and military khakis. Buck brightens up his dark B3 with a blue silk cravat. Later, Bucky loosely knots a thin white scarf, long and louche, under his now-battered (and less white) jacket. Of course, the rakish accessories are also historically accurate.
“Pilots had a little bit more latitude with their uniforms,” says Atwood, explaining that the commanders flexed with their own non-military issue watches and different sporty sunglasses. In her research, she even discovered vintage U.S. Air Force jackets with Savile Row labels. “The top brass had stuff custom-made,” she continues. “Their interpretation of [military regalia] individualizes them within the parameters of a uniform.”
So it makes sense that the spectrum of bombers, from the A1 zip-up to the nylon iteration, ultimately crossed over from cutting-edge military uniform to a fashion staple that never goes out of style. “Its practicality played a role,” explains SCAD professor and fashion historian Sarah Collins. “But, its widespread appeal primarily stemmed from its association with fighter pilots or ‘aces,’ evoking an aura of adventure, danger and rebellion.” Collins name-checks Hollywood legends Steve McQueen and James Dean adopting, and fueling, the rugged look’s ongoing popularity.
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Fellow Travelers‘ star Matt Bomer just wore a shearling-lined dark bomber, with an argyle sweater and flares to sit front row at the Loewe men’s show in Paris, while Nate Mann, who plays dashing pilot Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, sported an on-theme Dunst A1-style jacket to an Apple TV+ Emmys party. Turns out, other Masters actors also continued that sartorial camaraderie and intrepid spirit after filming wrapped.
“I found out that lots of people [kept] their jackets,” says Turner. “I didn’t want the white one. So I spoke to Colleen and she introduced me to [Eastman Leather’s founder Gary Eastman] and he created one that was a little bit more modern.”
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