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Bomber jackets take off

Turns out Amelia Earhart was at the height of fashion with her aviation ensemble. Her leather jacket - cuffed at the waist and sleeves to protect her from the cold air at high altitudes - was practical, but she wore it with aplomb.

We’ve seen many a photo of her, often wearing a jacket over a shirt buttoned low and a scarf tied jauntily around her neck.

It’s a look we’ve seen again when Hilary Swank portrayed the “First Lady of the Air” in the new “Amelia” movie.

So how would Earhart dress today?

Bomber jacket over a dress to the office? Over leggings to the club? Over a ruffled blouse instead of a menswear shirt?

Would it even be leather? Today’s bomber jackets come in silk, faux fur, nylon, polar fleece and sequins.

“When women wore them in the past, they would generally be their boyfriend’s jacket, or their dad’s or their granddad’s. It was essentially a hand-me-down,” says Macy’s spokesman Kamal Bosamia in Chicago. “It was a very comfy piece of their wardrobe, and they adopted it as their own. Now what we’re seeing is that it’s not just a comfort piece. It is a statement piece, especially this season.”

Time to unleash your inner aviatrix.

MILITARY ROOTS

The bomber jacket is no lowly piece of outerwear. Heads of state have been known to present them as gifts.

In 2007, at the end of Gordon Brown’s visit to Camp David, President George W. Bush gave the British prime minister a brown leather bomber jacket wrapped in gold paper and bearing the presidential seal.

That’s a far cry from the jacket’s military roots, which by most accounts trace back to World War I, when British bomber pilots sported long leather flying coats. The leather helped shield the pilots, who flew in planes with open cockpits, from the elements.

American forces quickly adopted the warm, practical outerwear. In 1931, the U.S. Army Air Corps issued the design that remains popular today – waist-length with front zippers, high wrapped collars, wind flaps on the front and tight cuffs on the sleeves.

There was something a little edgy, dangerous and adventurous about the jacket and the people who wore them.

And it didn’t take long for the fashion industry to steal the look for the everyman and everywoman.

FLIGHTS OF FANCY

Freelance stylist Cristy Guy owns a bomber jacket that she likes to pair with blue jeans and high heels.

“I think that, especially when we translate it into women’s wear, it’s very sexy,” says Guy, who lives in Mission, Kan.

“And the leather adds a little bit of roughness so that when you wear it with very feminine pieces, it just has a really cool look about it. And it doesn’t ever really go out of style.

“They’re made so many different ways now. You just have to make sure that it’s more up-to-date.”

Putting the oomph in the style this year are jackets with interesting pocket details – patch pockets, flap pockets with buttons – and edgy, exposed zippers, says Bosamia with Macy’s.

Cropped bombers are also hot.

“The cropped ones generally lend themselves to a younger audience,” he says. “So now the bomber jacket really can be for everyone.”

Guy, who went to the same fashion school in Los Angeles where this season’s “Project Runway” was filmed, recently styled an Earhart-inspired photo shoot.

In one photo, she placed the model in an exaggerated version of a bomber jacket made of silver leather and paired it with a big skirt of many ruffled layers. A metal corset belt and big, chunky jewelry gave it a “very Vogue, very conceptual” look, she says.

For a more everyday look, “a nice bomber with some silky trousers and a light chiffon top would be too cute,” she says. “It’s a good contrast – you’re not all rough, but you’re not all feminine, either. I just love to use the rough with the soft.”

With jeans, she would put a bomber over a long tank made of a non bulky material such as jersey and finish the look with lots of dangly necklaces.

A scarf around the neck, ala Earhart’s signature look, would work today as well, Guy says.

“The funny thing is that I know in her era she was a woman in a man’s world, so she dressed a little more baggy, a little more masculine,” she says.

“But if you really look at her, she’s just super gorgeous and has such a great body. It would have been interesting to see her in some more fitted clothes.”

Or perhaps that bomber jacket of silver leather with a cancan skirt?

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