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Campaign Curiosity: Bomber Jackets

Reader Tammy Piegols wonders:

"I saw on the news tonight that Gov. Ehrlich was wearing an Air Force flight jacket. Why? Was he in the Air Force? His bio skips that part. Why would he wear a flight jacket that he didn't earn? Is this some sort of Republican initiation? My husband had to fly tons of hours to earn his leather."

No, Bobby Haircut was never in the Air Force, not in the military at all, actually. But he's far from alone among politicians in affecting that look out there on the campaign trail. Pols have a strange fascination with bomber jackets. Ehrlich wears that one, inexplicably, and his opponent, Martin O'Malley, was out on the campaign trail last week in a similar leather jacket bearing the insignias of the Baltimore city police helicopter division. (O'Malley's signature look is, rather, the sleeveless t-shirt he used to don in his Irish rocker mode. Ehrlich tends more toward the jacketless business look.)

And across the river in Virginia, Democratic Senate hopeful Jim Webb was out this weekend wearing--you got it--a leather bomber jacket: "James Webb was dressed in Saturday casual -- earth-tone sweater and slacks -- accented by a leather aviator's jacket and his trademark combat boots, worn at the urging of his son, a Marine now serving in Iraq," reported John Cramer in the Roanoke Times.

It's all too reminiscent of the infamous Michael Dukakis military tank helmet gaffe, in which the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate tried to prove through a photo op that he was tough on defense, but ended up making a complete fool of himself. (Madeleine Albright also drew criticism for her effort as secretary of state to project a tough-gal image by wearing a fighter pilot's jacket.)

Yet let's cut the pols a break--they do get tired of wearing a business suit every waking moment of their lives, and campaigning is hard physical work. So they search for what to wear. Mayor Tony Williams and some other big-city mayors don the baseball jackets showing the hometeam's colors, which is a nice gesture, but tends to look geeky. So some pols go for the bomber jacket. Presidents get really cool flight jackets with the presidential seal and various military insignias on them, and both Bushes and Clinton could occasionally be seen in that get-up.

But while that makes some sense for the commander-in-chief, the look really comes off as odd on a governor and his challenger, no? Fashion critics, get in here.

By Marc Fisher |  November 6, 2006; 7:28 AM ET
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Lot's of people wear bomber jackets, it's the look. Although I think the ones with the fleece or shearling collars look kinda wannbe.

Posted by: Stick | November 6, 2006 7:36 AM

Obviously George Allen thinks the way to dress for success is to don the mantle of his father's fame, but it does seem a little odd to campaign for the Virginia Senate seat in Landover Maryland. More on topic, I think you have to distinguish between an AF flight jacket, an item of the military uniform, and a generic quote bomber jacket unquote.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 6, 2006 9:22 AM

No big deal. You can buy flight jacket wannabes in stores.

Posted by: Been There | November 6, 2006 9:52 AM


You sound exhausted. Is the your best shot for the last day of the campaign? I think the campaign's been too long, by at least a day, and probably a month.

Posted by: KK | November 6, 2006 10:45 AM

At least military apparel fits Webb's image.

Allen, in his cowboy suit, always comes across as looking like Howdy Doody to me.

Posted by: Rocco | November 6, 2006 11:16 AM

You are entitled to voice this fashion criticism only if you have never owned or worn a "bomber" jacket. Let's face it, it's a guy uniform for most of us, and most of us got the jackets from our wives. And at least Jim Webb was in the military, if not a "bomber."

Posted by: chris | November 6, 2006 11:54 AM

Chris says, "it's a guy uniform for most of us, and most of us got the jackets from our wives". Where did *that* idea come from? Just made up on the spot?

Posted by: jaded | November 6, 2006 12:48 PM

Governor Erlich wore an Air Force Issue flight jacket with the insignia of the Air Force National Guard on the front. Because he is the nominal commander of Maryland's Air Guard, he is probably authorized to wear this jacket. I noted there were no wings or other badges on the name tag, only a single line (his name, perhaps?), so I presume he wore all as the military would authorize. The Presidents' jacket(s) are normally similarly authorized. As both Bushes were qualified aviators, I would again presume that they could properly wear their respective service's wings on their name tags.

The fashion "bomber" jacket is simply a copy of the military's, faithfulness to the original designs being optional. Personally, as a vet, I tend to look askance at people who wear rank and badges not earned. On the other hand, those who wish to honor units of the armed forces by displaying their individual insignia (as squadron, division, regiment, etc) have my approbation.

Posted by: JT the (former) LT | November 6, 2006 3:01 PM

" Fashion critics, get in here."

I don't think you want Robin's take on this. She uses words like a knife to hurt anyone the Post wants to hit. I know she won a Pulitzer prize for criticism, but considering her style, I would expect for her to write for Women's Wear Daily.

Posted by: Gary Masters | November 6, 2006 5:11 PM

Love Robin. Don't mess w/Robin, Gary, you obviously DON'T read WWD. Robin understands fashion is statement, from stilletto heel to long black Condy boots, to bomber jackets. There's style and there's substance. They are read together. Substance is the context for style. A war jacket on a veteran - so what. A war jacket on a wimp (Dukakis) - laughable and sad. A war jacket and a pair of shorts on Britney, Madonna, Marylyn, hot.

Posted by: meyerhazel | November 7, 2006 8:44 AM


When do you roll out your cutesy nickname for Martin O"Malley a la "Bobby Haircut"? Maybe you should have a contest and let a reader hang a new moniker on the Guv.

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