Leather jackets, like denim jeans, are a wardrobe staple that never goes out of style. They look effortlessly cool, bleed masculinity, and will last for decades if properly cared for.
In recent years, retailers are capitalizing on the leather jacket craze by selling their own versions of iconic models. Unfortunately, many of these jackets are poorly constructed, using cheap materials. It’s starting to seem like for every 20 brands offering leather jackets, there’s only one or two selling a quality product.
Here at Stridewise, one brand that we believe executes leather jackets properly is Cockpit USA. They are a family-operated business that was founded in 1975 by Jeff and his wife Jacky Clayman, with an emphasis on reproductions of vintage jackets. Both Claymans have long family histories in aviation, but it was Jeff’s ambition to replicate his father’s Army Air Corps jacket that lead to the brand.
Over the years, Cockpit USA has seen great success. Starting in 1978, they became an official manufacturer for the US military, and things ballooned from there. Their jackets have been worn by celebrities, US presidents, and even made several appearances in blockbuster hits like Top Gun, The Right Stuff, and Rocky IV.
By 1975, finding a World War II jacket in wearable condition was no easy task. Remaking one that is high-quality, and to the specs of the original was even harder. Many of the patterns were no longer in service and with records lost or destroyed, Jeff had to dig through piles of worn clothing to get all the details right. It took a while, but eventually, he did.
Jeff recreated the patterns but he also worked with tanneries to reproduce the original finishing found on these jackets. Cockpit USA is especially proud of its proprietary finish on its B-3 bomber: it’s identical to the original and is essentially a brown paint applied to suede sheepskin. The paint made the jacket extremely stiff but over time, it will soften as the paint chips off. This is the case with the original as well, which is part of the reason why most vintage B-3s have this scab-like quality to them.
Aside from their B-3, some of their most popular offerings include their A-2 Leather Bomber Jacket, their US Navy Issue Mil Spec G-1 Jacket, their RAF Sheepskin Bomber Flight Jacket, and of course, the star of today’s review, their Type 440 USN Carrier Jacket.
[Love vintage jackets? Check out our guide to deck jackets]
Cockpit USA Jackets
Before going into our review for the Type 440 USN Carrier Jacket, here are some general information about Cockpit USA’s offerings.
- Cockpit USA leans vintage, meaning their styles are mostly reproductions of early to mid-20th-century military jackets.
- Many of the jackets are modeled after old-school flight jackets that have shorter waists, relaxed fit uppers, and elastic knit waistbands.
- Cockpit USA sells jackets that fit most body sizes.
- While their jackets run short, Cockpit USA also sells models for taller folks. Their “tall jackets” come with longer sleeves and bodies.
- Cockpit USA’s pricing is beyond fair for the type of leather and construction you are getting.
- Most brands in this price range will use more economical leathers like sheepskin or lambskin, but at Cockpit USA, you can grab a horsehide jacket that’s made in the USA for around $700.
My Type 440 USN Carrier Jacket
The Type 440 USN Carrier Jacket is a reproduction of a prototype jacket that the US Navy was working on prior to WW II. The original prototype has a wool liner, but mine is lined with military-grade nylon twill — but everything else about my jacket is identical to the original.
The leather is semi-aniline goatskin, which is super common in Cockpit USA’s lineup and in old-school military jackets.
The main difference between goatskin and the more ubiquitous cowhide is that goatskin offers more stretch, flexibility, and softness. Using goatskin was a deliberate choice because the soft leather gave servicemen more range of motion and also made it more comfortable for those who sat in a cockpit all day. What cowhide does have over goatskin is that the grain is generally more uniform, but this wasn’t an issue that bothered the US Navy’s designers.
In terms of which is stronger, many jacket enthusiasts online swear that cowhide is sturdier, although we’ve interviewed other jacket makers who attest that pound-for-pound, goatskin wins this debate. Regardless though, the original is made with goatskin, and I am glad Cockpit USA respected the original design.
Here are some general design details about the Type 440 USN Carrier Jacket
- The jacket has 2 front-flap pockets that hide 2 additional hands warmer pockets that can accessed from the side. On the inside, there is an interior chest pocket that is perfect for a phone or wallet.
- The sleeves are reinforced with 2 US Navy-specified diamond elbow patches that in my opinion, dress down the formality of the jacket. This is not a bad thing if you want a jacket that is versatile.
- There are 2 adjustable belts on the side of the jacket to make the waist slimmer.
I really do not have any complaints about the design of this jacket. While I’d prefer clasps to buttons on the front pockets for ease of use, hey, it wouldn’t be a repro anymore, would it?
Here are some design details that might bother potential buyers.
- Cockpit USA only makes this jacket in brown leather. This might bother certain people who are looking to specifically buy a black jacket.
- The liner is made with nylon ,which is perfect for gliding your arms in and out of this jacket, but I know some people prefer their jacket to be made with all-natural materials.
- The elbow patches might bother people looking for an ultra-minimalist jacket.
- The fit is slim; if you need boxier fits, you’ll be happy with the majority of Cockpit USA’s “classic” designs.
All in all, it’s a tremendous jacket that fits right at home with a modern wardrobe. I picked up the 440 because it’s their most modern slim fit; I tried several other jackets and found the short torsos and roomy bellies to be a bit too vintage for my body type, but this does make it a terrific brand for the average American body type. Especially when you remember that many of their jackets come in tall sizes.
Cockpit USA makes great reproduction models for people who are into wider cuts or have larger body shapes. They have been around for a little under 50 years and in that time have made jackets for the US military, for movies, and tons of high-profile people. (Tom Hardy famously loves their B-3).
This is a brand that should be spoken about in the same breath as America’s best known leather jacket makers. They’re an excellent company making all of their leather jackets in the USA for a fair price, and you should definitely check them out online or visit their showroom in NYC.
With that said I know Cockpit USA’s style or cut may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are on the hunt for a leather jacket, then you can refer to this little guide to help you differentiate a high-quality jacket like the one sold at Cockpit USA from cheaply made ones.
There are certain elements to look out for when purchasing a well-made leather jacket.
- The leather: What type of leather is the jacket crafted out of and the kind of liner it has?
- High-quality jackets will be made out of full-grain or top-grain leather.
- Low-quality jackets will be made out of lower-grade leather or faux leather.
- The liner: What kind of liner does the jacket have?
- High-quality jackets: High-quality jackets will have taffeta, silk, cotton, or cotton/poly liners.
- Low-quality jackets: Low-quality jackets will have poly or poly blend liners.
- Note: Some high-quality jackets will have polyester liners and that is ok. Polyester liners that trap heat are perfectly fine if used inside a jacket intended for the winter.
- The leather’s cut: Is the jacket composed of many tiny hides stitched together or did the manufacturer use fuller pieces?
- High-quality jackets will be made from a few but larger pieces of leather. Usually, the back of lower-quality jackets will be made with one or two panels.
- Low-quality jackets will be made with many smaller cuts of leather. Usually, the back of lower-quality jackets will be made with many panels.
- The stitching: Is the stitching on the jacket tight and aligned?
- High-quality jackets will have immaculate stitching with no loose threads.
- Low-quality jackets may have crooked stitching and loose threads.
- The hardware: Is the zipper sturdy, and smooth?
- High-quality jackets will have YYK zippers or one that is equivalent. YYK zippers are self-lubricating and will not get gritty over time.
- Low-quality jackets will usually have zippers made out of plastic or unlubricated metal.