In my mind, there are very few things warmer than shearling. Yes, you could probably argue that one of those insulated suits made for climbing Everest is warmer than a shearling jacket, but you’re about as likely to own one of those as you are to wear it on any given day, even if you do own one. And, like most of your wardrobe, the continued popularity of the shearling bomber jacket is due to its presence in military uniform. Various military forces have adopted shearling at different points in history, but shearling is now perhaps most recognizable in bomber jacket form.
The most common models you’ll see are based on the US B3 and B6 jacket. These jackets were a very effective – but expensive – way for high-flying bomber pilots to stay warm, and were often accompanied by shearling overpants, gloves, and caps (the B6 being the lighter-weight, less bulky derivative for fighter pilots in smaller cockpits). Not only did they offer great insulation at freezing temperatures, but they would, in theory, keep the pilots alive were they shot down over open water. As rare as it is now to find someone wearing a full shearling suit, the jackets are still available in both vintage, repro, and updated form.
The one pictured here is not a USAAF jacket, but an R.A.F “Coastal Command” jacket, manufactured to original specifications by Aero Leathers. As you can see, the hood has been painted yellow – again, this was meant to serve as an indicator when searching for (hopefully) floating pilots. In addition, I think that the details visible on this later model – zipped cuffs, a belted waist – make it a touch more modern and, when worn outside the context of a war, rakish – than some of the American models.
Despite plenty of hi-tech advances in staying warm, sheepskin is still plenty effective (and popular), and you’re not limited to recognizably military-inspired models. They are, however, maybe the best for layering. Because when the temperature dips past freezing and it’s really, really cold out, you’re not going to wear just a shirt under your shearling jacket.
I’ve actually taken to wearing an Arcteryx Atom LT hoodie under a shearling (or coat) when it’s freezing which, admittedly, is not hugely fashionable. A better option is a quilted liner jacket like this one from Rocky Mountain Featherbed, especially since since it’s made of super-light and super-warm goose down. The combination of sheepskin and goose down is very, very warm, and if you add a sweater underneath you’ll be set even for nighttime. Uniqlo has a cheaper option, but you miss out on the feeling of wearing a cloud.
One thing to keep in mind when wearing a shearling jacket is that ultra-slim jeans don’t often look great due to the volume of the jacket (and the bulk of the layers beneath it), and trousers don’t really fit with such a utilitarian garment either. Most of the time I like looser denim of the ‘slim straight’ variety, which tend to be more in style now anyway, but when it’s freezing it’s nice to have a little extra room for insulation or even for a base layer (REI or even Costco have plenty – I like a wool blend). For example, this pair of four-pocket pants from Evan Kinori are even based on a USN overpant, which work particularly well if you’re after a fuller, more repro-inspired silhouette. I bought a pair last summer in indigo twill
Finally, my footwear barely changes no matter what the weather’s doing, so a good pair of leather boots is always nice to have on hand. These, from Peter Nappi fit the bill. We had the chance to see some of their wares in person at Pitti, and I think they’re very nice. I also like the way slightly more relaxed pants look with slim boots like this, especially since you can let the fabric break against the boot or roll them up with a thick cuff. It makes for an interesting look, I think. Of course, something like SF favorite Viberg would do great, as would a heavier engineer or moto boot.
Regardless, if you’ve spent any time on the forum you may have noted that I love to wear shearling jackets over a simple tee shirt. That said, it’s worth remembering that shearling (and, of course, wool) is one natural fiber that really can stand up to the worst that mother nature has to offer. This trinity – shearling, wool, and down – works best when these individual powers are combined, like the Captain Planet of staying really, really warm. If you live anywhere with seasons, I’d wager you’ll get a lot of use out of all of the above.
Oh, and if you’re after a US Military jacket, Aero makes those too. I happen to think that a painted shearling hood would be a great thing to have on hand, though.