The very first leather jacket that I owned happened after being hired for my post- college job. It was an expensive, self-indulgent grown up gift to myself for transitioning to almighty adulthood.
It was a thigh length, black slim leather blazer made from exquisite, soft buttery lambskin. It easily coordinated with autumn business suits or feminine spring dresses and skirts or worked fabulously dressed down with a pair of jeans. I absolutely adored that beautiful jacket as it complemented any paired outfit in my closet.
It withstood the test of time (over 12 years) in never losing its intoxicating smell, lustrous feel or conditioned sheen look. My love affair with leather began with that jacket as I realized how premium leather is fabulously sensual and creates a magic-like aura when paired with other textiles. I would still be wearing it today, but sadly it was destroyed in an apartment fire.
The change in weather will have us packing away the clothes which keep us cool from the summer heat and turning to fall and winter gear to shelter and protect us from cold temperatures and the pending rain/snow seasons. A leather jacket is such a perfect transition piece for the fall and winter especially when layering blouses and sweaters.
A leather jacket has the ability to compliment or contrast nicely with all materials in your closet…jeans, lace, plaid, little black dresses, sneakers, leather boots, high heels…the sky’s the limit with a bit of creativity.
The Leather Jacket Backstory
For our history fashion buffs interested in the origin of the leather jacket, let’s start with some history. The initial leather jacket was made for functional purposes in the early 1900s for members of the military during the First World war as German fighter pilots began wearing brown leather flight jackets. Subsequently, a newer design named ‘brown bomber jackets’ was made to be worn by pilots (heavily insulated with sheepskin to protect against the extreme cold at high altitudes) during World War II.
The first Motorcycle Jacket called the ‘Perfecto’ made its design debut in the late 1920s at a Harley Davidson store by the designer Irvin Schott. Schott’s leather jacket design took off in popularity as he chose to add a zipper close as opposed to buttons that were typical of leather jackets. Those first jackets sold for an unbelievable price of $5.50.
Once Hollywood heartthrob actors, such as Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper and James Dean adopted the leather jackets as integral styles of their bad boy film characters, the trend was all the rage among the public. More actors including Steve McQueen and entertainers like The Beatles joined in the leather jacket revolution adding their own personal style.
During the 1970s and 1980s, celebrated women musicians were just as daring in wearing leather jackets and going a step further by adding adornments (buttons, studs and pins) to reflect their personality. Entertainers and celebrities such as Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Grace Jones, Madonna, Kate Moss, Beyonce and Sarah Jessica Parker, to name a few, created their personal standout signature with regards to particular leather jacket styles.
Worn as part of his character in the television show Happy Days, ‘The Fonz’ was responsible for another young adult generation wanting to emulate his coolness and strut in leather while in character. Also, during these two decades, TV and film characters wore leather jackets in rebellion or connected with criminal or cultural associations. Many stars and their associated films in the 20th century moved the jacket to becoming more sizzling hot which included Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun and John Travolta’s Grease.
The Leather jacket has been a staple in western popular subcultures as en vogue, even intimidating or antagonistic, from groups ranging from heavy metal, punk, black exploitation movies, and Indie music.
Leather jackets have been thoroughly adopted by the motorcycle culture for dual purposes: hip fashion statements but even more so practical to keep a rider safe who is involved in an accident. Purchasers of motorcycle jackets expect jackets to be made heavier and thicker to address protection issues.
As we ended the 20th century, global fashion icons and supermodels added their mark in growing the popularity not only on the catwalk and fashion events, but as a daily article of clothing for errands running.
Types of Jackets
The most common leather hides used to make leather jackets are cowhide, antelope, buckskin, goatskin, sheepskin, lambskin and horsehide. The skin is sent from the meat processing plant to a tannery for the process of preserving and softening the hides. Most jackets will be made with basic black or brown, with a wide range of additional colors depending on the type of leather.
Leather Jackets generally fall into one of the following categories:
Traditionally used by pilots because of its practicality and durability for both men and women. Common to see some sort of elastic material at the bottom of the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket to prevent cold air and snow from traveling up the arm and the jacket close to the body. Most common leather used is Nappa leather, goat leather, or lamb leather in an array of colors.
Thicker leather made to resist rain and wind while keeping the rider warm and comfortable and mildly protect a fallen rider from scrapes and burns from the pavement. Although made in several types of leather hides, cowhide and bison are used most.
The little brother of the biker jacket except… typically fashion wins out over function. A great addition to a wardrobe for either men or women, this jacket is usually designed with straight lines and made with softer leather such as lambskin, Nappa leather or suede.
Made popular by active duty airplane pilots in the early 1900s. The jacket fits straight (no tapering) and features a single zipper down the front of the jacket. The addition of sheepskin to the interior of the coat is the reason why this coat is essential for fall and weather outerwear. Again the range of leather hides to be used is diverse from cowhide to lambskin.
Short for Motorcross, it borrows elements from its big brother, yet it’s a stripped down motorcycle jacket, although designed for a sexier, cooler look. This jacket hugs the body, has more design stitch work and is usually adorned with hardware such as buckles, pockets, zippers and studs. It comes in multiple colors and will use the softer leather hides.
The ideal statement piece… a stylish individual must include in their wardrobe collection. A blazer can be worn under or over a traditional coat because it is made to fit the body. Generally, this jacket will be made with large buttons and two functional pockets. Its role is strictly fashion so the leathers will be in the softer categories: lambskin, goatskin or suede.
The Best of The Best In Leather Jacket Finery
According to Esquire, these are the 11 best leather jacket global brands (in some instances, we linked to their US website)
Belstaff in Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Lewis Leathers in London, United Kingdom
Made in the USA Companies
Independence Brothers – beautiful custom work for clients’ jackets out of the State of Pennsylvania
Share with us your favorite leather jacket in the comment section below or on Twitter!’
Thank you to the following sites for resource content:
Thread Curve – Types of Leather Jackets
Esquire – 11 Best Leather Jacket Brands
We appreciate the visual content by the following photographers:
The 5TH – Woman in pink and leather
Mitch Kemp – Brown Leather Jacket
Maksim Istomin – woman in black leather
Yehor Milohrodskyi – couple in love wearing leather
Austin Wade – Leather and palm trees
Tyler Nix – Leather and a muscle car
Adrian Ordonez – Close up of a leather jacket
Diane Wetton – Woman in leather jacket and crew sweater
Stefano Lombardo – Women in leather jacket and black jeans
Ramon Mula Garcia – male in glasses and black leather jacket
Dami Adebayo – Tan leather with sunglasses
Tyler Nix – Male in all black
Tessa Simpson – Vintage Leather Jackets