Why Leather? A brief history of the leather bike jacket.


It’s iconic.  When you think of cool and rebellious your mind conjures a picture of a worn leather jacket, usually black, stretched across the back of a long-haired snarling biker just looking for the chance to pounce on some trouble.  The image of Marlon Brando resting on handlebars, clad in his black leather jacket just looking for something to rebel against.  This image was first splashed across the screen in 1953’s The Wild One. This brought the leather clad, society rejecting biker to the forefront of popular culture.  It made motorcycles and the leather jacket a must have for anyone ready to break the confines of normal society and wear their status as an open sign to anyone that the wearer is more inclined to the out skirts of things.

The leather jacket however was around a good two decades before Marlon Brando wore his.  The leather jacket started out in the early 1900’s being worn by military, usually aviators and were brown.  These “bomber jackets” were prized for their protection against the elements.  The motorcycle riders chose it for much the same reasons.  In the beginning days of riding, most purchasers of motorcycles were veterans of the military so the transformation from bomber jacket to rider jacket seemed a no brainer. The only difference being the riders mostly chose black leather.

The Fonz from the classic sitcom “Happy Days” kept the cool, rebellious image of the leather clad biker in the forefront of popular culture in the 1970’s and early 80’s. So much so that Fonz’s jacket was donated and can be seen currently at the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C.  This is evidence of our continuing love of the black leather jacket and image it represents.

The significance of the black leather in the early days conveyed an image of the wearer as a darker more prone to violence figure. That image has changed considerably through the years.  Black is still the most popular color for motorcycle leather jackets but now there are splashes of color, accents and more safety features. There are now jackets available with features like more zip pockets, higher collars as well as being styled longer in the back to protect the kidneys of the rider from the cold while leaned forward riding.

Celebrities are wearing leather jackets by big name, high dollar designers that come pre-aged so that the buyer doesn’t have to wait to get that lived-in feel from the jacket that only time and constant wear would normally give.  Leather seems to have always had a place in our closets, and in our hearts.  Leather jackets are a long-term investment. Quality items last for years and can be passed along to younger generations if properly cared for.  They get better over time, it’s one of the few items that gets more comfortable the more you wear it.

No matter what style you go for and in what color, leather jackets are a staple of most any wardrobe, especially that of the rider.

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