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Why The Men’s Leather Biker Jacket Will Always Be Cool

  • Dec 21, 2023
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Why The Men’s Leather Biker Jacket Will Always Be Cool

When George Michael wore a BSA Rocker’s Revenge biker jacket in the video for ‘Faith’, way back in 1987, few then could have suspected that the singer – later famously outed as gay – was likely toying with what has, arguably, become one of the most emblematical macho garments in the male wardrobe. Michael would reference the style repeatedly: in the video for ‘Freedom 90’, and again for ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’. Here, after all, was a totem of unabashed heterosexuality writ large.

Indeed, the biker jacket is also the last remaining, and largely unchanged, item of clothing to retain a hint of rebellion. With black leather’s connotations of fascism and fetishism, with bikers branded by the media and god-fearing folk as outlaws since the 1940s, and with every rocker from The Ramones to The Clash wearing one, it’s hardly surprising that the style has long been an archetypal garment for every urban cowboy and wannabe outsider. Even Andy Warhol, the ultimate social insider, wore a biker jacket.

Marlon Brando wearing a Schott Perfecto biker jacket in Rebel Without A Cause

Certainly, whether it’s the definitive form of the style – the Perfecto, as worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One and devised by Irving and Jack Schott, of Schott Bros, at the request of a Long Island Harley Davidson dealership – or the frequent fashion interpretations by the likes of Celine, A.P.C. or Saint Laurent (the French love a biker jacket), this is one garment that just keeps on cruising the style highway.

Small wonder it’s inspired collectors, who are seeking out vintage versions from the likes of Buco, Grais, Blatt and Lewis Leathers. The latter was the choice of the so-called Ton-Up Boys of the 1950s, the post-war thrill-seeking motorcyclists who, famed for their speedy riding (“doing a ton or up”), really originated the biker stereotype in the UK. That’s also why The Beatles wore them during their Hamburg greasy quiff rocker years before being restyled as boy-next-door suit-wearers by Brian Epstein.

Part of the biker jacket’s appeal is down to the sheer utility of the design. Outmoded now perhaps, but still impressive and still so graphic, which accounts for its enduring appeal when even most motorcycle riders are dressed more like sci-fi anime characters than, say, Mel Gibson in Mad Max, John Travolta in Grease or, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a Bates Leathers jacket as The Terminator. “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.” But especially that killer jacket.

The classic Schott Perfecto biker jacket

There’s that distinctive collar, sitting sweet or turned up for extra attitude; the change pocket and D-pocket, perfectly positioned for access while riding; the belt, providing that broad-shouldered, trim-waisted silhouette; the hidden collar snap fastenings; and, most strikingly, the asymmetric zip fastening and zip-up cuffs.

In fact, Schott is thought to be the first person to put a zip on a casual jacket. He provided all this considered design in horsehide for the then handsome price of $5.50, naming the Perfecto after his favourite brand of cigar.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a leather biker as The Terminator

But part of the biker jacket’s appeal is also down to the iconography that the jacket has accrued by association over the years: all the bands and the badasses, the greasers and the one percenters. The ‘biker’ terminology suggests rebel, even criminal status – thanks in part to a statement made by the American Motorcycle Association in 1947 in response to a riot at a motorcycle rally in California. “Ninety-nine percent of the motorcycling public are law-abiding,” it said – leading to the inevitable adoption of a “1%” patch by the cool kids. That’s the nub of the joke in Back to the Future Pt II, when Marty, having travelled back in time to the 1950s, attempts to fit in by wearing a biker jacket, when of course it just marks him out as trouble.

Yet, more than this, the biker jacket’s appeal is really in the wearing – not just in the instant edginess it provides but, especially after it’s been worn over and over, in the way it cocoons and protects you in an almost armour-like, primeval way. The biker jacket becomes that second skin, the last line of defence between its wearer and the outside world. It makes its wearer look like a superhero, or a supervillain.

A leather jacket becomes like a second skin over time

Indeed, as much as the biker jacket keeps coming back into fashion, perhaps its ultimate appeal is that it’s beyond fashion. Rather, the biker jacket is the jacket of the rugged individualist. As for the matching leather trousers? Leave them at home for those special occasions.


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