A man walks into a bar, sits down next to a slightly older man of the same stature, and grabs a drink. As he turns to the older man, he notices something he’s wearing.
“Thanks,” says the older man. “It’s my father’s leather jacket.”
The younger man then asks, “what is a leather jacket?”
The older man shoots the gentleman and walks away.
Many know what a leather jacket is. Some may even be surprised that someone might ask a question like it. While the scenario above is highly unlikely to happen, it never hurts to understand one of the most fundamental pieces of clothing today through several basic points.
And better yet, you’ll be more prepared to face highly unlikely scenarios like these in your future.
What a Leather Jacket Is And Isn’t
What It Is – Simply put, a leather jacket is a coat made from the tanned hide of a number of animals. This can include cow hide, lambskin, and even crocodile skin. The leather in the jacket is normally dyed black or brown, but can also come in various other colors like red or blue.
Source: Fine Art America
What It’s Not – A leather jacket is not the same as a faux or vegan leather jacket. Faux or vegan leather is an alternative material used in place of animal hide that is related more so to plastic such as polyurethane or PVC. It also falls under the category of cheap leather jackets due to less costly material.
A Brief History
Leather jackets have been made popular as early as the 1920s, starting with aviators and military members who wore brown leather flight jackets. In fact, one of the first leather jackets was the type A-1 made in 1925. Later the jackets became known as “bomber jackets” during World War II to protect and keep bomber pilots warm from dramatic climate conditions during flight.
Here is an example of a bomber leather jacket.
Leather jackets over time have carried many symbols, such as being rebellious, intimidating, and even authoritative. Each jacket, based on its design, was made for a specific purpose and style. You’ll notice this in common subcultures of the past and today like greasers, motorcycle riders, cowboys, gangsters, police, punks, and goths.
Leather Jacket Material
Leather Jackets are made from a variety of animal hides. This can include common material such as lambskin, cow hide, and sheepskin all the way to the more exotic nature of crocodile skin, deerskin, and horsehide.
Animal Leather Processing…Process
Once the animal skin is removed from the animal at a meat processing plant, the skin is refrigerated and salted or packed in barrels of brine for preservation. The hides are then softened through a series of processes at a tannery. A garment factory then utilizes sewing materials such as zippers, lining, and buttons to create the leather jacket.
5 Common Types of Leather Jackets
1. Bomber – Just like earlier, the bomber leather jacket is an iconic piece worn by pilots in the days of open cockpits on planes. Also known as flight jackets (who would’ve guessed), they are designed to be warm and are great for cold weather. The bomber is a great choice for most outfits due to its versatility in having a clean cut style or having a rugged appearance.
Fun Fact: The bomber was Indiana Jones’ favorite jacket.
2. Racer / Cafe Racer – Sometimes called a Moto leather jacket (which can cause confusion with the Motorcycle / Double Rider leather jacket), the Cafe Racer is a very simple, clean, and stripped-down leather jacket (you’ll still be wearing something, I promise). It has very little details such as a few zippers and may have a small collar. The minimalist design serves racers as a jacket built for protection and speed. With that, it’s very light and easy to pair with due to its sleek look.
3. Motorcycle / Double Rider – Picture what a leather jacket looks like and more often than not you’ll be thinking of this one. Very unique and bold, the double rider leather jacket was designed for motorcycle wear, and you’ll see many bikers and fashionistas alike sporting one. It’s known as the most rebellious and edgy type of jacket, perfect for elevating a casual outfit.
4. Fencing – Making a statement and presenting a unique look falls in line with the fencing leather jacket, where fencers use them for functionality and fashionistas use them for their outstanding look. It’s known for its asymmetrical zipper that spans diagonally across the jacket.
5. Field – More rare (as I’ve seen it during my jacket hunts), the field leather jacket is modeled after field jackets used by American troops during the Vietnam Conflict and previous war. It sports four front-side pockets with double-buttons on each. You don’t have to be a soldier to enjoy its stylish looks and function, and because of its rarity, is a great conversation piece and even better way to stand out above other leather jacket wearers (I own one myself from AllSaints).
Leather Jacket Use in Films
Through the span of time, leather jackets have been popularized and used in films to shape a character’s image, such as their bad boy/bad girl vibe, coolness, and even rebellious confidence. From the greaser subculture of the 1950s to modern day films like The Avengers, leather jackets have always had a place to portray their symbolic significance.
Here are a few prime film / TV examples*:
The Wild One
Guardians of the Galaxy
Fast & Furious Series
Use in Fashion / Celebrity Wear
Where leather jackets became popular in Hollywood, it also did across fashion designers and celebrities. Luxury brands such as Gucci, Brunello Cucinelli, and Belstaff have been designing jackets to make bold statements, and have even been popularized through the use of their wear such as Brad Pitt in his choice of Belstaff leather jackets.
You may have already noticed there is a major difference between fashionable leather jackets and those worn for protection (especially those riding motorcycles and motorbikes). One huge difference is their weight and thickness, as functional leather jackets are considered protective equipment (some even have additional armor built into them). Brands such as Vanson and Aero Leather are known for their manufacturing of functional leather jackets that have more substantial zippers, weatherproof pockets, and higher collars.
A Leather Jacket Is a Statement and A Function
It’s not a coat. Leather jackets have stood the test of time for many reasons and still remain today as one of the most outstanding pieces of wear that sends an image of you miles ahead. Whether it’s boldness, a cool persona, or even when you’re on your bike, a leather jacket sends a message – a message of history, culture, and a damn good look.
How do you send a message with your leather jacket? Leave a comment below!
*Image Sources Used: Digital Spy, Hindustan Times, New York Daily News, Business Insider, Pinterest, The Verge, CBR, IndieWire, YouTube