Some men’s clothing items are packaged with more attitude, heritage, or unfiltered masculinity, like a leather jacket. Synonymous with punks and pilots, motorcycle, and Marlon Brando, the leather jacket is high testosterone menswear, but it’s also an amazingly versatile classic. No well-edited wardrobe is complete without one.
The first contemporary-looking style arrived in 1928. A Manhattan raincoat maker, Irving Schott, designed a motorcycle jacket for Harley Davidson. Dubbed the ‘Perfecto’, after his favorite cigar, this leather jacket was built to protect riders from the elements and accidents. During World War II, the flight jacket was known as a bomber and was rewarded for its warmth when it was designed to be worn in an open cockpit.
Nowadays, clothing is likely to be one of the most expensive additions to the wardrobe, so don’t rebel against the hint – shop smart. If for no other reason, a good leather jacket is one of the few long-term relationships that will go with your fashion. They’re built to last you a lifetime and will combine with more items than you expect.
How Much Should I Pay For A Leather Jacket?
There are as many price points as jackets. Normally, you pay your price for what you get, but in some cases when you pay the name, the price usually comes down to the quality of the leather used.
“Good quality leather clothing is often supple and soft to the touch,” says Joslyn Clarke, head of design for heritage outerwear brand Grenfell. Well-designed leather garments should not have unnecessary seams but should look like a cloth garment in its seaming. Cheaply made leather garments will often have many seams to enable the maker to use as much of the skin as possible when the piece is being cut out.
What type of leather you choose depends on what you want from the jacket. If after a soft thing, prefer calfskin or lambskin, but keep in mind that this may not be as durable as the thick biker-type hide.
You will need to find ‘full-grain’ leather jackets for very good quality (and high prices). They use the best quality hides and, because of their thickness, are stiff at first. They will take some breaking in, but you will be rewarded with a natural patina and a jacket that is unique to you.
If your budget is limited, leathers of ‘top grain’ are much cheaper. They have the natural grain sanded off and been stamped to give the leather an even look. Still cheap, you can find the best leather alternatives, such as polyurethane, which will also appeal to those who want to look, but avoid using animal skins. When weighing up a jacket, don’t stop at the leather itself, says Clarke. “Check for the quality of zips and buttons. Zips should run very smoothly and freely while buttons will be made of natural materials like horn, mother of pearl, and corozo. A cheaply made garment will rarely have high-quality trims.”
Best Leather Jacket Styles in the World
The bad guy of the outerwear world, the biker is a cropped leather jacket, usually in black, complete with studs and asymmetrical zips. Originally worn, unsurprisingly, by motorcyclists, the asymmetric cut was designed to allow riders to lean on their bikes without the fastenings digging into the body.
The earliest examples featured a snug fit with a D-pocket and lapels designed to snap down or fold over each other and zip up. A rugged garment, honed from goatskin, cowhide or horsehide, this is the style worn by the likes of Marlon Brandon in the 1950s.
It’s largely a youthful, edgy style so it is best worn with slim jeans, but it can be thrown over an Oxford shirt and knitted tie as a replacement for a blazer. Whichever you go for, always ensure whatever is underneath is lightweight, because this style should be cut close to the body.
One of the most underrated pieces of military men’s wear, the Field Jacket is a cool, stone-cold classic that was originally rendered in cotton drill fabric but has since been updated to leather.
The M-65, as it is otherwise known, is usually slightly longer than other styles with multiple front pockets and a belt at the waist. Often buttoned with hidden placket, it looks especially good in brown leather and as soon as it falls below to the waist, it will keep you warm and better shield you from the elements.
The OG flight jacket has become a bona fide menswear staple in its own right in recent years, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Though consistent in its simple shape – a cropped body featuring a central zip and fitted waist and cuffs – it can be rendered in anything from shiny nylon to soft, supple leather.
One of the most versatile outerwear silhouettes a man can own, the bomber jacket has been favored on screen by everyone from Steve McQueen to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. It can take its wearer from skinhead to Scandinavian chic, but the safest pairing it with raw denim and a simple white T-shirt or chambray shirt.
Aside from the military and sportswear, one of menswear’s biggest influences is the automotive world – driving shoes, ribbed-knee jeans et al. Bring the two together and wrap them in leather and what you have is the racer jacket.
On returning home from World War II, many soldiers caught the bug for souping-up pre-war motorbikes to be raced them between local pubs and cafes, creating the need for a streamlined, minimalist leather racing jacket. Heavy horsehide and a strong main zipper were deemed to provide enough protection for the boy racers, and by the 1960s the style otherwise known as the ‘Cafe Racer’ had gone mainstream.
Arguably the daddy of all leather jackets, as the name suggests, the flight jacket was created for pilots. Bulky, and with a shearling lining for warmth, today it’s a statement investment piece for both airmen and stylish civilians alike.
To stay cool in more ways than one, ensure you don’t go overboard with the layering. Keep it simple and contemporary with plain trousers and a light gauge knit or T-shirt. “Balance the weight of the jacket by making sure the rest of your outfit is slim-fit and tailored,” says Thornton.
If you’re worried that you’ll look like you’re on your way to a Blitz-themed fancy dress party, try an option without the sheepskin collar. That’s close to what Harrison Ford wore as Indiana Jones.
Faux Leather Jackets
For all of its cool credit, a genuine leather jacket is not the most animal-friendly. So, if you’re passionately vegan but still want to tap into that failsafe rockstar vibe, then a faux leather jacket is an option.
Faux leather has an unfair but not wholly unwarranted reputation for looking cheap and shiny. The key then is to try before you buy in-store and see how the jacket looks with your own eyes instead of buying online. It also tends not to last as long as real leather and will be thinner which might work if you’re looking to just try the style out or for a slimmer fit than thick real leather which can sometimes drown the wearer.