The humble leather jacket has, over the years, cemented itself within our collective psyche as a symbol of coolness. Those of us who wish we were a little bit more cool invest in them to feel a little edgier and those who are effortlessly cool no doubt already own one.
Of all the cultural emblems adopted by the fashion industry, very few have the staying power of the leather jacket. Trends come and go, but the leather jacket has become a staple that never strays far from our wardrobes.
The origins of the leather jacket
The leather jacket is both practical and fashionable, having started its journey in the early 1900s when aviators needed protection from the extreme conditions they encountered at high altitude.
In the 1920s, the first ever leather motorcycle jacket was designed and produced by Irving Schott, which he named ‘Perfecto’ after his favourite cigar.
Leather was a tough and hard-wearing material to use in these situations, and in the case of the bomber jacket, it could even be produced with the intact sheepskin fleece on the inside for warmth.
The leather jacket in popular culture
Throughout time the leather jacket has been worn by the coolest cats around, whether that be the celebrities or fictional characters.
Schott NYC introduced other iconic designs after the Perfecto including the 613 or ‘the One Star’, and the 618. The 618 will be familiar to anybody who was a fan of Marlon Brando’s look in the 1953 movie The Wild One, which caused the black motorbike jacket to become a symbol associated with having an attitude.
The introduction of leather jackets to the wardrobe of film and television popularised them with the American and British youth, particularly amongst ‘greasers’ back in the 50s and 60s, a subculture which was then depicted in Happy Days. The Fonz famously sported a leather jacket and an air of coolness that far surpassed that of his on-screen friends.
From Danny Zuko and Sandy in Grease to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, there are plenty more examples of famous on-screen characters who don the leather jacket over the years. Typically characters who include a leather jacket in their look tend to be tough and cool, not afraid to be themselves or get into a fight over what they believe in.
This infographic from Lakeland Leather celebrates some of popular culture’s most iconic Legends in Leather, and each and every one of them is undeniably cool.
The uniform of the rock star
Beyond these on-screen portrayals, the leather jacket is possibly most commonly associated with the rock stars of the world, and who could be cooler than those guys?
The Ramones, Elvis, The Beatles, George Michael… the list goes on and on. Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and Madonna were the tough cool girls of the 70s and 80s, and just about every genre got a look in from punk to rock and roll.
Fans and musicians alike of indie, Brit Pop or metal music are very much keeping the trend alive in the present day, and let’s be honest, no matter what the musical trends of decades to come end up being, we think it’s safe to assume that your favourite stars will be clad in leather garms until kingdom come.
What once started out as literal protection, acting as armour for pilots and motorcyclists has become something so much more symbolic. Sure, the leather jackets we wear for fashion would do precious little to protect you if you were to find yourself in a motorcycle accident, but they just may protect your personal brand of ‘cool’.