Today, many people and designers use leather jackets as a fashion statement. The rebellious look is a popular choice for many; from rock lovers to those who want a contrast to their more innocent style.
The origin of this particular clothing item isn’t one of decoration, but much rather born out of necessity. It provided the much-needed protection motorcycle riders had been missing out on.
Here’s a rundown of the history of one of the most iconic fashion pieces and protective gears of all time.
When was the Motorcycle Jacket Created?
Protective and functional motorcycle clothing has not been around for as long as the machine itself. The first bike is said to have been built and tested by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. Their manufacture in Germany created the Daimler Reitwagen in 1885. The first series-produced motorcycle followed in 1894, created by their compatriots Hildebrand & Wolfmüller.
The first motorcycle jacket, however, followed years after. Schott NYC, an apparel company owned by Irving Schott, started to produce the first model in 1928 after many motorcycle riders in his environment had complained about their discomfort in winter and the risk of injury in accidents. His solution was a coat that would both warm and protect motorcycle riders: the Schott Perfecto.
The material of his choice was leather. It provided the best insulation against the cooling airflow when riding and was tough enough to withstand contact with the pavement and sharp objects. Many of today's motorcycle clothes are still made from leather, proving his choice to be incredibly effective.
What did the First Motorcycle Jacket Look Like?
Not only the materials but also the cut of the jacket Schott created turned out to be effective enough that the basic design has not changed much over time.
- The jacket had belts around the waist and zippered cuffs, so you could tighten them individually to keep the wind out.
- It had an asymmetrical zip that would make it easier and more comfortable to lean forwards.
- The entire jacket or important parts were double layered for additional protection and insulation.
- It had snap-down lapels, a collar, and shoulder epaulets as well as three zippered pockets and one small coin flap pocket.
Actually, it should say ‘has’ since Schott NYC and their Classic Perfecto leather jackets are still around today. Buying a new model would cost you about $800 to $850. Back in the day, vendors took $5.50. Adjust it for inflation, and that would be about $83 today. Higher quality and improved production methods are only a part of the large price gap from then to now. It is also a clear indicator of how popular the brand has become over time.
How did the Protective Gear Turn into a Fashion Statement?
As you would expect, Hollywood is to blame. Back then, it was influencing – especially young people’s – tastes just as much as it does today.
In 1953, the movie The Wild One was released. The plot is based on a short story from author Frank Rooney, which was in turn inspired by the famous Hollister riots in 1947. Back then, a mixture of unruly bikers and sensationalistic media coverage led to a motorcycle rally getting out of hand. The movie’s producer used these events and the short story as inspiration for his movie examining American outlaw motorcycle gang violence.
A mixture of a general anti-establishment mindset and Hollywood bad boy heartthrob Marlon Brando portraying the charismatic motorcycle gang leader led to his role and the Schott Perfecto he was wearing becoming the epitome of coolness. So much so that high schools started officially banning the jacket for a while in the 50s, attempting to tame young wannabe renegades.
The anti-establishment symbol in the form of the leather jacket quickly caught on with the punk and rock movements, who still wear it to underline their rebellious streak today. Naturally, like any style that is popular with subcultures, fashion designers eventually picked up on the trend. In the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent was the first high fashion designer to prominently include leather motorcycle jacket inspired pieces of clothing on runways.
Today, the leather jacket is still a symbol of traditional masculinity, edginess, and rebellion. In combination with the biker philosophy from media such as Easy Rider or The Motorcycle Diaries, portraying bikers as free individualists, many enjoy clothing themselves in statement pieces connected to these ideals.
The motorcycle jacket has originated as a protective piece of clothing for motorcycle riders. It has since been popularized by actors and musicians and has found its way into our everyday closet. We use it as a symbol of rebellion and edge.
However, you should not make the mistake of confusing one for the other. While a leather jacket can be a great accessory at all times, it isn’t always fit to be protective gear. Motorcycle Jackets and jackets with a motorcycle jacket cut should be strictly separated, as most modern fashion jackets do not have the necessary quality to protect in motorcycle accidents.