The Leather Jacket : The Golden Fleece of our Age ?
The first jacket I ever bought was leather. I was fifteen and had been saving my paltry wages, from a weekend washing-up job, for ages before I was confident I had enough cash to procure the said object of my desires.
It was second-hand, what is now more glamorously alluded to as vintage. Unfortunately at the time, ehem, a….few years ago shall we say, a second-hand garment was more synonymous to an old, smelly, pre-stained bit of rag that its previous owner had deemed to be ‘past its best’ than a shining indication of a fashionista who had truly become proficient in the skills of ‘mixing and matching’ old and designer ( with a few key pieces from Topshop thrown in for good measure ). But this jacket had been well preserved and could not possibly be mistaken for someone’s cast-off, therefore I was hooked and could think of nothing else.
My pivotal encounter with the leather darling was in a dark musty smelling second-hand store one wet Saturday afternoon. It immediately caught my eye, hanging there as the Golden Fleece must have draped from the branches of the great oak in the Homeric valley of Ares. In that instant I felt like Jason with his Argonauts looking at this glorious object, but instead of it representing the ideas of kingship and legitimacy as the Golden Fleece did for him, to me the Leather Jacket was my means to be elevated to rebel status within my teenage peer group, oh yeah, and possibly to finally catch the eye of that coveted sixth form hunk!
Anyhow, the point of this anecdote is to illustrate what a key and important place the leather jacket has in the wardrobe of every man, woman and possibly child. It’s functional with an aura of ‘cool’ and although it’s been around in some form or another for over a century and has spanned many genres, it is still a prominent feature in many a designer and high street collection today.
Leather Jacket Styles
Let’s see, in the 20th Century leather outerwear achieved iconic status, beginning perhaps with Amelia Earhart in 1932 as she took to the skies wearing her neat Aviator Bomber Jacket and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This status was then continued in major part through film as the leather bomber jacket style was brought into the spotlight by Jimmy Stewart in Midnight Passage and then lionized by Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones character whose films saw the “bomber” become synonymous with risk taking and adventure.
The “Leather MC” or “Leather Biker Jacket”, although initially introduced by Harley Davidson ( circa 1919 ), was more memorably catapulted into the mass market stratosphere when it appeared on the mean torso of Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler character in The Wild One ( 1953 ). Later depictions were worn by Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and taken to a new level of cool by The Fonz in Happy Days. Present day, motorcycle jackets have become a wardrobe staple in part due to the simplicity and functionality of their design which appeals to all age groups. In his autumn / winter 2010 collection Jean Paul Gaultier keeps the “bad boy” image alive sending models down the runway in the leather biker complete with brawl room scars.
The Leather Trench or Greatcoat as referred to by the SS during World War II, reached memorial status after such films as The Terminator and when worn by Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix. Burberry Prorsum, brings this leather style back to our wardrobes this coming spring / summer season as we see it cropping up in both the men’s and womenswear collections. The cropped mac which is a contemporary take on the classic ¾ length trench and Military Style Leather Jackets are also a key piece in many womenswear collections.
The Leather Pea coat ( or Pilot Jacket ) is another outerwear style of military origin. Once worn by sailors of European navies defined by its broad lapels, double breasted front and vertical or slash pockets. Commonly made from heavy wool, this coat is now very much a contender within the realms of fashion and is worn by both men and women alike. In fact Jackie Onassis was a huge fan of this style, hence it often being referred to as the Jackie O Jacket. A variation of the pea coat is the “Bridge Coat” which extends down to the thigh.
Other styles of leather jacket we have come to know and love are the single breasted “Leather Reefer” type worn by the Black Panthers in the 60’s which is a style now popular with the Brit Pop and Indie music scene, referred to as the “Rock Star” leather jacket, and the heavily accessorized leather biker jacket, embraced by the Punk Rock culture and bands such as The Ramones, which feature the addition of chains, studs, rips and printed or hand painted imagery.
There are perhaps less iconic styles of leather outerwear that appear throughout history most notably the Café Racer Jacket which refers to a simpler, sleeker, blouson like version of the Motorcycle Jacket and which was a particular favorite on the racing circuits. There are versions a plenty yet to appear too as designers manage to morph this fantastically malleable fabric each season into new and exciting, directional garments; you only have to look at some of the most recent designer collections see that the Leather Jacket still has far to go.
Types of Leather
Leather outerwear and clothing is available in a variety of leathers and a huge number of finishes. Softer garments are often made from Lamb or Sheep skins in an aniline finish where the leather is treated with a dye and gives the leather a lovely delicate, soft and supple feel. Since aniline leathers are dyed and not painted, they do not hide any natural markings of the leather, so only the finest high quality hides can be used. Another finish that is extremely in vogue at the moment is washed leathers, which give the leather a unique distressed and vintage look. Goat suede leather is a very soft material and is often seen in unlined jackets and shirts.
Steerhide, Cow and Buffalo hides are used in huge number of jackets such as MC’s, Bomber jackets and Racers. They are a thicker material than Sheepskin or Goat and are often found in more rugged jackets. There are a multitude of finishes of these leathers, from aniline, to waxy, washed to pearlised. These leathers are available in the softest supple finishes all the way to strong hard rugged leathers.
Taking care of the environment is a major concern for everyone and vegetable tanned leathers use natural vegetable extracts, which make these leathers very environmentally friendly. Vegetable tanned leathers have very rich and deep colours as they are often finished with aniline dyes and like all good leathers, they age beautifully.
So, now we can appreciate the significant influence leather outerwear has had over the past century and acknowledge that it is more than likely to continue for the next hundred years and beyond. The leather coat or jacket is the Golden Fleece of our wardrobes, and unlike the fleece conveniently comes in a multitude of styles, colors, finishes and textures too!Thanks ... we hope you find the perfect leather jacket you are looking for ... The MyLeatherJacket Team