A Brief History of Leather
From Paleolithic cavemen to the modern biker, leather has always been the go-to material for the free rebellious soul. Branching in all clothing designs, leather workers have been looking for new ways to use the material. From belts to shoes, from fancy wallets to cowboy jackets, leatherwear pops up across history and leaves its mark, but non so much as the fabled motorcycle jacket. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Throughout the years, people have been making clothing from leather and pelts. The difference being that pelts are basically leather but contain the fur on it. Different animals produce leather with different properties such as roughness, toughness, thickness, weight and warmth. Through trial and error, some pieces of this new leather clothing worked better than others, with many of them becoming luxury items. All of this has led to the modern age, where our main star, the leather jacket appears.
The leather jacket first emerged on the market in the early 1900s, when it was worn by the German fighter pilots during The First World War. And by the time the Second World War came around, it became popular as the “bomber jacket”. In 1928, Irwin Schott took the original design and tweaked it for public consumption, making the first commercial form of the leather jacket, a predecessor to the design of the modern biker jacket.
Gaining popularity over the years, this fashionable item exploded in the 50s when stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean appeared on the big screen wearing leather, permanently associating the leather jacket with lawless rolling stones, rebels without a cause and motorcycle wear, unchanged by the shifting sands of time.
Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, the rock and roll and punk movements made this piece of clothing a must for any young person, resonating especially with the newly growing female market. Leather jackets stopped being a niche piece of clothing relegated to youth gangs, aging soldiers and easy riders and became a staple for everyday wear.
Material and Design
Leather jackets come in all forms and sizes. As previously stated, the bomber jacket is one of the most common designs out there. Originally made from brown leather, the bomber jacket has a pretty basic design. Without any internal lining, it’s made of mostly leather, with cotton elastic appendices on the sleeves and around the waist to create a snug warm fit for those high-altitude cold bombing raids.
Over time, its design evolved. Satin, cotton or woollen lining was added, it was available in a more diverse colour palette and featured more pockets on the inside and out. Today, the motorcycle jacket screams comfort, style and freedom. Commonly found in black, the leather biker jacket is what we usually associate with Mad Max and Danny Zuko from Grease.
The biker jacket has a couple of new awesome features. With its extra pockets, belt straps and air vents just to name a few, this design packs quite a punch. The lining can usually be satin, cotton and polyester to keep you warm on those long stretches of open road, with the air vents allowing your body to breathe and expel the extra heat and humidity. All of these features make biker jackets an essential addition to every cool guy’s wardrobe.
Functional and Fashionable
In short, we have summarized the rise and unlikely fall of the leather jacket in most of its forms and splendor. From a functional aspect, these jackets are warm, extremely durable, comfortable and made for all terrains and climates. From a fashionable aspect, it is an ageless piece of clothing popular with the young and old alike, bridging the gap between rebels and everyday people, retro and contemporary, the leather jacket is here to stay.
Now, it’s time for a brief summary of the bomber and biker jackets that have graced the silver screen and dominated the airwaves and the characters that wore them.
Appearance on the Little and Big Screen
First off, Peter Fonda, easy…Rider. This all-American icon, sporting the red, white and blue on his black biker jacket is synonymous with the open road and the freedom associated with it. No doubt about it, Wyatt was definitely born to be wild!
The clawed sideburns wielding huge jacked man from down under, Wolverine is the epitome of rugged manliness that’s been in our collective consciousness for more than 18 years. When he’s not wearing a plastic looking jumpsuit, Logan is known to wear several types of leather, most notably his patented brown bomber jacket with three stripes on his sleeves. Talk about ferocious style bub!
Arnold Schwarzenegger is The Terminator and the Terminator wouldn’t be what he is without his classic sunglasses, sawed off shotgun, metallic endoskeleton and of course, that gorgeous motorcycle leather jacket. It’s kind of appropriate that Arnold’s catchphrase in this move is what it is, because just like the terminator, this leather style keeps coming back!
There are too many instances of cool leather wielding characters to mention without making a separate list for them all, but I’d be remised if I didn’t mention Harrison Ford and his two most notable characters, the witty archeologist Doctor Henry “Indiana” Jones and the devilish space smuggler Han Solo. Both of these characters have their own signature look, but having a similar sense of style, both of them like their leather jackets.
Indi’s look is based on a more classical bomber jacket and fedora combo, while Han Solo puts on a more custom futuristic bomber. Fun fact, both those jackets were made with Harrison Ford’s specifications in mind and would have made it in their respected movies over his dead body without Ford’s final approval.