Motorcycle Jackets – Style & Functionality
There are some sports that are just sports and others that attract fans who want to include their hobby into their lifestyle. Riding motorcycles seems to be the latter. When we think of bikers, our minds immediately go to hard-rock loving men and women in leather clothing. The motorcycle jacket has become a style icon – whether it is plain black or decorated with decorative patches with band logos and motorcycle club names. How did this motorbiking safety gear turn into the epitome of coolness?
Motorcycle Jacket History
The motorcycle jacket is a little under 100 years old and has had many fans and forms throughout the years. But from its original Schott Perfecto model to today’s selection (for example on Chromeburner.com) it has always been a symbol of rebellion and freedom.
A Functional Solution
Before they found their way into everyday fashion, motorcycle jackets came a long way. In 1928 the apparel company owner Irving Schott (Schott NYC) came up with a coat to warm and protect motorcycle riders. The so-called Schott Perfecto was then sold through a Harley-Davidson distributor. It’s almost painful to hear: Back then, the high-quality leather jacket cost $5.50 a piece. After years and years of inflation, that would be about $83 today.
It looked a lot like the biker jackets we know from today. It was made from double layers or additional layers in the front for insulation, was belted at the waist and came with an asymmetrical zip that made leaning forward more comfortable. Schott clearly knew the more uncomfortable parts of riding a motorbike and reduced them well enough that even today’s technology has not changed the motorcycle jacket all that much.
A Hollywood Accessory
While it originated with its protection functionality in mind, it became a fashion accessory in 1953. Big time Hollywood heartthrob Marlon Brando starred in The Wild One as Johnny Strabler, the leader of California’s Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. The iconic outfit he wore in this role included jeans and a black leather biker jacker with the Motorcycle Club’s Insignia on the back and the name Johnny on the left side of his chest.
At the time, the hypermasculine leather style was quite edgy and impacted heavily on Brando’s fans. Schott’s Perfecto became famous overnight. For a while, its popularity was so high, that schools started to ban the jackets because of the rebellious gang image. That probably helped make them more desirable to rebellious teens in return.
Nowadays, there is another old movie star we associate with the motorcycle jacket. James Dean wore them in his free time exclusively, but it was enough to add to the popularization of the famous denim jeans white t-shirt leather jacket style. He, too, was a symbol of rebellion, which was immortalized by his too early death, and his clothing choices imprinted on like-minded people all across the world.
In the 1960s high-fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent started to include leather motorcycle jacket designs and in the 70s it became a staple piece of clothing for punk and rock and roll bands and fans. It has long since been decided, that the motorcycle jacket is a symbol for rebellion, masculinity, and coolness. Even though more and more designers started to create their own motorcycle jacket style jackets, it has never quite lost this aura.
Modern Motorcycle Jackets
The name motorcycle jacket has for the most part been replaced by a simple leather jacket for the fashion statement variant, which is a fair distinction. It is important to distinguish actual motorcycle jackets that function as protective gear with the leather jackets that imitate their style without being nearly as robust.
What to Look for in Protective Motorcycle Jackets
The original design choices by Schott are still useful.
- The belted waist and tight fit help to avoid air pulling on the jacket and entering it from beneath.
- The asymmetrical zip fastening still lies more comfortable when bending forward.
- The jacket is still a mix of multiple fabrics, one to protect and keep wind and water out and one that is more breathable. Today, that inner layer is often made of GoreTex. The material allows sweat and heat to pass to the outside, which keeps the biker dry and comfortable.
- At the same time, the leather, a similarly robust artificial fabric, or additional padding protect the wearer from injuries, rain, and the cold airflow.
The leatherjacket originated as a genuine protection for motorcycle riders. It was popularized by movie stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean. Their rebellious nature and the motorcycle gang image made the jacket the clothing choice for punks, rock and rollers and other free-minded individuals that opposed the traditional societal values.
Even today, the jacket’s design is loved for its rebellious aura and was popularized even more by many musicians and other icons. Using the motorcycle jacket as a fashion statement is certainly a stylish choice. When it comes to proper protection, however, you should make sure to buy the real deal and not its accessory equivalent.