Black Leather Jackets, Motorcycles and Rock & Roll

leather jackets history

Black leather jackets have left their distinct mark in American culture becasue of what they have come to represent. They have become a form of recognition into a lifestyle that generally opposes the common rule and thread. Like specific colors in a wardrobe would reveal gang members and their loyalty in the streets of LA during the 1980’s, black leather jackets are worn to symbolize a decision into a subculture that sets it own rules.

History of the black leather jacket

The quintessential leather jacket was born out of functionality when they were created for aviators in the First World War. The first leather flight jackets were more bulky than they are today, often featuring shearling-lined collars and lapels to protect pilots from the elements. As time passed the leather jacket has become as essential in fashion as the t-shirt, abandoning its more practical uses in favor of a sartorial importance fueled by pop culture and the evolution of trends.

Above image from Schot NYC 100 Years of An American original  : myfreedamn

the wild one

in 1928 0uterwear designer Irving Schott and his brother Jack created the iconic Perfecto style. The Perfecto was cut in thick leather, and featured wide snap-buttoned lapels and heavy zippers. It quickly became a popular choice among the biker gangs of the 1930s, and soon the Perfecto became as infamous as the bikers who wore it, gaining a reputation through brands like Harley Davidson, the jacket’s first distributor. It wasn’t long before the leather jacket, and the Perfecto style in particular, was immortalized via Hollywood’s influence. Marlon Brando’s Perfecto from The Wild One became the ultimate symbol of bad-boy notoriety.

When the fighter pilots returned home from WWII a select few of them took to the streets on motorcycles as a way to quench their thirst for the speed they came addicted to as a result of flying fighter planes in the war.  As a way to revolt against the establishment they wore their undergarments as t-shirts, and leather jackets as their armor. They would draw insignias on their t-shirts and put patches on their jackets much like they did on their airplanes and equipment during the war.

The leather not only shared ones rank in the club, but it also became the only thing that would come between the biker and the road if they took a a spill at high speeds making it an important piece that one wore with pride and respect.

Leather Jackets

In the 1964 film the Leather Boys, the motorcycle gangs members all wore black leather jackets. The film staked it’s place in history for being the first British film to be rated ‘X’ for having homosexual themes than actual nudity of a graphic nature.

JP from The Selvedge Yard wrote:

I was first exposed to “The Leather Boys” as a teenage fan of The Smiths (it was a very influential and transforming film for Morrissey, and many young gay men in England). Clips and images of the film and it’s stars were used in The Smiths’ video “Girlfriend in a Coma” and their single, “William, It Was Really Nothing.” In a 1988 NME interview at the Cadogan Hotel (where Oscar Wilde was arrested), Morrissey even said, “I’m almost quite speechless now, it’s a very historic place and obviously it means a great deal to me… to be sitting here staring at Oscar’s television and the very video that Oscar watched “The Leather Boys on.”

Black leather jackets have become synonymous with bad boys and trouble makers.  In a 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone titled Black Leather Jackets three beings, disguised as human males wearing leather jackets, are part of an advance alien invasion force, sent to Earth to infect city water reservoirs with bacteria. Their plan is to thus kill all humans and domestic animals.

the ramones

In the 70’s, black leather jackets made their way into rock star fashion wardrobes when more marketable bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones broke the punk scene to the mainstream. Band members were often spotted wearing their black leather jackets on stage or when they were out and about. This caused the suburban youth culture to flock to the fad as a way to rebel against the set norms established by the society.


It was not uncommon to find many leather jackets from the 1970’s and 1980’s that were customized by their owners. These individualized jackets are decorated with spikes, chains and patches of different bands and symbols as a way to make a rebellious statement.

From the bikers in the 30’s to the greasers in the 50’s, the punks in the 70’s to the grunge rockers in the 90’s, the black leather jacket has always been a staple to the rebels and counter culture members of society.


If you would like to view more pictures of black leather jackets Check out MYFREEDAMN. If you would like to find out more about leather jackets in the motorcycle community and the 1964 film the Leather Boys check out TSY



vintage wholesale catalog