The History of Motorcycle Jackets
Nearly as long as there have been motorcycles, there have been leather motorcycle jackets. The first motorcycle jackets evolved from the aviator jackets worn by the World War I and World War II fighter pilots. The jackets had narrow collars and were fastened down the front by buttons. At that time, all of the jackets were made of horsehide leather because there was an abundance of this material due to the number of farmers who tended horses. Eventually, the buttons on the motorcycle jacket were replaced by a zipper.
Following World War II, aviators commonly took to motorcycles as a way to recapture the exhilaration they experienced as pilots. They continued to wear their same aviator jackets while riding motorcycles. Marlon Brando epitomized the leather motorcycle jacket when he appeared in the 1953 movie “The Wild One” about two rival motorcycle gangs. Since then, leather jackets became synonymous with motorcycles. The leather jacket also became a status symbol for the rough crowds who defied societal conventions as depicted in many of the early movies featuring motorcycle gangs. Soon kids’ motorcycle jackets started showing up in schools. In fact, because of what the jacket represented, most public schools prohibited students from wearing motorcycle apparel on school campuses.
As time went on, the same look and feel of the leather jackets remained. You didn’t put on the jacket to be warm; you put it on to be in style with the biking crowd. If you were into biking, you wore a motorcycle jacket. All motorcyclists who rode with clubs sported the jacket to create a sense of camaraderie and belonging. This same attitude toward motorcycle apparel still exists.
Leather jackets eventually shed their outlaw image which created an opportunity for clothing manufacturers to begin creating designs that catered to a more diverse biking population. Kids’ motorcycle jackets became common. Women, who once only rode on the back, began piloting their own machines. Leather was still the apparel of choice, but women started donning leather outfits that aligned more with their style and personalities.
The historical black leather jacket is still the most popular form of motorcycle apparel and is unlikely to go out of style. Still, leather jacket designs and fashions are becoming more eclectic and individualistic. Therefore, clothing and apparel designers are creating more varieties in order to keep up with current fashion trends. But the historical sentiment derived from the original aviator-jacket-turned-motorcycle jacket will linger in the hearts of bikers for generations.