should I wear a leather jacket? It’s a question any man has asked of himself as he pictured Marlon Brando, all power brows and biker jacket on a Triumph Firebird. The question mark grows bigger still when he looks in the mirror and feels more like the village kvetcher who sips a Doom Bar alone in the corner of a pub. In other words: deeply uncool.
How, then, can the leather jacket be such a double-edged sword? How is one man's menswear classic another's a midlife crisis? And when (if ever) can we take the plunge? The answer lies in context. The leather jacket is a Schrödinger’s coat, of sorts, embodying both cool and uncool at the same time. You won't know your route until you wear one, basically.
If you're a waifish Parisian who subsists on a diet of Gauloises and liberty, you can be confident that any leather jacket will look pretty good. But if you’re his dad, exercise a little more caution. Yes, there's still a leather jacket for you. And yes, the risks are absolutely worth it because a good investment will last for life (thus nailing the cost-per-wear ratio) and it'll mold to your body. There, in every single scuff, ding and scrape is You. Plus it will look cool, providing you follow a few basic rules.
The biggest being takes your time. Try new shapes out. Find the cut and style that suits you. Ultimately, the quest for a perfect leather jacket may be a long one, but trial-and-error is your friend.
We've got you on a head start, though. We've defined the main types of leather jackets – from cockpits to motorbikes and beyond – alongside picks for the new season, arming you with everything you need to know to nail menswear's riskiest (but most rewarding) piece.
One jacket to rule them all. Ask for a 5-second description of a leather jacket from a passer-by (or don't, bit weird) and they'll likely outline a biker.
Created by leather legend Schott NYC for Harley-Davidson in 1928, the first iteration of its kind was named the Perfecto after founder Irving Schott’s preferred cigars. With a cropped, belted body, diagonal zips, epaulets, notch lapels, and four pockets, the archetypal biker jacket still has all of these features. If it doesn't, then it's a legit biker jacket, sorry.
It has a history. James Dean wore one. So did the Ramones. And while they pulled it off by token of youth and confidence and global fame, you can cheat your way in with the first two, and slot above plain T-shirts (grey or white, ideally) and black straight-ish leg jeans. Nobody on this side of 'nu-rave' has gorged on a side of spray-on denim with a leather jacket.
If a full-blown biker jacket feels a little too Alice Cooper, the cafe racer provides a more middle-of-the-road alternative. Named after the lightweight motorcycles that returning World War Two soldiers would race between pubs and cafes, this leather jacket is a stripped-back take that does away with the detailing of its American counterparts.
The clean-cut look has a touch of the bomber about it, which means the cafe racer jacket is more versatile – and more forgiving – than the biker jacket. It’s got a hint of its attitude but wouldn't call a policeman a pig until he was out of earshot. So perfect for the man who wants to dip his toes into the world of leather jackets but needs something that’ll work across the majority of his wardrobe.
From two wheels to two wings, leather’s use as an outerwear material doesn’t end with motorcycle clothing. For a century, those who take to the skies on the regular have embraced the fabric for its ability to stave off the worst of the cold.
There are two key styles of leather flight jackets: the classic bomber and the shearling aviator. Both are boxy, for warmth and ease of movement in a cockpit, but where the bomber features around, knitted collar, the aviator boasts one with sheepskin lining, which can be buckled up for added coziness.
Bombers and flight jackets are best suited to men who want more from their leathers. A flight jacket looks good, but it’s also highly functional in winter weather. Team it up with cold-weather favorites like heavy selvage denim, work boots, and chunky knitwear. Avoid the temptation to add aviator sunglasses, unless you actually are Tom Cruise.
Panther Leather Jacket
Motorbikes weren’t always ridden by rebels without a cause. In their first decades, they were the pastime of young adventurers, who’d bomb between each other’s country piles. The original British motorcycle jacket was crafted with them in mind and has a more refined, functional design.
Championed by English outerwear institutions like Barbour and Belstaff, this quintessentially British motorcyclist jacket features four pockets to the front, ideally including an angled chest pocket for your maps, with a press-stud and zipper closure to keep the wind out and a tonal belt to the waist.
The brilliance of this style lies in its versatility. There aren’t many leather jackets that can be successfully paired with tailoring, but a Belstaff Trialmaster looks as good over a suit as it does a hoodie. For an easier way in, try it in brown leather with navy dress pants, a rollneck sweater, and Chelsea boots.
The 11 Best Leather Jacket Brands
Known primarily for its use of waxed cotton as a motorcycle jacket material, Staffordshire’s Belstaff is also a dab hand when it comes to leather. The brand’s signature belted jackets are classy, timeless, refined, and unapologetically British. They’re the Norton to the USA’s Harley-Davidson; the sort of thing James Bond might wear to stride around Hampstead Heath on his day off, and a happy medium for those who like the idea of investing in leather outerwear but want something a little more grown-up.
While Schott was busy pinning down the motorcycle jacket market in the United States, London’s Lewis Leathers was hard at work doing the same thing here in the UK. The first-ever British motorcycle clothing company, Lewis Leathers’ jackets earned the respect not just of bikers, but also several mid-century youth tribes, with the Bronx jacket becoming a hallmark of the Sixties rocker subculture.
Fashion's king of sex appeal brings a typically Studio 54 approach to his leather jackets, be they a cropped biker jacket or a slightly sleazy leather blazer. You also get Tom Ford's uncompromising approach to materials – the brand's leathers are tough, buttery soft, and will last for longer than the man who's lucky enough to wear them.
Historic New York label Schott is to leather jackets what Dyson is to vacuum cleaners. Without it, there’d be no Perfecto motorcycle jacket. Hell, there might not even be any zips on jackets in general, given that this pioneering outerwear powerhouse was the first to add them. A true originator and probably the most storied leather jacket brand on the face of the Earth.
COOL LEATHER JACKET BRANDS YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW
Made cool in the fifties by Brando, McQueen, and James Dean, the leather jacket has since sustained a long-lasting covenant with the modern man.
The timeless wardrobe piece has seen us through the proceeding decades effortlessly, with only a slight shoulder-pad and acid-wash glitch in the eighties. That said, the last ten years have been good to the leather jacket, smoothing any incongruous fit and color issues.
Today, men have a plethora of leather options to choose from via the most fashionable luxury brands. The last order of the call is simply showing you how to wear it properly. Leather up and learn.
The key to buying a leather jacket is finding a specific variant that gels well with your personal style, read: don’t be somebody you’re not.
Once you’ve decided on the style that works best for you, it’s time to nail the fit. You don’t want to wear anything too boxy, we’re not in the 80s anymore, after all. Instead, think slim and flat to the body. The fit will vary from brand to brand, as each will have their own particular direction they want to head in, and if you can pull off the slightly more outlandish styles, then great. The slim fit is, however, the safest option.
With fit taken care of, you’ll want to consider the type of leather you want hugging your body. Your options include calf, cow, lamb or goat, and all should be available in neutral colors. A neutral color ensures that it can be paired much easier with your existing wardrobe staples such as white t-shirts and jeans.
But wait, you’re not done yet. There are yet finer details you can hone in on to make your leather jacket purchase all the more personal to you and your specific style; you’ll want to consider how many zips, buttons, and any other detailing you want your jacket to the sport. You can, of course, opt for a jacket with none of the above, and these clean, minimal looks work great for evening wear.
Leather jackets require confidence. Celebrities and rockstars wear them to stand out and make a grungy style statement. That said, you can find a clean-cut, more demure type. Knowing your personal style is important, helping you decide what jacket style is most appropriate.
Leather jacket styles are defined by length, the way it closes or zips (and just how much hardware it boasts), and the collar. There are generally three types: the ‘bomber’, the ‘biker’ and the ‘racer’.
The bomber is the most casual looking. Recognized by its waist length, the jacket is made from soft leather, which tends to be more malleable giving it a relaxed look.
The jacket has contrast trim (sometimes in contrast color and fabric), which usually mixes up the waist and sleeve cuffs for a succinct fit. Hardware is minimal, with a single asymmetrical zip up the front, and while most should come with functional side pockets (and perhaps an internal pocket), some will omit them for a much cleaner silhouette.
The leather biker jacket (think Marlon Brando) boasts large lapels and a flared collar, that can be snapped down for extra security. Packed with metallic hardware (studs, plugs, and zips), the front zipper is normally asymmetrical, allowing the wider side to fold in underneath its partner.
The fit of the leather jacket – like a suit – is paramount. But unlike a bad-fitting jacket or blazer, leather jackets can’t be altered easily and it’s expensive if you do.
So what should you look for exactly? The jacket should cling to the contours of your body, with shoulders cutting sharp and square on the shoulder – like a blazer.
A leather jacket isn’t really designed for wearing over bulk layers – more a fine-gauge sweater or tee – so buy the smallest size that fits, allowing for a bit of stretch to occur. Your arms should be able to move freely and not feel tight and uncomfortable. The length of the sleeves should skim the wrist and the hem should finish at the beltline.
Skinny guys should opt for a tight or elasticated waistband, tapering the body section and accentuating the shoulders. Guys on the larger side should go for a straight cut, avoiding anything that will cling to lumps and bumps. The same rule applies to muscular gym junkies.
The timelessness of the leather jacket does depend on what color you choose. Like suits, neutral colors such as black, brown, and grey are your best bet. Navy and contrast-sleeved biker types are more fashion-orientated and offer a refreshing option for guys who may already have classic leather in their cupboard.
Of course, you don’t have to settle for the traditional shiny leather for your jacket. Suede fabrics work just as well and bring with them new color options such as tan and brown, as well as occasionally sporting shearling collars for extra warmth and comfort. Just be sure to steer clear of any tassels and you’ll be just fine.