How to Choose and Style a Leather Jacket

Table of Contents

    Why Buy a Leather Jacket?

    Fast fashion produces a billion garments a year and the average fast fashion garment is worn seven times and then thrown away.  Much of fast fashion is produced in third world sweatshops where workers operate in poor working conditions and are paid sub poverty wages. The environmental damage caused by fast fashion is an ecological catastrophe.  It has taken far too long, but finally people are choosing to reject fast fashion consumption.

    A good quality leather jacket is the antithesis of fast fashion, with the right care it will last a lifetime. There are a billion domestic animals on the planet and so long as we continue to consume meat and dairy products, leather production is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of the hides.

    A leather jacket is an extremely practical garment and because it is a natural, organic material it is breathable and therefore comfortable to wear.  Leather is far more durable than fabric and its appearance and texture improve with age.  A leather jacket can be styled in so many ways and the classic designs never go out of fashion.  It is far better for the planet to buy one quality leather jacket, which will last a lifetime, than a dozen fast fashion fast throwaways.

    Finding the Right Fit

    Are Leather Jackets supposed to be tight?

    Leather jackets are made from a variety of hides in a variety of styles.  A heavy- duty motorcycle jacket made from cowhide and with a quilted lining would be both impractical and uncomfortable if it were tight.  A lightweight fashion jacket, made from a lighter hide, such as sheep skin can be worn tighter, but remember, you may want to layer your clothing.  Lightweight jackets should be snug rather than tight.  Sheepskin and other light hides will stretch and mould to your body so allow for this when trying one on. 

    Do Leather Jackets stretch?

    Thick hides, such as cowhide will stretch very little with normal use, though there are methods by which you can stretch them.  Lighter hides, such as sheepskin will stretch and indeed, this is part of their appeal.  A sheepskin jacket will mould to your body and become a very personal garment.

    Which Style to Choose

    Leather Jacket with flowers

    Floral prints are very on trend at the moment so why not combine a love of flowers with a love of leather?  The Floral Biker jacket from Walter Baker playfully subverts the machismo of this classic style.

    Leather Jacket with or without collar

    Bomber jackets and Racer jackets are usually designed without a collar.  All other styles usually feature a collar.

    Leather Jacket with Fur

    The most famous leather jackets with fur are the sheepskin jackets worn by early aviators, wool after all is a form of fur.  Sheepskin jackets are still a very popular winter jacket.  Lightweight leather jackets are also sometimes trimmed with fur.

    Leather Jacket with Fringe

    Fringed leather jackets have ancient origins but in the public imagination they are indelibly associated with Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and Native American Indians, largely thanks to the American westerns of the sixties.  Leather fringes originally had a range of practical uses, providing spare leather with which to repair tack, helping rainwater run off more efficiently and providing camouflage by breaking the solid outline of the jacket.  The wearing of a fringed jacket now is a conscious act of flamboyance, with strong hippie/boho overtones.  Think Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider or Hendrix at Woodstock.

    Leather Jacket with Studs

    Studded leather jackets have their origins in the reinforced leather jerkins worn by mercenaries during the middle ages, but it was the advent of punk culture that introduced them as a fashion statement.  Punk’s original intention to alienate and intimidate was quickly emasculated by the inexorable assimilation into mainstream fashion.  If you wear studs on your leather jacket now, few people will regard you as threatening or dangerous. 

    Leather Jacket with (white) Stars

    Leather jackets with stars are one of several examples of a playful permutation of the traditional biker jacket, taking it another step away from its old rebellious image.

    Leather Jacket with Patches

    American pilots during World War Two began the practice of sewing patches onto their leather flight jackets as a way of celebrating their exploits.  This was emulated in the post war era by motorcycle gangs who used the badges to denote allegiance to a particular group.  Like all subculture fashions, patched leather jackets later became another addition to the fashion industry’s repertoire.

    Leather Jacket with Tassels

    Tassels or fringes were originally a feature of the buckskin jackets worn by Native American Indians and later adopted by frontiersmen.  The look was popularised in the sixties by American film and TV westerns and became a staple of the hippie wardrobe.  Tasselled jackets range from those with a little modest tasselling across the back, to jackets which are festooned with long tassels.  In its most extreme form, the tassel jacket is a self-consciously ironic and amusing garment.

    Leather Jacket with or without Belt

    Generally speaking, it is leather jackets which hang below the waist which feature a belt.  The notable exception to this is the Schott Perfecto and its imitators, a design intended to facilitate ease of movement when riding a motorcycle.

    Leather Jacket with Spikes

    Spiked jackets are a more extreme version of the studded leather jacket popularised by the punk movement.  Fashion often flirts with bondage wear and this is an example.  For most of us this would not be a garment for everyday wear.

    Leather Jacket with Gold Hardware

    There are a wide variety of leather jackets for women which feature gold coloured zips and buttons.  Real gold is far too soft to function effectively in the construction of a zipper.

    Leather Jacket without Lining.

    The lining of a leather jacket provides addition warmth, helps prevent the jacket stretching over time and protects your clothing from dye bleeding from the inside of the jacket.  Unlined leather jackets are lighter to wear but require a high quality of interior stitching.

    Leather Jacket without Zipper

    The zipper is an integral part of the biker jacket design.  It is a strong visual feature which is also swift and convenient to use.  Some fashion leather jackets use buttons or are lightweight designs which hang open.

    Leather Jacket without Sleeves

    Sleeveless leather jackets or leather vests are a garment associated with the Hells Angels motor-cycle gangs of the sixties.  They have recently gained popularity as a result of the American TV show ‘Sons of Anarchy’. Leather jackets without sleeves are also available as women’s fashion garments.

    Leather Jacket without Hood

    Most leather jackets for women and men do not feature a hood, those that do tend to be fur on sheepskin.

    Leather Jacket without Armour

    Heavy duty motor-cycle jackets are fitted with armour to provide additional protection in the event of an accident.  These jackets are too heavy to wear for recreational purposes.  The majority of leather jackets are not fitted with armour.

    Leather Jacket without Shoulder Pads

    Some motor-cycle jackets incorporate shoulder padding to provide additional protection in the event of a tumble.  Shoulder pads are also used as technique with which to enhance the outline of the jacket.  The majority of leather jacket designs do not include shoulder pads.


    What to Wear with a Leather Jacket?

    Leather Jacket with a Hoodie

    Layering a hoodie underneath a leather jacket is a great way to stay warm and it is a very on trend look.  The jacket needs to be roomy enough to ensure that your movement is not restricted.

    Leather Jacket with a Dress

    A leather jacket is an extremely versatile garment and you can have a lot of fun styling yours with the dresses in your collection.

    Leather Jacket with Jeans

    A classic combination of probably the two most iconic garments that America has given to the world. Timeless.

    Leather Jacket with T shirt

    Black leather jacket, white T shirt, classic Brando.

    Leather Jacket with a Scarf

    Stylish and cosy, the perfect combo for women and men.

    Leather Jacket with a Suit

    No. It’s not a good combination. It pits two different styles of clothing against one another and both lose.

    Leather Jacket with a Skirt

    It works, try it.

    Leather Jacket with Shorts

    For women it can be a sexy look, for men it’s not.

    Leather Jacket with a Tie

    This combination can look office casual stylish, but the jacket needs to be lightweight and probably have a central zip like a racer jacket.

    Leather Jacket with Sneakers

    Leather is casual, sneakers are casual. Perfect.

    Leather Jacket with Boots

    If you are a motorcyclist it’s a natural practical combination and if you’re not, it’s a natural, practical and very stylish combination.

    Leather Jacket with Leggings

    A super comfy autumnal pairing.  The style of jacket and whether to go plain or patterned is up to you.

    Leather Jacket with Hat

    Post Brando in The Wild One, Tom of Finland pretty much claimed this territory.  Women can pair a hat with a leather jacket without similar connotations.  Wear a Fedora with a leather jacket and everyone will make Indiana Jones jokes.

    Are all Leather Jackets considered business casual?

    No. Pop into the office in your leather jacket festooned with spikes, studs and chains and you’ll certainly have burst that office casual envelope, capacious though it is.  Lightweight jackets with a central zip are fine as are other fashion styles, the Perfecto is pushing it.

    Will any Leather Jacket work for a motorcycle?

    Absolutely not.  You need proper protection when you’re riding a motorcycle, invest in specialist riding equipment.

    When to Wear Your Leather Jacket

    Wearing a Leather Jacket to a wedding

    This really depends on the formality of the wedding.  At an outdoorsy boho style wedding, where the dress is casual, leather jackets for men and women are no problem.  Even at a semi-formal wedding, women can pair a leather jacket with a ballgown or cocktail dress, whilst men can wear a lightweight leather jacket with a shirt and tie.

    Wearing a Leather Jacket to work or the office

    Lightweight leather jackets are smart and practical office wear.

    Wearing a Leather Jacket to a funeral

    The clothes that you wear to a funeral should be understated.  This is not a situation where you dress to impress.  Your clothing should be smart and respectful.  A lightweight black leather jacket may be appropriate, but it needs to be paired with formal, sober attire.

    Wearing a Leather Jacket to a prom

    It’s your prom, so if you are comfortable pairing a prom dress with a leather jacket then why not, it’s a great look.  It doesn’t work as well for guys because the look is too casual, and it can look like too much of a statement.

    Wearing a Leather Jacket to an interview

    This entirely depends on the type of job for which you are applying.  A start up tech company is unlikely to be discomforted by a leather jacket, a traditional firm of accountants might well be.

    Leather Jackets for welding

    Leather welding jackets are specialist equipment designed to provide full protection for the wearer.

    Alternatives to Leather Jackets

    Leather Jacket vs Mesh

    Mesh jackets are motorcycle jackets with an outer polyester mesh covering removable protective armour.  These jackets provide good air flow and are a good choice when motorcycling in a hot country.  Mesh jackets do not have the abrasion resistance of a leather jacket and unlike leather jackets they are not a garment which you would wear other than for motorcycling.

    Leather Jacket vs Textile

    Textile motorcycle jackets are layered, waterproof jackets with built in armour and good abrasion resistance.  These jackets are not something that you would wear other than for motorcycling.

    Leather Jacket vs Suede Jacket

    Suede is made from the underside of the animal hide. It is soft and flexible and has a napped appearance.  Suede jackets are light and pleasant to wear but they lack the durability of full grain leather.

    Leather Jacket vs Faux Leather

    The rise in popularity of veganism has resulted in a developing consumer interest in leather substitutes.  This is motivated by a desire to avoid animal products and invest in clothing which is more eco-friendly.  For the last seventy years, leather substitutes have involved the use of polyurethane, a Petro-chemical derivative which is far from eco-friendly.  Organic leather substitutes are now in production, but they are expensive and tend to be used only in high end fashion.  Much faux leather is an impressive leather facsimile, but it lacks leather’s durability.  It is arguably much more environmentally damaging to buy a succession of faux leather jackets rather than one leather jacket which will last a lifetime.

    Leather Jacket vs Polyester

    Polyester is strong, light, resists shrinking and stretching and is cheap to buy.  Its production uses harmful chemicals and known carcinogens. Polyester sheds microfibres when washed.  Whilst there is an environmental cost to leather production, the purchase of one leather jacket, which will last a lifetime is far less environmentally damaging than the purchase of multiple fast fashion polyester jackets.  Leather jackets are organic, porous and breathe; polyester jackets do not breathe and there is evidence that prolonged contact with polyester can cause a range of serious medical problems.

    Leather Jacket vs Synthetic

    Synthetic jackets are popular with hikers.  The jackets use polyester insulation instead of down.  They are lightweight, fast drying and cheap to produce.  On average, synthetic jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibres each wash and older jackets shed twice as much.  Synthetic products are a major contributor to global pollution.  A leather jacket is more expensive than a synthetic jacket, but it is more durable, abrasion resistant and it is biodegradable.

    Leather Jacket vs Bomber Jacket

    Bomber jackets were originally designed for use by World War Two pilots, their loose fit and elasticated cuffs and waist band meant that the jacket was warm and allowed ease of movement.  The orange linings, which are often still used, were so that in the event of a crash the jacket could be reversed and used to attract attention.  Bomber jackets are made in a variety of materials, including leather.  Bomber jackets are both stylish and practical garments. A non-leather Bomber jacket will be considerably less expensive than a leather jacket, a leather jacket, however, will be a far more durable garment.

    Leather Jacket vs Down Jacket

    Generally speaking, down jackets are not cheap and you can expect to pay anywhere between $150 and $1000 for a down jacket, depending on the brand. Of course, more affordable light weight down jackets are now becoming much more commonplace. Down jackets are warm, lightweight garments which are usually comprised of a polyester skin stuffed with the feathers of goose or duck, to create a layer of insulation.  A good quality down jacket will usually be warmer than a leather jacket but it is not abrasion resistant, it is not as durable, and it is not fully biodegradable.

    Leather Jacket vs Riding Jacket

    The term ‘Riding jacket’ can refer to an equestrian riding jacket, which is a garment specifically designed for horse riding, or it can refer to a motorcycle jacket.  The first purposely designed riding jacket for a motorcycle was the Schott Perfecto leather jacket.  Contemporary equestrian jackets come in a variety of styles but tend to be either down or synthetic.

    Leather Jacket vs Denim Jacket

    Denim is a cotton weave originally made in Nimes in France.  A denim jacket is a lightweight, stylish jacket which was first created in the 1880s as a hard- wearing garment for miners.  A denim jacket is a much cheaper option than a leather jacket, but it is not as durable, windproof or abrasion resistant.

    Leather Jacket vs Motorcycle Jacket

    Traditionally, leather jackets are motorcycle jackets but there is now a wide range of synthetic jackets available to the motorcyclist.

    Leather Jacket vs Peacoat

    The Peacoat originated in Holland in the 1800s but was popularised by the British Navy.  It was designed to allow ease of movement and offer protection from rain, wind and cold.  The traditional Peacoat is short in length and has a double-breasted front with broad lapels and large buttons.  It is stylish, practical garment which retains its popularity.  A leather jacket is a very different garment in terms of style and versatility but the Peacoat is probably the better option for a cold winter’s day.

    Leather Jacket vs Biker Jacket

    The definitive biker jacket is the Schott Perfecto, a leather jacket created in 1928 and made famous by Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild Ones’ in 1953.  Specialist motorcycle jackets are now available in a range of synthetic materials but when someone says ‘biker jacket’ they probably have in mind a leather jacket.

    Leather Jacket vs Puffer Jacket.

    A Puffer jacket is the popular name for a style of jacket which comprises of tubes filled with down or a synthetic substitute.  It is a popular garment because it is cheap and warm.  Synthetic Puffer jackets shed microfibres when washed and Puffer jackets which are down filled use the down from geese and ducks. A leather jacket is made from the hide of an animal used in the meat or dairy industry.  It will last a lifetime and is biodegradable.

    Leather Jacket vs Windbreaker

    Windbreakers also known as windcheaters or anoraks are lightweight, waist length jackets, made from a synthetic material with a waterproof coating.  They usually feature elasticated cuffs, slanted pockets and drawstring hoods.  They were particularly popular in the 1970’s and replaced raincoats and overcoats in the wardrobes of young people, they in turn have been superseded by the rise of the puffer jacket.  A leather jacket is a superior windbreaker though it is not as waterproof.  Whilst you might well wear your leather jacket to a sophisticated bar or restaurant you would be ill advised to wear most windbreakers.

    Leather Jacket vs Parka

    The Parka is a garment first evolved by the Inuit, who made hooded coats constructed of two animal skins sandwiched together with the hair side facing inward to create insulation.  This design was used by early Polar explorers and subsequently became the garment of choice for skiing.  After the Second World War, animal skins were replaced by synthetic materials and the garment became a staple of mainstream fashion.  It was adopted by Mods as part of their uniform and re-emerges from time to time as a popular retro garment.  Warm and practical, it is essentially a hooded overcoat with youth appeal.  In the sixties rival gangs of Mods and Rockers were distinguishable by their choice of vehicle, scooter vs motorcycle and their choice of outer garment, parka vs leather jacket.

    Leather Jacket vs Wool Coat

    A woollen overcoat is a traditional outer garment which is formal and respectable.  At one time it would have stood at the opposite end of the spectrum to a leather jacket.  Now that the leather jacket has been assimilated into mainstream fashion, the distinction is less stark, but it is still the case that the wool coat is formal and the leather jacket casual.

    Leather Jacket vs Blazer

    If the leather jacket is emblematic of the rebel, then the blazer is emblematic of the establishment, despite its popularity with mods and Carnaby Street dandies of the 1960’s.  The term blazer was originally coined to describe the red flannel jackets of the rowing club of St John’s College, Cambridge, in the early Nineteenth Century.  The blazer then became a staple of military, sporting and academic groups, its badge and colouring denoting particular affiliations.  The blazer is now worn by men and women and is the definitive, smart office casual garment.  The same cannot be said of the leather jacket.

    Leather Jacket or Trench Coat

    Both garments were originally military designs of the First World War.  Both garments are extremely practical and neither show any sign of ever going out of fashion.  A leather jacket is a versatile three season garment, a trench coat is a full-length raincoat which enables a man or woman to keep their formal clothing dry.  Both garments belong in your wardrobe.


    Leather Jacket Style Icons

    Leather Jacket like Jake Peralta

    The jacket worn by Andy Samberg’s character, Jake Peralta, in Brooklyn Nine- Nine is a Moto jacket with a rounded neckline, shoulder epaulets, paired pockets on the chest and elasticated cuffs and waist.

    Leather Jacket like Indiana Jones

    The highly crafted look of Harrison Ford’s character is adventurer perfection.  The jacket is a World War Two style bomber jacket but, crucially, without the elasticated cuffs.  Not the obvious choice for a sojourn in the desert.

    Leather Jacket like Jessica Jones

    Krysten Ritter’s character from The Defenders wears an Acne Studios Moto jacket with an asymmetrical zip. The jacket has been distressed to make it look well worn.

    Leather Jacket like G Easy

    The rapper’s sartorial style has been described as ‘minimalist cool’. He sports a variety of leather jackets but is most frequently seen in a Perfecto style biker jacket.

    Leather Jacket like Dean Winchester

    The Dean Winchester character in the TV show Supernatural wears a leather car coat, given to him by his father, in the first series.  The coat used in the series was a Wilsons M. Julian car coat. Last made in the 90’s.

    Leather Jacket like Negan

    The character Negan in The Walking Dead wears a custom-made black leather motorcycle jacket which is similar in style to the Schott Perfecto.

    Leather Jacket like Wolverine

    When off duty, the Hugh Jackman character usually wears a black bomber jacket but in the film Logan he opts for a brown suede jacket with two front pockets.

    Leather Jacket like Alex Turner

    If you’re thinking of the one with the white stripe, it’s a racer jacket, custom made from Lewis Leathers.

    Leather Jacket like Noel Gallagher

    Mr Gallagher likes to wear a lightweight leather racer jacket.   

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