History of the Leather Jacket

There’s nothing cooler than a leather jacket! It’s a symbol of rebellion and edginess that has spanned many generations and locations. But where exactly did it get its start?


It all started in the early 1900s, when World War I German aviators wore it as uniform outerwear. They were warm and functional, and came in both brown and black. Soon other groups, such as the Bolsheviks, started using it. But, for a good while the leather jacket retained its militaristic aesthetic.

1By the 1930s, the leather jacket started being used by bikers, since it protected their skin from getting scraped up should they fall off their bikes or get into a crash. Brothers Jack and Irving Schott made the first leather biker jacket and named it after Irving’s favorite cigar, the Perfecto. They sold it at Harley Davidson’s New York store for $5.50.

2By the time World War II came around, almost all soldiers wore some version of the leather jacket. They were standard issue in the U.S. army. Specifically, U.S. soldiers wore the A-2 jacket, which is a lot like what Tom Cruise wore in Top Gun, just without the fur collar.

3Hollywood started styling all their most hardcore characters in these two types of jackets, as the jackets really fit the mood Hollywood wanted their characters to match. Marlon Brando was one of the first stars to use the leather jacket for a stylish reason instead of a functional one. He played a motorcycle gang leader in the 1953 movie The Wild One, and wore a Schott Perfecto. James Dean also wore leather jackets- even when he wasn’t on set! People saw this and loved how the jacket solidified Brando’s character as a proud man of danger. They, too wanted to look proud and dangerous.

4Rock stars especially loved the magnetic appeal of the jacket, and wore it to look rebellious and edgy. Steve McQueen, The Beatles, and The Ramones were some of the first bands to don leather jackets and wear them almost religiously. Fans of this and other bands too wore the leather jacket as a symbol of their solidarity with all the bands stood for.

5Celebrities have always had a great impression on the fashion industry, and so the garments that were worn at first by members of subcultures only became popular among almost everyone. People’s enthusiasm for the leather jacket was further invigorated when Michael Jackson wore one in his 1983 “Thriller” video.

6While a few women did wear leather jackets, Cher and Madonna were instrumental in popularizing the look for women. Both women wore them frequently and over outlandishly stylish outfits. While most women didn’t wear their jackets in such wild ways as they sometimes did, many women did start wearing them a little more often. This made the leather jacket a symbol of feminism and female power.

7 8

In the 90s, the leather jacket got even more popular among women. Models such as Kate Moss and the Olsen Twins wore them “off-duty” as a way to be both casual and stylish. It was during this time that the leather jacket got simpler and lost many of the buttons and zippers that had decorated it for years. This really helped solidify its place in the high fashion world, and it’s still worn on both the runways and the streets today.

9Even though leather jackets have become pretty mainstream, they have never lost their edge. You can wear them casually or formally, or anything in between, and still put off a vibe of strength and coolness. The leather jacket is undoubtedly an enduring classic. So go ahead! Get something that’s a little pricey. It will last for years to come!

1 11

Written by: Rachel Manning

Image Sources: 

Website links in order