The Journey of Leather Jackets – From Military to Fashion

Leather Jackets

Leather jackets today are iconic fashion symbols, very flexible in portraying different images. Wear one to project a tough guy macho look, preferably on a growling Harley Davidson or to portray an ever-so-cool girl likeness without a care in the world. But while present day style followers might swoon over leather jackets, its origins can be traced back to the tough battlefields of the World War I and the 1900s. From then till modern times this versatile piece of clothing has retained its exclusivity and uniqueness and has never gone out of fashion and been discarded to the back of the closet.

  • First half of 1900s – It all started around the time of the World War I when German fighter bombers and pilots started wearing leather jackets as a protective layer over their uniforms. Around the 1930s, these jackets slowly nudged into the fashion world when Irving Schott, famed raincoat maker designed leather jackets for Harley Davidson bikers and named them “Perfecto”. Unlike aviator jackets that had buttons, these had zips. World War II saw the US army standardizing the famous A-2 jackets with the fur collar and it became almost synonymous with military uniform.
  • Second half of 1900s – Leather jackets gained an edge in the fashion world when Hollywood acknowledged its presence in the 1950s. Remember Marlon Brando in the film The Wild One in 1953 and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause in 1955? In the 1960s, heart throb Steve McQueen continued this trend. However, the popularity of leather jackets really took on epic proportions around this time when The Beatles made it a regular part of their costume, whether on-stage or in photo shoots.

The 1970s and 1980s with peace, rock and roll and women’s power exponent Germaine Greer holding centre stage, women began to take to leather jackets on a large scale. Leather jackets soon took on a unisex look and female rockers like Joan Jett and Blondie customised them with studs, pins and other metals.

Leather jackets today are no more seen as a style statement for specific occasions like the macho look or to mirror an unfettered female image. It is now accepted in formal and informal situations as well as in the corridors of high fashion. The leather jacket has come a long way and even after a century and a couple of decades later promises to stay in style for another similar period.