The Story Behind the Black Leather Jacket

A staple piece in rock fashion.

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The Story Behind the Black Leather Jacket

In 1928 a Russian immigrant named Irving Schott originally designed the Schott Perfecto jacket for Harley Davidson. Schott got his inspiration from the brown leather flight jackets that were worn by aviators and members of the military in the beginning of the century. Schott named the jacket after his favorite cigar, the Perfecto, because he believed that his Jewish name would make it less sellable. His creation was sold for a $5.50 at the time. The Schott Bros became the first company to use zippers on their jackets. The design was a master-stroke, utilizing an asymmetrical zipper and a belted waist to block out any brutal gusts of wind as bikers drove down the highways.

By the mid-century, the jacket became a popular choice for the young Hollywood as a way to embrace the tough-guy look. In the famous 1953 movie called ‘The Wild One’ Marlon Brando portrayed a biker gang leader, wearing a Schott ‘Perfecto’ on the big screen. The film was considered so bad-ass that it was banned for 14 years in the UK. Soon after ‘The Rebel without a Cause’ starring James Dean was released. Both movies were very successful and made the item become synonymous with an anti-establishment culture of rebellion.

In the 1960s the subcultures surrounding rock music became more polarized and the distinction between pop and rock music become more significant. Needless to say, it affected the fashion choices of the bands.

The Beatles had full leather outfits tailored for them during their early shows in Hamburg.

In 1968 Elvis famously wore an all leather outfit in his ‘Comeback Special’. Jim Morrison also chose a black leather suit as his go-to stage outfit. This made the style officially popular among the rock and roll fan base.

The studded leather jacket look was introduced to the broader public by the Judas Priest in 1978 when the band wore them during the performance, promoting the ‘Killing Machine’ (‘Hell Bent for Leather’ in the USA) album. The outfits were presumably purchased at the local BDSM gay sex shop. Shortly after appropriating the look, the band started appearing onstage on roaring motor bikes. Soon after, the Iron Maiden's Paul Di'Anno, Freddie Mercury, Duran Duran and many others began to wear leather jackets and studded bracelets. This fashion became especially popular with followers of the New Wave of British heavy metal movement in the early 1980s. The look was extended to the wearing of combat boots, studded belts, and bracelets, bullet belts, spiked gauntlets, etc.

The 70s was also the era with the strong unisex trend in fashion. So it’s only natural that a lot of nonconformist female musicians like Patti Smith, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry etc. started wearing the jacket. adding pins and other metals to it.

The biker trend peaked in the 1980s with the popularity of the Ramones and other punk bands. The lead singer Joey Ramone wore his Perfecto jacket with skinny jeans and white keds, defining the ultimate punk look. The legend has it that The Sex Pistols frontman Sid Vicious enjoyed the trend so much that he once asked to be buried in his double-riders biker jacket.

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It’s hard to believe, that more than half of century later the leather jacket stays trendy among bikers, rock stars, and youngsters. The only difference is that it is no longer a statement piece. It can be worn in pretty much any situation, casual or formal. 

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nothing cooler than leather jacket. You can't argue with that. Aslo I love when uncle UG is more informative like this and less about "he says she says bullshit". Cool article. Keep it up!
    I pined for a black leather jacket for years. Last winter I bought one and it's one of my most prized possessions. It's impossible NOT to look cool in a leather jacket. can't wait for winter so I can wear it all the time again.
    I bought a leather jacket in high school, and apparently I can make anything look uncool lol
    Don't sell yourself short, I'm sure you look cooler with it on I'd have been jealous of you
    Way Cool JR.
    A long time leather shop owner that catered to bikers & police told me decades ago that the Perfecto/traditional biker jacket was originally designed for the Los Angeles motorcycle police.  I've had one for like 24 years now and love it. Mine was over $600 though would have been awesome to snak them for $5.