Why You Should Consider A Biker Jacket

It's tricky look, but as Jeremy Langmead explains, not impossible

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How do you get away with wearing a black leather biker jacket? We know how good they can look: cast your eyes over Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953); or Alex Turner in the Arctic Monkeys' video for 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?'. Even Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan still gets away with wearing a black motorcycle jacket and he's now rocking 51. On me, well, they just don't work; I tend to look like an extra from Lovejoy (l986–'94) or, even worse, Cruising (1980).

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I optimistically once swapped half a London flat for a leather jacket. I bought my first apartment, with a mate, straight out of college at the height of the late Eighties property boom. After spending a large part of my £11,000 annual salary doing it up, I sold it a couple of years later as boom turned to bust and, after repaying the mortgage, I got back a paltry £1,200. I was so pissed off I went straight to Prada and spent it on a leather jacket identical to the one Tom Cruise wore in the first Mission Impossible film. I still have it and yet have only worn it once in all that time – since you ask, it was to a goth club in Islington called Slimelight. My button got accidentally caught up in a girl's cobweb top and took a good five minutes to untangle. By the time I was free again, I discovered that my mates had cruelly left the club; they thought I'd pulled. I suppose I had, but not in the way they thought.

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I'm sure you look much better in them than I do. What it comes down to, as is so often the case with clothes, is frame of mind. If you have the confidence, or the conviction, that you suit a leather jacket, then the chances are that you probably do. It's when you start to feel self-conscious, or a fraud, that it all goes Pete Tong (or Freddie Mercury, in my case). Sadly, I'm aware – and clearly have been for some time – that I'm not really a rebel without a cause, that I look more natural sitting astride a horse than a Harley, and that I will always look like a former member of St Joseph's College Chapel Choir than one of The Libertines. In a nutshell, it's very unlikely, on many levels, that Kate Moss is going to leave Jamie Hince for me.

The reason I mention this is that the leather jacket, a menswear classic that never truly goes out of fashion, is particularly popular this autumn. Whether it's biker jackets at Burberry or Saint Laurent, leather bombers at Rick Owens and Belstaff or shearling ones at Acne and Ami, they're hard to avoid. And photographed in atmospheric black and white on moody young models and worn with a white T-shirt, dark jeans and a pair of Chelsea boots, you can certainly see the appeal. But if you're not in the cast of Rumble Fish (1983, I'm keeping you on your movie reference toes this month), and popping to the shop for some pitta bread rather than heading out to fight a rival street gang, just how do you make one work for you?

If you want to wear a leather biker jacket, choose one without too much detailing on it. Leave the bells-and-whistles versions for the real bikers. The plainer the design, the easier it is to wear. Try teaming yours with a pair of coloured cotton trousers (a deep green hue will work well), a crew-neck sweater (a flecked number in grey or navy with a bit of texture perhaps) and finish off with a pair of chunky black leather boots (the combat boots by Common Projects are my favourites this season).

Otherwise, a leather bomber jacket is always a safe bet. They're a little less obvious, not so rock'n'roll, and look especially non-rebel in a good chestnut brown, though try to avoid looking too like Martin Shaw in The Professionals (1977–'83, yes! another vintage TV reference!). These look fine worn over almost everything, but are especially dashing teamed with dark skinny jeans, a matching polo neck and a pair of brown suede desert boots.

Ultimately, of course, if you've done your homework you'll head to US brand Schott, who designed and produced the first leather motorcycle jacket, the Perfecto, in 1928 (originally sold for $5.50 at a Long Island Harley-Davidson dealership; Brando wore a Perfecto One Star in the aforementioned film). The New York-based company – celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – also produced leather jackets worn by all US military services in the Second World War, and later was a favourite of leather-clad punk rockers throughout the late-Seventies and Eighties.

With the Perfecto, you'll be wearing a leather jacket with a history of rebellion even if you're actually teaming it with a safe pair of chinos and a cable knit sweater – more "mild one" than "wild one". Who's for a nice cup of tea?

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MORE FROM JEREMY:

The Fashion Journey Never Ends 
On Wardrobe Management 
How Fashion Editors Stay Ahead Of The Game 
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