History Lesson: The Biker Jacket

Marlon Brando, The Wild One

As the leaves start to turn and the weather gets crisp, the layers come out. What better fall weather essential than the effortlessly cool biker jacket. This timeless piece makes a statement – and it’s rooted in history as the symbol of rebellion, freedom and personal style.

The motorcycle jacket traces back to Irving and Jack Schott, who created the Perfecto style in 1928. The Perfecto featured thick, durable leather. It was designed more out of utility than any fashion trend. Harley Davidson was the jacket’s first distributor and the style became popular with biker gangs in the 1930s. What sealed the jacket’s iconic status was the 1953 American biker film, The Wild One. Directed by Laszlo Benedek, Marlon Brando portrayed bad boy gang leader Johnny Strabler (pictured in a publicity photo, above). After the film was released, the motorcycle jacket was banned in school systems across the U.S. for its connotations to the “hoodlum” counter culture.

That was just the beginning of the biker jacket’s rebellious history. In the 1950s the Greaser subculture adopted the jacket, then in the 1970s, the Punk era brought about patch-covered leather jackets that signified a desire for individual freedom. In Britain, the trim silhouetted leather jackets were sported by Mods, who favored Mopeds in lieu of bikes.

High fashion took on the biker jacket as well. Yves Saint Laurent (now Saint Laurent) brought a sleeker, Perfecto-inspired, jacket down the runway in 1960. Since then numerous designers have included their own interpretation of the biker jacket in their collections through the years.

Our countercultural friend has continued to be a wardrobe staple through the decades and the choices abound. It’s a versatile staple that adds some edge to your outfit. Throw it over a preppy ensemble for an unexpected twist. Channel your inner Marlon Brando and crank The Ramones for the attitude to match.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons / Columbia Pictures Publicity Photo.


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