The Leather Jacket Battle: What is the Most Popular Leather Jacket Brand?

The surprising success of and enthusiasm for the boot battle inspired me to continue doing Instagram poll battles. With the miserable summer weather out in full force, I wanted to discuss winter wear as much as possible so I gave a choice between flannels and leather jackets. After a close fight, leather jackets came out on top and I immediately made it the next poll. After another successful round of voting, I have another interesting set of results to draw conclusions from. With far less upsets in this battle, I will give the overall results first and then discuss what can be learned from them.

DSCF9789I really love leather jackets

As with the boot battle, I want to clarify that this is not a perfect system and obviously does not represent an actual account of which of these brands is the most well regarded around the world. However, I do think that the information is quite telling and is certainly useful. Also, there are of course more leather jacket brands out there than these, but I chose the ones that I thought would be the most recognized in this clothing community.Without further ado, the results are as follows:

Round 1:
Schott 111
Thedi 39

The Real McCoys 141
Rainbow Country 18

Aero 81
4Speed 18

Buzz Rickson 83
Bill Kelso 31

The Flat Head 76
Freewheelers 61

Himel Bros 99
Vanson 32

Good Wear 63
Langlitz 30

Simmons Bilt 26
Eastman 79

Round 2:
Schott 79
The Real McCoys 112

Himel Bros 111
Buzz Rickson 65

The Flat Head 74
Aero 30

Good Wear 34
Eastman 63

Round 3:
The Real McCoys 106
Himel Bros 56

The Flat Head 79
Eastman 68

Final Round:
The Real McCoys 88
The Flat Head 38

The only truly surprising result here was how far Eastman went, nearly beating out Flat Head in the semi-final. This is not to say that Eastman is a low quality brand. In fact, the opposite is true. Most flight jacket enthusiasts rate Eastman extremely highly and the quality of their hides and stitching is generally well regarded too. However, this is not a brand that is highly recognizable on Instagram. In fact, I have not seen any pictures of Eastman jackets on Instagram aside from the few that Standard and Strange have begun posting now that they are a dealer.

The most surprising win for them was against Good Wear because while Eastman is well regarded in the flight jacket world, Good Wear is quite clearly regarded as better than Eastman in this category. Good Wear uses a more expensive and more period correct leather from Shinki Hikaku in Japan, does custom measurements while Eastman does not, and is known to be the most accurate A2 jacket maker in the world in terms of detail. This coupled with how closely they went up against The Flat Head made me curious.

scrl_rw27752_a2Eastman made it into the top 4, perhaps because of that gorgeous leather

After asking several people, I had an answer. People really liked the picture of the Eastman jacket I chose to use. Everyone that I asked said that they didn’t know much about either leather jackets or about the brands themselves, but that they really liked the way the Eastman jacket looked. In the round against Flat Head, I was told by several people that they did not like black leather jackets, so they chose the Eastman jacket. This, combined with some name recognition for the brand catapulted it higher than I would have expected. As a result, I will not be using pictures for the ensuing brand battles. They do entice more votes, but I would prefer the votes to be based on prior knowledge and not on which of the jackets posted look prettier, especially given that most makers offer a very wide variety of jackets and it is unfair to represent them with a single picture.

Otherwise, the rounds generally went as expected. Langlitz. 4Speed, and Vanson are made for actual motorcycle usage, with Vanson especially being geared toward motorcycle riders. Therefore, it was not surprising that these brands fell in the first round, though I did expect that 4Speed’s collaborations with Iron Heart would have garnered them more votes. Simmons Bilt and Bill Kelso are relatively new to the leather jacket world and both have tumultuous histories already with Bill Kelso using very negative advertising on forums and Simmons Bilt having a past so controversial that they changed their name meant that it was not surprising to see both companies lose early. Thedi and Rainbow Country both make extremely high quality jackets, but even on forums, they are still relatively unknown, so despite their design and build quality, these two brands were destined to be eliminated.

Himel Bros. made it to the top four, but unlike Eastman, it was no surprise to me that this brand lost out only to the ultimate winner, RMC. Despite being a relatively new brand, Himel Bros. has distinguished itself with extremely high quality materials, construction quality, custom measurements, and perhaps most importantly, a wide variety of incredible jacket designs. I plan on doing this as well as the other battles again next year and it will be interesting to see if the Himel name continues to rise. I am personally hoping that some of the high quality, lesser known names such as Rainbow Country and Thedi receive greater recognition, but only time will tell.

a8l5DbmMy Himel grizzly is my most prized possession

Many people may be surprised to see Schott fall so handily to The Real McCoy’s, but I personally am not. Schott could almost be considered the equivalent of Red Wing in the leather jacket world, but with one very major difference. This key factor is one that affected the results of this battle and made the results quite different and more predictable than the results of the boot battle.

DSCF6940The Real McCoy’s winning was no surprise given how much people on IG love my RMC A2 

That factor is that leather jackets are generally aspirational while boots are seen as more practical. Nearly every member of the raw denim community owns at least one pair of boots, and they generally own quite a few more than that. Leather jackets, on the other hand, are far less common in this subculture. Certainly, people are aware of them and know some of the brands that make them, but people don’t own as many of them as they do boots or flannel shirts. Despite this, people wanted to see a leather jacket battle more than a flannel fight.

This is because leather jackets occupy a weird place in the raw denim and heritage clothing space. Similar to engineer boots, they do not have the same universal appeal that denim and lace up boots have. However, many see them as extremely desirable or so cool that one cannot even pull them off. You would be surprised how many times I have heard or seen people say that they could not pull off a pair of engineers or leather jacket, despite this being an unfounded idea.

On top of this is the fact that leather jackets are overall, more cost prohibitive than boots are. In terms of relative quality and name recognition, Schott is the leather jacket equivalent of Red Wing. However, Red Wing boots generally cost from $275 to $320 retail, often going on sale for far less. Schott leather jackets start at around $700 and go up to over $1,100 with most of their jackets being in the $750-$900 range with far less discounts and deals to be had.


Schott fell to The Real McCoy’s in the second round

It only gets worse from there. Stepping up to mid level boots will cost around $500-$750 while mid range leather jackets go for roughly $1,000 to $1,400. Most high end boots top out around $1,000-$1,200 while top end leather jackets are around the $2,200-$2,800 range. What is far worse is the low end. Schott is probably the least expensive brand that is still purchased by people in the denim/heritage/work wear community, but boots can be cheaper than Red Wings are.

With more affordable brands such as Thorogood and Chippewa, outsourcing brands such as Thursday, and up and coming Indonesian brands such as Santalum and Sagara, and the frequent sales that bring brands such as Red Wing and Mark Albert down in price, it is quite easy to get a solid pair of boots for under $200. This makes boots far more accessible to people. Couple this to the fact that boots can be worn all year in pretty much any country around the globe while leather jackets cannot be worn in weather that is too warm or too cold and you have a much larger market for boots than for leather jackets.

officer-bootsIndonesian boot brands help make boots far more accessible than leather jackets

As a result, leather jackets are more of an aspirational item. They are the hot girl in a late 90’s to early 2000’s teen movie that is admired from afar, lusted after, awkwardly talked about with friends, or sung about in an embarrassing song.* Boots are the best friend since childhood whose feelings the main character ignores throughout the movie and then eventually ends up with when the script brings them back down to reality. The thing is, most guys end up just staying with the best friend, especially when they realize that Michelle ended up being better looking than Nadia anyway. This means that for many, leather jackets stay up on that pedestal instead of becoming a part of you.

This marks a difference in attitude between the two. Because people actually own and wear boots, they become loyal to the brands they wear which in most cases, are more ubiquitous and affordable brands such as Red Wing. Leather jackets are more often desired than owned, so people can dream of their ideal instead of settling for what they can reasonably afford when they first get into the hobby. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule, but based on the numbers and the discussions I have had with people, I think this theory is true in quite a few cases. However, there are a couple of other factors that played a part in the results of this process.

Something that both of the top two leather jacket brands had in common was that they both made products aside from just leather jackets such as shirts, t shirts, shoes, boots, and most importantly, jeans. This certainly helps the name recognition of both brands and both The Real McCoy’s and The Flat Head have an extremely strong reputation for a vast array of products. Also, with these brands being so popular, they also have a solid number of stockists in the US and EU, allowing knowledge of their products to become widespread. Coincidentally, the top two finishers are rumored to share the same production facility for their leather jackets, meaning that the shop that makes them won first and second place. However, there are a few aspects that I believe put The Real McCoy’s ahead of The Flat Head.

bcEGAepThe Flat Head finished a respectable second place in the contest

Firstly, The Flat Head really only makes motorcycle jackets while The Real McCoy’s offers motorcycle, civilian, and military jackets. The Flat Head jackets also have a very specific fit to them with wide shoulders and a very narrow opening at the bottom, greatly limiting the number of people who can wear them without looking like the guy from The Talking Heads. Finally and perhaps most importantly, The Real McCoy’s is essentially the Viberg of the leather jacket world with both brands not actually being the best, but being thought of as the best by most for many years and still having very high quality, designs and fits that appeal the a vast majority of people, and an unmatched selection of leathers.

The difference between the two is that The Real McCoy’s has generally maintained their high reputation* while Viberg’s has fallen in recent times. In fact, The Real McCoy’s was perhaps the original grail jacket before the raw denim craze even started. While the brand’s reputation is not as high as it once was, especially with Freewheelers surpassing them in terms of design detail and quality, its reputation has not been tarnished the way Viberg’s has, especially in the eyes of the general denim public where RMC is still widely considered to be one of, if not the very best by many while brands such as John Lofgren have taken that title from Viberg.

DSCF4317More RMC love

In comparison to the boot battle, quality played a larger role in this contest, but similarly to the boot battle, the best still did not win. Freewheelers has the best construction and Good Wear has the best accuracy of details. Other similarities that I feel I must point out are the fact that both winners were brands that I own and wear personally, though it is difficult for me to measure just how much of an effect this had on the results, especially because the second place finisher was a brand that I do not own a leather jacket from.

Also, in both battles so far, the winner was a Japanese company with an extremely strong reputation for high quality in terms of both design and construction.
With another successful brand battle finished, I would like to thank everyone who participated in the vote and read this article. For those interested, which probably includes you if you have read this far, the next battle will be the flannel fight. This one should be fun, though I believe this has the most predictable winner of them all. Follow me on Instagram to vote in this battle and check back here in the future to see the results and the write up.

*How great was the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know” and can you believe that Matt Damon played the singer of the band in that movie?
* The quality of other RMC products has been called into question in recent years, but the reputation of their leather jackets has for the most part, remained high

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