Leather jackets are a strange animal in the world of raw denim, boots, and heritage menswear. They are a niche within a niche, just like engineer boots are. There are groups of people who love leather jackets and care little for other aspects of clothing, which is not usually true of denim heads. While at the same time, despite seemingly fitting in perfectly with the raw denim wardrobe, the percent of indigo disciples who actually own such an item are surprisingly sparse.
Leather jackets almost make me look cool
Yet, everyone knows about leather jackets and they have a certain mythos around them. Some people despise them and some (sometimes justifiably) see them as an oversized sweatshirt replacement for overweight middle aged dads in sneakers and the same pair of relaxed fit Levi’s and white New Balance sneakers that they’ve worn since 1995. However the rest of the world sees them as imminently cool or bad ass, even if they don’t wear one themselves. What is it about leather jackets that puts them in such a contradictory position of being put on a pedestal… and then worshipped from afar? I have compiled a list of the six traits that make leather jackets such a special and unique piece in the raw denim/heritage menswear world.
1. Leather jackets are expensive. Red Wing is sort of the benchmark for entry level boots that are still high quality enough to last for many years and be enjoyed by people who can afford to pay for more expensive footwear. The leather jacket equivalent of this famous brand is the equally famous Schott. In my experience, these brands are just about equal not only in fame, but also in quality and relative price point. The difference is that the average pair of Red Wing Heritage boots cost $300 while the average Schott leather jacket costs $750-$800, well over twice what it costs for a pair of Red Wings.
Red Wings are relatively affordable…
…especially when compared to something like this jacket from Himel Bros.
This is quite a considerable amount of money; and this is for a more affordable brand. Most brands below this price point are of poor leather, design, or build quality. Vanson jackets can be had for a bit less, but their more desirable models cost up to $1,000. At the mid-level, it is a similar story. Viberg boots cost around $700-$750. The Viberg equivalent, Aero, costs around $1,200-$1,325. Not quite twice the cost, but close.
The high end brings things closer with White Kloud, Clinch, and Role Club’s most expensive options hitting $2,000, but the most expensive leather jackets are still more. Himel jackets in Shinki go from $2,250 – $2,800 and Freewheelers and RMC jackets start at the same prices as Himel jackets, but go even higher to over $3,000. Further, these three brands’ average jackets, along with Flat Head’s average jackets cost around $2,250 while the average Role Club, Clinch, and White Kloud boots are all under $1,500.
How to ooze style with only two garments… Image via Freewheelers
Therefore, leather jackets are seen as an endgame item. They are something to save for, hope for, dream about, but not buy just yet. A few pairs of boots are usually purchased before a leather jacket, if one is purchased at all due to the relative cost. It isn’t surprising given the complexity of sewing one. The amount of brands that can sew the upper of a work style boot without any flaws consistently is 8 by my count, but the number of brands with perfectly stitched jackets consistently is one and that is Freewheelers. Making a leather jacket requires more material and all evidence points to it being even more difficult to do perfectly, which explains the extra cost, but it does not make it any easier to swallow.
2. You can’t wear them as often as jeans and boots. While some people say that you can’t wear boots in the heat, you actually can. I wear them in 110 degree F weather and Vintage Engineer Boots wears them in 100 F humid weather and now in summer desert weather. The point is that boots can be worn 365 days a year in pretty much any climate. Jeans are the same way. With long underwear and a thick jacket, they can be worn in any non-arctic cold conditions. Again, some refuse to wear jeans when it’s warm, but it can be and very often is done.
Leather jackets do not have this versatility. In fact, their temperature range is rather narrow. I have worn them for an extended amount of time in temperatures as high as 70 F to as low as 30 F. However, both of these temperatures are fairly extreme. Leather jackets are the opposite of adobe brick houses. When it’s warm, they get warmer and when it’s cold, they don’t do anything to keep you from shivering. If you want to actually wear a leather jacket below freezing temperatures, you will need a sheepskin jacket such as a B3 or B6. If you want to wear one above 70 F… don’t. In fact, I can only do this because I am from California and I have gotten used to the warm weather, forcing myself to wear leather jackets in weather that they shouldn’t be worn in.
Even engineer boots can be worn all year, but leather jackets cannot
In more practical terms, they really are only worn in temperatures ranging from 65 F to 35 F, which, while common temperatures in many parts of the world, are a fairly narrow range in reality. True winter weather in Europe, Canada, and parts of the United States is too cold for most leather jackets and tropical places such as Indonesia rarely get weather cool enough to wear them at all. This adds to the issue of affordability due to the fact that the wears-per-cost ratio is far lower than that of a pair of boots, though they would beat a pair of jeans in the long run due to durability.
3. Leather jackets are relatively heavy and uncomfortable. Even when jacket weather does come around, most denim heads opt for sweatshirts, denim jackets, chore coats, and flannels over leather jackets due not only to the affordability, but also the comfort of those garments. I love wearing leather jackets and I don’t personally find them heavy, but a lot of people do and more importantly, even I will admit that they are far from the most comfortable and flexible garment around.
A flannel is so much easier to wear than a leather jacket
For sheer ease of use, a sweatshirt or flannel is far more comfortable, flexible, and practical in most cold weather situations and truly cold weather requires more than a leather jacket anyway as previously mentioned. Cheap leather jackets are easy to wear, but good quality hides are usually relatively stiff, heavy, and stubborn. Most importantly, leather does not stretch and flex the way cotton does and is not as easy to wear. Simply put, leather jackets require effort to wear.
4. All of these negative factors end up giving leather jackets part of their mystical ethos because they add up to make leather jackets a relatively rare sight, even in the raw denim and heritage clothing world. None of these previous points have anything to do with how the jackets look and everything to do with their overall practicality. They are expensive, relatively uncomfortable, inconvenient, and in technical terms, a poor choice of outerwear. Almost any other type of outerwear piece is a more practical and versatile choice than a leather jacket and has more benefits and less deficiencies.
This means that even people who think leather jackets look cool often will not buy them, but still admire them. Wearing a leather jacket is a purely aesthetic decision. You are putting style above everything else when you wear a leather jacket. Even motorcycle riders have better protection options than leather jackets these days, especially when talking only about stylish leather jackets. This makes them even more unique of an item.
5. Speaking of bikers, leather jackets simply have an image of badassery to them. Some will say that they make you look like a poser biker*, but considering that all clothing is costume to a degree these days (yoga pants were meant for yoga you Starbucks drinking cosplayers), this viewpoint is rather limited. The bad ass biker image certainly surrounds leather jackets and adds to their mystique, but other elements add to the legend as well.
WWII fighter pilots nearly all wore leather jackets from German to British to American aces. The history here alone adds to the status of the leather jacket, with the A2 being one of the most iconic pieces of wartime clothing ever made. In addition, punk rock stars such as the Ramones, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols all helped make leather jackets even cooler.
The Ramones elevating the status of leather jackets – Image via Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Hollywood is awash with epic leather jackets. There are some iconic film boots such as the engineers worn by Marlon Brando and the eponymous Alden Indy boots worn by Harrison Ford, but leather jackets have far more movie and pop culture icons than any other item of clothing except for perhaps hats or superhero costumes. Just as iconic as the hat and boots, Indiana Jones’ brown leather jacket is a cinema icon as are the cross zip jackets worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Mel Gibson in Mad Max, and Arnold Schwarzanegger in The Terminator.
Marlon Brando’s Famous jacket – Image via The Hollywood Reporter
Other classic leather jackets include those worn by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. In fact, leather jackets continue to be important even in the modern era with important examples from Brad Pitt in Fight Club, Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix, Hugh Jackman in The X-Men series, Keanu Reeves in John Wick, my personal favorite, Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Harrison Ford again in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Chris Pratt as Star Lord wears several futuristic leather jackets – Image via Spotern
6. They just look so damn cool. As long as they fit you trim enough (and leather jackets are supposed to fit snug), then they simply look amazing. The leather, the designs, and the aging/patina just add up to make the coolest looking garment of all time. Nothing is as cool as a leather jacket. Leather, perhaps now more than ever, is associated with toughness, ruggedness, and old school cool. The weight and texture of it make it pop compared to pretty much any other type of clothing. Even if you’ve never owned one, they just look heavy duty.
Most other clothes are made of some sort of textile, making them look similar to a degree. Leather looks different. It sets itself apart. Despite sneakers being so popular, leather shoes are still very common, making even the coolest footwear only nominally impactful to the average person. Leather being worn on the upper body is far more unique and along with the other points on this list, add up to make leather jackets so special.
Boots are awesome and they are more important because footwear is the most important part of a wardrobe, but even they don’t quite have the sheer presence that a great leather jacket has. It is impossible to truly describe why exactly they look so cool, but they simply do. All of the other reasons are certainly part of why leather jackets are so special, but the looks are the most important part. At this point, they simply are cool.
Just because they are indeed so bad ass does not mean anyone should be intimidated to wear them. You don’t have to be cool to wear a leather jacket, you just look cooler when you wear one. To help break the ice and make some suggestions on where to start looking, the next article will be a list of the top ten leather jacket brands around right now. Stay tuned for that shortly!
*A usually ridiculous statement when you consider that even the most iconic motorcycle jacket design of all time, the cross zip, was originally an aviation jacket that was co-opted by bikers