Fit and sizing matter for every piece of clothing you buy. However, I personally believe that fit is most critical when purchasing a leather jacket. T shirts can stretch and shrink, shirts can be tucked in to hide excess length and shirt and denim jacket sleeves can be cuffed or rolled if they are too long. Jeans can be hemmed or cuffed and can stretch if they are slightly small and be worn with a belt if they are too large. With leather jackets, however, you have to nail the fit pretty much perfectly for the jacket to feel and look good.
With leather, especially cowhide and horsehide being so stiff when compared to most cotton and wool fabrics, that balance between comfort and appearance is very fine indeed. This is why custom leather jackets are so popular. Being able to dictate exactly what the measurements of your leather jacket are should ensure that the jacket fits you perfectly, making the high cost of a quality leather jacket less of a risk. In practice, however, this is not always the case.
As of the publishing of this article, I have bought 5 custom measured leather jackets and I still own zero of them. This is not to say that custom leather jackets never work because that is not true. One of my custom jackets was a perfect fit for many years. When done right, they can be a second skin. The reason I am writing this article is to point out based on my experience that there is more to a great fitting leather jacket than simply providing certain measurements.
Let’s talk about those measurements first. I have purchased custom leather jackets in two different ways. The first way was by providing my body measurements and the second was by providing the measurements of the jacket that I wanted, usually along with my body measurements. Different makers have different precise methods, but generally, body measurements required are chest, waist around the navel, waist area/hips 2-3” below the navel, height, weight, arm length, and shoulders.
The way you provide these measurements is by measuring yourself or have someone else measure you with a flexible tape measure. If you do not have a flexible measuring tape, you should. This is helpful to measure yourself and your clothing so you know what measurements you need for the items you buy, even if they are not custom. A $2 tape measure can save you potentially thousands of dollars and you can buy them at craft stores or online quite easily. When providing the measurements of the jacket to the maker, the most common measurements given are chest, shoulder, arm length, and front/back length. Waist and the bottom/opening of the jacket should be provided as well as this is more important than people realize.
Between the two methods, I much prefer to provide the measurements of the jacket itself rather than just provide my own measurements. Both jackets that I bought by providing my own measurements came in too large for my taste. I am not saying that this method will not work for anyone, but in my view, this is the least effective way to buy a leather jacket. In these situations, I was not even told what the measurements of my jacket would be. I have had a higher rate of success simply by reading stock jacket measurements than by providing my measurements and hoping the maker does what I want.
I have had great success by providing the measurements of the jacket that I want made, but even this can go quite wrong. This is proven by my most recent custom leather jacket, an Aero A1 in which I provided not only my personal measurements, but also gave the measurements of the jacket that I wanted. Aero were well within tolerance for the measurements that I provided and despite this, the jacket did not fit well. This was for two reasons and both were my own fault.
Firstly, I gave them too small of a shoulder measurement. I had used 18” as my provided shoulder measurement for 4 years, but starting in spring I have been going to the gym very consistently and have bulked up considerably, meaning that 18” was too small for the shoulders. Secondly, the waist and bottom opening of the jacket were both far too large for my taste. I had begun my weight loss when I received the jacket, but even though I had not lost much weight at that time, I still felt as though the jacket made me look much wider and stockier than I actually was. It just felt wrong when I wore it. Worse still, when I looked at myself in the mirror or at the pictures I took, I felt that I didn’t look great in it.
My thought that the jacket fit poorly was backed up when I listed it for sale on The Fedora Lounge and several members who I greatly respect agreed with me that it did not fit well. I was disappointed because I was not sure why the jacket fit so poorly. I decided to investigate by looking back at the thread on the forum in which I posted about my black Freewheelers Mulholland jacket when I first received it because I distinctly remember people being overwhelmingly positive about the fit. After reading through the thread and trying the jacket on again, I realized that the pattern of the jacket was why it fit me so well.
I hear people say all the time that certain jackets do not fit them well due to the overall pattern and cut of the jacket and this experience allowed me to more fully understand that sentiment. Not being a jacket maker, I am not going to get into the exact nitty gritty details here. Basically, the pattern of the jacket is exactly how the jacket is cut and how all the different measurements of the jacket work together and relate to each other. What I mean by this is that certain jackets tend to have wider shoulders and some have deliberately smaller waists while others have wider arms and some have slimmer shoulders, with more roomy bodies. Keep in mind that the pattern of a jacket goes beyond just the style or type of jacket. Just because two jackets are both half belt sports jackets or two jackets are cross zip jackets does not mean they have the same pattern. Even custom jackets can only go so far before the pattern becomes compromised. Basically, what I am saying is that different jacket patterns look and fit differently.
A perfect example of this is in my own jacket collection. I own two jackets that both look like half belt jackets and both are from the same brand, Freewheelers. One is called the Caboose and the other is the Mulholland. Despite these similarities and the fact that both have wide shoulders and relatively long arms, both fit, feel, and look quite different. The Caboose feels slimmer, longer, and more rigid and it is actually a half belt while the Mulholland is actually just a straight zip police motorcycle jacket with an Italian collar. The pictures show this as well. Even the measurements of the jackets are not that different in the areas where measurements for a custom jacket would normally be provided. However, there are many other subtle differences that show just how different these jackets are such as the collar size, back, distance from arm to collar, and more.
The five leather jackets that I do currently own are all stock sizes and all are made by the same company: Freewheelers. Part of this is because I love the jackets that Freewheelers makes, but part of this is because of the way their jackets fit me. Aside from the sleeve length which is the easiest aspect of a leather jacket to adjust, these jackets all fit me incredibly well.The Aero jacket technically fit me well going by the provided measurements other than the shoulders being slightly small. However, the shoulders were not the reason I sold it. The reason it was sold was because the mid and lower body of the jacket were far too wide for me. I was still 195 pounds when I got this jacket and had a 36” waist and even then the body and bottom opening of this jacket were far too wide for me. I looked like I was 30 pounds heavier when I wore it. In contrast, all my Freewheelers jackets and my former RMC A2 and Himel Grizzly jackets had much more flattering fits on me. This is why I sold the Aero and I am certainly glad I did. With me taking 3” off my waist since then, it would only fit worse now.
The shoulders also demonstrate another aspect of how number measurements do not fully dictate how a jacket fits and why pattern needs to be kept in mind. The shoulders on my Aero were 18” which were just as small as the shoulders on one of my Freewheelers jackets, yet the Freewheelers jacket did not feel snug there. It was not the chest that was the problem either because the Aero jacket had a larger chest measurement than the Freewheelers jacket, yet it was the Aero that was more constricting. This shows how important the pattern of a jacket is. I believe that the reason for this being the case was that the Aero jacket had more flat shoulders while the Freewheelers jacket had more sloped/angled shoulders, though I am sure there were other aspects of the pattern that made a difference.
This demonstrates the difference between a jacket fitting you technically correctly versus fitting you well or flattering. In fact, the two do not even need to overlap. My Real McCoys A2 did not fit me technically correctly for a long time as it was too small, but it was flattering on me. The Aero in contrast, did fit technically well, but was unflattering. I believe that all my Freewheelers jackets fit me technically correctly and are flattering and those are not even custom.
The best example of fitting technically correct and being flattering has to go to my former Himel Bros. Grizzly jacket. It does not fit me anymore and I had to sell it, but for many years it was perfect and it is a true testament to nailing the pattern and custom measurements together. First of all, the jacket was a shawl collar grizzly jacket that fit quite boxy. For someone who had a relatively athletic build, but with a lot of excess weight, this pattern was perfect for me. In addition to myself sending the right measurements and Dave Himel nailing them perfectly, this jacket fit like a dream and was extremely flattering. I could move comfortably in it and zip it up easily all while looking great on me and in my opinion, making me look a little trimmer than I was. In this case, not only were the measurements correct, the boxy pattern worked wonderfully for me and together, they made a jacket that fit perfectly until I began working out consistently.
What is interesting is that even though my Himel Wolverine used to fit me perfectly, most leather jacket enthusiasts that I have spoken to have said that my Mulholland jackets are my best fitting jackets of all time. I would say that technically, the Wolverine fit me the best at the time, but I understand why people say my Mulhollands fit me best. The reason is the pattern. It is a slim fitting jacket as all Freewheelers zippered jackets are, but the way it sits on me when unzipped works very well. The bottom sort of flairs out against my hips and rather large butt, but not in an excessive way. Even when I was heavier, this worked and made me look slimmer. It still works now even with my weight loss because I am still not a super skinny guy and my rear is still rather large. Basically, I found a pattern that fits my body as perfectly as I have ever experienced in any garment and looks flattering on me. This is why I did something unprecedented and bought a second of the same jacket in a different color.
With the Mullholland jackets and my old Wolverine, I have two(three) different examples of jackets that I think fit me perfectly in terms of measurements and pattern. One was custom and one(two) was not. This shows that either method can get you your perfect jacket, but you need to be aware of your body measurements, the measurements of jackets that you like the fit of, a style that works for you, and a pattern that works for you and is flattering for you.
This may seem like a daunting task and I will admit that leather jackets are the most difficult garment to size. However, there are custom and off the rack jackets that can flatter every body type so the right one is out there for you. Leather jackets are tricky to get right in terms of fit, but when you do get it right, nothing looks better on you. Hopefully, this article helped explain the importance of both the measurements that people provide and jacket makers ask for and the overall pattern of the jacket. If you need a V shaped jacket, then get that and if you need a boxy jacket, get that. Even between jackets that fit similarly, there are still subtle differences in patterns that are not always fully reflected in the provided measurements. Sometimes trying on is the only way to know for sure, but with experience, one can begin to recognize what patterns will likely work for them or not and get a perfect fitting leather jacket, custom or not.