As much as I adore leather jackets, they are quite a rabbit hole to go down. Boots are difficult to size for some people, but once you really understand your Brannock size and the unique eccentricities of your feet, then you are largely good to go. Some will disagree of course, but at least for me, sizing boots has not been overly difficult. Jackets on the other hand, are a completely different story. This is less of an issue now that I have slimmed down and learned a lot, but I had to make a massive amount of mistakes to get to this point. I discussed one of those mistakes a few months ago with my review of my Aero A-1 jacket that fit me terribly. Today, I will be talking about another jacket that turned out to be a major mistake. This is the story of the first leather jacket I ever bought.
This first leather jacket was a huge purchase for me. At the time, it was the most expensive clothing purchase that I had ever made at around $1,000. I had admired leather jackets and had wanted one for years before getting this one. Before getting into high quality clothing, I had a fake leather jacket from Hollister that was sort of a generic flight jacket model. I had gone to the store with my girl to get a pair of sneakers, but after that being a dead end, we went to Hollister as high schoolers in the 2000s did and after trying on the fake leather jacket, I was sold. In fact, I really loved that jacket for what it was and while the jacket did deteriorate, I got tons of compliments on it and it did stear me further toward real leather jackets, so I have to appreciate it for that.
Still, it was only a Hollister fake leather jacket and once I discovered actually well made clothing, I did not feel comfortable wearing it anymore. I knew that I wanted an actual good leather jacket. As with anything that I get into, I did a massive amount of research. Most of the time, this pays off for me. I did years of research before buying my first high quality drum kit, a Tama Starclassic Maple drum kit made in Japan. I still have that kit after 15 years and have no plans to ever replace it. When I wanted to finally buy a real camera, I spent two years researching before pulling the trigger on a Fujifilm XT-2, a 16mm f1.4 lens and a 56mm f1.2 lens… again all made in Japan. Three and a half years later, this is still my set-up for taking photographs and I have really loved using this camera. Both of these major purchases were completely successful due to the time I put into researching both of them.
This was where I made my first mistake. I did not spend enough time researching my first leather jacket purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I did do a fair amount of research, but I just did not do enough of it. I read some articles, watched some videos, and ended up on The Fedora Lounge outerwear section which is by far the best place on the internet to learn about leather jackets. If you are actually interested in leather jackets, I highly suggest you go over there and at least consistently read the threads on there even if you don’t join… but you should join. Still, I did not take advantage of the forum when making my first jacket purchase. As a new member, I looked around, read some threads, but did not read enough of them. I also did not ask enough questions, especially in regard to fit.
There is a lot to consider with a leather jacket. Fit, style, maker, leather, lining, and more all go into it. I knew that there was a lot to consider when making my drum and camera purchases, but I did not quite respect how much I had to consider about the leather jacket. I did not spend sufficient time researching everything, especially fit. I figured that I knew my body measurements and the measurements of shirts and jackets that I liked the fit of and that this would be enough information to go off of. Additionally, I did not spend enough time researching all of the makers/brands that offered quality leather jackets. I found a style that I liked and then narrowed down my searches to just makers who made that exact style of jacket. If I had widened my search, I could have found a lot more options and likely ended up with a jacket that I was happier with.
Choosing the style of jacket was another error that I committed in this process. I made the mistake of picking a jacket style that I thought was cool at the moment. Being so excited, I did not take the time to really consider the style of jacket and let it sink in. Instead, I just jumped on what I thought was cool and then only looked at that jacket model. The type of jacket in question is the cafe race, specifically the Buo J-100 style of leather jacket.
While I still think that this style of jacket is pretty cool, it is not one that I really think is my style at all. In fact, I have never bought another cafe racer after this jacket and as of now, I really do not feel as though I will ever buy another one again. It’s possible that this will change in the future, but there are so many other leather jackets that I would buy before a cafe racer. I thought it was simple, versatile, and cool at the time, but it did not take long for me to realize that I thought it only really looked OK with jeans and a t-shirt and not anything else. At the end of the day, though, this was the most minor mistake that I made. If I had gotten the maker and fit right, I probably would have kept the jacket even if it wasn’t my absolute favorite style.
In terms of larger mistakes, my choice of maker was poor. Even back when I ordered this jacket over 7 years ago, I cared about the neat construction and clean stitch work. The two jackets that I most wanted were the Real McCoys Buco J-100 and the Himel Bros. Kensington jacket, with the Real McCoys version being my number 1 choice. Unfortunately, I was not patient enough. At the time, those two jackets would have required me to save up for a while to afford. Not being patient, I found a cheaper option in Diamond Clothing. The guy behind it made decent leather jackets, but nothing near the level of Himel or McCoys.
After getting the jacket, I was happy with it in some ways, but the construction was not what I was hoping for. The stitching and seams weren’t terrible, but they were not wonderful. The leather was not skived the way higher end brands like McCoys, Himel Bros, and Freewheelers do. Stitching was also not even close to the level of those brands either. Especially around the two chest pockets, the stitching was pretty sloppy and quite ugly. The leather pulled in unaesthetic ways and just did not look neatly constructed. I lied to myself and said that it was good enough, but in reality, I was never actually satisfied. I knew that my jacket was not as good as a McCoys jacket and that honestly bothered me quite a lot because I knew that I could have just been more patient and gotten the McCoys jacket. It may not bother some people, but it absolutely bothered me and patience would have helped me avoid this disappointment.
My other most important mistake was in terms of sizing. Instead of asking for specific jacket measurements, I instead simply gave the maker my body measurements and let him suggest a size for me. This was an idiotic mistake on my part. First of all, I did not know how a jacket was even supposed to fit me at that time. Secondly, just trusting a maker to make whatever they think is best is foolish at best. In most cases, they will almost always get it wrong and make something that is too big for you. This is exactly what happened in my case. The jacket was a little long in the body, a little too wide in the chest, and massively too long in the sleeves. In fact, the sleeves were probably 2.5 to 3” too long in the sleeves.
This issue would happen again with a couple of Freewheelers jackets later on in my jacket collecting journey, but the difference there was that those jackets were stock models and not custom ordered by me. I knew that the sleeves were going to be too long and was OK with that. After a while, I bit the bullet and got the sleeves shortened and now both jackets fit me incredibly well. This was worth it because of the incredible patterns, materials, designs, and quality of the Freewheelers jackets. However, I knew going into it that the pros would outweigh the cons and that I would probably have to shorten the sleeves so it all worked out in the end. With the Diamond Clothing J-100, I had no idea what to expect, did not ask about the sleeve lengths and as a result got long sleeves that annoyed me to no end while I owned the jacket. In fact, I didn’t even know what sleeve lengths I should have gotten back then. I was that clueless. Clearly, I was not ready to buy a leather jacket at the time.
Leather was the only category that I got right with this jacket. This was my first leather jacket made out of horsehide from the Shinki Hikaku tannery in Himeji, Japan. Before ordering this jacket, I had seen plenty of pictures of Shinki horsehide leather jackets and I just adored how it looked. The Real McCoys and Himel Bros. jackets that I actually wanted were both made with Shinki as well. I was a fan before experiencing it in person, but I became a true addict once I got this jacket. The leather was beautiful in color, a wonderful mid to heavy weight with a perfect temper that I have not yet felt in any other jacket leather. It perfectly balances stiffness and flexibility in my experience. The grain was gorgeous and the depth of color and sheen on the leather were mind-blowing. This is still the most impressive aspect of Shinki to me. It may have been the leather that had me hang onto this jacket for as long as I did despite everything else that was wrong with it.
To be clear, I do not blame the maker for any of this. I knew that his quality was not up to the quality that I wanted before I ordered. It was not his fault that I did not specify the measurements of the jacket and that I had no idea what measurements I even needed for the jacket. Everything here was my fault and that is exactly my point. Sure, there are times when the maker is at fault and gives a customer a bad experience, but this is not one of those cases. I got exactly what I asked for with this jacket. The problem is that I did not ask for the right thing at all.
I did not take enough time to research. I did not take enough time to try on other leather jackets to figure out how leather jackets fit and felt. I did not take enough time to figure out my own body measurements. I did not take enough time to really figure out what style of jacket I wanted. I did not take enough time to save up for what I really wanted and instead settled for something of lower quality because of the lower price.
Here I am over seven years later with considerably more experience buying leather jackets and knowing a lot more about what I like. At that time, I would have said that my favorite type of jacket was the cafe racer. Now, my favorite style of jacket is 1930s cross zip sports jackets. Back then, I thought 24.5-25” was a good back length for me. Now, 22” would be my ideal back length for most jackets. I used to think that 24.5” arms would fit me and now I realize that anything longer than 23” is probably too long. My tastes have changed, but I also just know so much more now.
I must say that a lot of other leather jacket enthusiasts have somewhat similar stories to me. We make a lot of mistakes and part of it is that leather jackets are just difficult to get right. The margin between a jacket that looks sloppy and one that is too tight to be comfortable is actually quite narrow, especially compared with other garments. Even so, I did not have to have the level of knowledge and experience that I do now to get a jacket then that I would still own now. I did need some more time, however.
I am writing this article partly for the purpose of self reflection, but also to help inform others and to plead with them not to make the same mistakes that I did. Once you have the experience, you can make purchases with much more confidence. I just bought two new leather jackets in the past few months after having to sell a couple of other jackets off due to my weight loss. These jackets fit me better than any other leather jackets ever have, maybe better than any jackets I’ve owned in my life.
One of them was actually a complete impulse purchase. I saw it on an auction site, checked the measurements, realized they were perfect, and bought it within 30 minutes of seeing it. I almost never make impulse purchases, but because I knew I loved the look of the jacket, knew it would be quality because it was Freewheelers, and knew the measurements would work, I was confident. My confidence paid off and the jacket is wonderful. I am also now in the process of having another custom jacket made and I have great confidence that this jacket will work out as well. I have taken the time and learned enough to have that confidence in this next jacket. At this point, I know my measurements, I know what styles I like, and I know what measurements I need for my jackets, so I can make purchases more confidently.
Leather jackets are not the easiest purchases, but they are worth the effort. As much as I love all my clothing, nothing makes me feel as amazing as a leather jacket does. Nothing else makes me feel like a rock star. I do genuinely get happier and feel more confident while wearing a great leather jacket. Getting the right one is a process, but it is doable. You just need to take the time to research, ask questions, and try on jackets even if you aren’t trying the exact jacket that you will be buying. Be patient and figure out what you really want and then save up for it instead of compromising.
If you are looking for a leather jacket, the best advice that I can give you aside from what I have written in this article is to go join The Fedora Lounge. The outerwear section of this forum really is the ultimate leather jacket knowledge hub. People there are quite helpful and friendly as well so it really is the best place to learn about leather jackets. It will almost certainly enrich your experience in the hobby of leather jackets.