I didn’t realise that leather jackets were kewl until about 10 years ago when my sister Aimy asked for one for her birthday. I felt a bit confused by her request as I didn’t really know anyone who wore leather jackets. At that point in time I was at university in Edinburgh trying on an ill-fitting voice that definitely didn’t suit me (‘yeah’ became ‘yah’ for a while), berating my parents for not having a drive (srsly, what an asswipe), and getting used to a bunch of chins walking away from me when I replied that I went to a school they hadn’t heard of. During this hiatus from normality and sense, whilst I’d been trying to understand what the King’s Road and Crazy Larrys were etc., Aimy was being cool, going to gigs and stuff and enjoying the company of slightly more grounded folk. During a visit to her university one time, I suddenly saw her in a totally different light as she bopped to The Strokes, White Stripes and Libertines in her leather jacket. She was still pretty and delicate, but with a harder veneer. The idea of wearing one myself had never dawned on me, I kind of associated them with this lot (below), never daring to imagine that a prep-meister such as myself might be able to pull one off.
As fate would have it, I soon moved in with one of my best friends Rachel who leant me her leather jacket on a night out and I decided to live in it, for about 3 years. It was probably quite pongy by that stage, so she eventually gave it to me. Wahey! There is a pic of me on google images wearing Rachel, with actual Rachel, though sadly it’s emblazoned with photographer Dafydd Jones’s watermark so you can’t quite enjoy the full glory of it but it remains nevertheless, a wonderful record for posterity. I still have the coat, and will never be parted from it even though it is now nothing more than a filthy rag with buckles and buttons hanging off every cuff and lapel. It was my first, my smelly, my everything. ‘The Rachel’.
When Rachel got too whiffy, I had to put her out to pasture (or, stuffed her lovingly into a plastic storage box) and find a new one. Which wasn’t as heartbreaking an experience as you might think. I just went and found a new one from Topshop’s amazing Peekaboo Vintage concession and basically haven’t taken that one off for about 2 years. I was living with my friend Emily when I bought that, so this one is ‘The Emily.’ Emily will probably need to join Rachel in a couple of years so I thought I would get ahead of the game and check out the best of the rest so that I can line up… er, ‘The Marius’, for when the time comes. I’m also thinking of welcoming a bomber jacket to the family and a quick flick around Wikipedia confirmed what I already supposed might be a rather interesting little peek into the history of two of fashion’s most worn and versatile staples: the bomber and the biker. Before I delve into a brief history of the jackets, I must first say by way of a disclaimer, that getting to grips with the historical classification of military outerwear is akin to undertaking a PHD in chemistry: prepare your brain for a mind-boggling assault of ‘A-2, G-1, MA-1 and B-12’s’.
Although both are equally steeped in socio-historic significance, it was the bomber that gave birth to the biker. In the First World War, the Irvin Flying Jacket was the garment for pilots flying in then un-enclosed cockpits. The heavy duty leather coats came with high wraparound collars and were lined with shearling to keep the pilots warm in bitterly cold conditions at high altitude.
The original A-2 and G-1 flying jackets gradually evolved into the more lightweight MA-1 that lends it’s shape and features to what we might recognise today as the contemporary bomber jacket. The transition from perfunctory piece of equipment to fashionable, civilian garment was made after the Second World War when the coat became the wind shield of choice for various divergent social groups such as skinheads, scooterheads, and of course, diehard Top Gun fans.
Now the (air)field is wide open and bombers come in all manner of shapes and colours, as you can see in the gallery below.
If you are a competitive type, you might be aware of the bomber’s sporty cousin, the Varsity jacket. According to Wiki the correct name for the Varsity is actually a ‘letter jacket’, an item ‘traditionally worn by high school and college students in the United States to represent school and team pride as well as to display personal awards earned in athletics, academics or activities.’ Yep, well now it’s worn by kooky types at fashion shows to display personal awards in the form of expensively stitched together panels of fabric, and also to grab the attention of Tommy Ton or Scott Schuman, e.g. this beauty worn by Natasha Goldenberg (very hard not to wonder off topic when you google images of this Russian multi-tasker – designer, stylist, Mum, and possessor of the most extraordinary collection of outer garments).
If I had a lovely southern Irish lilt ‘letter jacket’ might have proved a charming segue on to Son of Bomber: Leather. The nascence of the leather jacket’s popularity lies with Hollywood legends such as Marlon Brando and James Dean. There is so much history attached to the leather, or biker jacket, it would be foolish and a little boring to try and document even a tenth of it here. It is entrenched in so many strands of popular culture from music (from Kanye to Bros), movies (from The Terminator to Grease), to television (from Lovejoy to Happy Days), that when you google search ‘famous leather jackets’ you forget you are trying to write an article about jackets, and instead start downloading Grease and compiling a list of your favourite songs and tv programmes.
Worn in the right way, it can make anyone look good. Well almost anyone, I have identified a small section of society whose shoulders the biker will never adorn: my parents. I’ve tried but I just can’t imagine it. When I do, I see my Dad in a Leslie Grantham-as-Dirty Den publicity photograph for Eastenders (he has been compared to Dirty Les in the past, purely on a looks alone basis), and my Mum as an amalgam of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders doing their ‘Ride’ video with the lovely Kirsty Macoll (vid below).
But for the vast majority of us, the biker jacket is an absolute staple of our wardrobes. I like to use Emily to bring a formal dress back down to earth (in the manner of Karlie Kloss below), to funk up a pair of dungarees, or to jazz up some cigarette pants. It’s the perfect transitional item too as we cross into spring, keeping you just warm enough during sunny but chilly March days, flowing nicely into the evening by adding a shearling gilet, or fur scarf. Below is a gallery of my favourite ways to wear bikers.
From classic black to fringed, suede, holographic, and multi-coloured, here is a selection of the best leather jackets available at the moment.
I’ll always try my best not to end on a negative note but I feel a compulsion to give air to a leather-related grievance: the long trench coat style leather jacket. It reminds me of polo-necked magicians, scary wizardy, Warcraft types and the man in Saw. See here for Victoria Beckham and Mira Duma, two otherwise impeccably dressed individuals, doing their best Herr Flick impressions, plus Kate Moss looking like an extra from The Crucible.
The only one who can get away with a leather jacket that hangs below bottom height is one of my favourite fashion journalists, Pandora Sykes – but only her.
Image credits: Pandora Sykes http://www.pandorasykes.com / Lucy Williams – http://www.fashionmenow.co.uk / Style Du Monde / Net A Porter / ASOS / Selfridges / River Island / Free People – I’m a newbie to this so please let me know if I’ve credited incorrectly and I’ll remedy forthwith!