The Versatile History of the Motorcycle Jacket

Angela Sterley
3 Minutes Read

The popularity of Marlon Brando's movie, "The Wild One", caused motorcycle jackets to hit the main stream.

A common outerwear choice of the modern day, the motorcycle jacket has found its way from a rock ’n’ roll uniform to an everyday versatile staple.

The edgy look found in many wardrobes today has a history dated back to 1928.

How it all Started

Original Motorcycle Jackets

It was then in New York where a man by the name of Irving Schott designed what is now known as the motorcycle jacket.

Schott had been making clothing for motorcyclists since 1920 and had been creating outwear since 1913, but it was his 1928 design that altered the world of fashion.

He named the garment “The Perfecto” after his favorite cigar and sold the first jacket for $5.50 at a Harley Davidson store in New York City.

The design of The Perfecto was not intended to be associated with rebellion as it often has been throughout history but rather for protection of the wearer, who was originally meant to be a motorcyclist.

The first motorcycle jacket was adorned with silver hardware made to help protect the motorcyclist when leaning over the handlebars.

Up until the 1950’s when black jackets gained popularity, brown was the most popular color for the moto jackets.

The jackets went beyond just the biker crowd in the 1950’s after Marlon Brando wore a motorcycle jacket in the 1953 film The Wild One.

The film was based off the 1947 Hollister riots involving biker gangs who wore the jacket style.

From Utility to Fashion

Marlon Brando in The Wild One

The popularity of the movie caused motorcycle jackets to hit the main stream. The 1950’s also saw James Dean popularizing the fashion – a look that boosted the rebellious morale of the jacket along with making it a staple look when thinking of the actor.

The following decade continued the jacket’s popularization by being worn by style icon Steve McQueen, as well as The Beatles.

The 1970’s blew the look up even further. One image that burned the parallel of rock ’n’ roll and moto jackets into the minds of the world was Bruce Sprigstein on the cover of Born to Run in that decade.

Women also came onto the moto jacket scene during this time, with the look being seen on musicians such as Blondie and Joan Jett.

Over in London, the punk scene blew up and the moto jacket was one of the most iconic staples in their uniform.

It was part of this punk rocker look where people began adding safety pins, chains, studs, and other hardware to enhance and individualize each piece.

One of the stores that all the punks hung out in was Seditionaries, owned by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

It was the store that dressed the British punks of the decade and became a symbol for the counterculture of the time, selling punk looks including the moto jacket.

The Music Scene and the Motorcycle Jacket

Joan Jett wearing a motorcycle jacket

Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols even wore a biker jacket in his notorious mug shot after being arrested for killing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

The 1980’s had glam rock which littered Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip with musicians in moto jackets. Leather had trickled into mainstream fashion with variations of the jackets showing up even outside of the rock ’n’ roll crowd.

In the 1990’s, grunge ruled the fashion scene and created an edgy style mindset for many which allowed the biker look to be worn without as strong of a rebellious correlation as in the past.

The model-off-duty style was watched by many fashion followers, and supermodels such as Kate Moss were seen wearing biker jackets in their everyday life.

The garment was heavily pushed into the mainstream this decade where it has remained.

Nowadays the looks can be dressed up or down, and can be paired with feminine dresses or reminisce the rock ’n’ roll looks of the jacket’s history.

It is a staple in many women and men’s closets and the silhouette has now been created into different patterns and fabrics beyond the traditional leather.

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About The Author

Angela Sterley
Angela Sterley

Angela Sterley is a fashion contributor based in LA with her Pomsky pup. She’s an experience junkie with a passion for style and exploring the world.

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