HOW TO CHOOSE A LEATHER JACKET: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE
A wardrobe is an expense: most clothing wears out over time and is replaced of necessity. An exquisite men’s leather jacket is an exception to this rule, an investment to last a lifetime and beyond—it is a statement piece you’ll pass on to your children or even grandchildren.
With rare exceptions, the leather jacket looks fabulous when you pair it with just about anything, a quality that infuses it with a versatility few other garments in your wardrobe can claim. And it only improves with age. But knowing how to choose the best leather jacket for your particular budget and wardrobe requires some effort on your part, and looking handsome in it isn’t as simple as merely throwing it on your back. We’ll wager the effort is worth your while, and to help get the ball rolling we’ve answered a few essential questions about this classic piece of outerwear, the men’s leather jacket.
WHY CHOOSE A LEATHER JACKET?
- Leather is durable. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sturdier material for a coat or jacket. A high-quality leather jacket lasts for decades, and if you treat it well, will outlive you. It might show a gouge or a scuff, but the garment itself will remain intact despite its character-building bumps and bruises. And while an exceptional leather jacket or coat can be pricey, when viewed through the lens of longevity it may in fact cost less than any other garment in your closet.
- Leather protects you. It has long been the top choice of motorcyclists for its penchant to behave like a tough second skin; it can’t save anybody from the worst scrapes, but it does put a respectable barrier between your own skin and the pavement. It also delivers wind-breaking, highly water-resistant protection from the elements, even without waterproofing treatment.
- Leather is timeless. As durable as leather is, it’s also enduring: your leather jacket will never go out of style. And it’s unabashedly masculine. The single best reason to own an exceptional leather jacket may finally be its transformative, rugged demeanor: it gives you carte blanche to feel like a tough guy without being showy. It is the one item every man should possess in his wardrobe.
TYPES OF LEATHER JACKETS: A GUIDE TO POPULAR STYLES
- If there is a single style to define the genre it is most assuredly the leather motorcycle jacket, known in the garment industry as the “rider” or “double rider”: belted, snapped, and zippered, the original has wide lapels and a flared collar with snaps to fasten it against the wind. It was and remains the champion for Harley-riding biker gangs and teen idols alike, but Marlon Brando brought it to the fore of pop couture. The genuine article notwithstanding, others of its ilk borrow bits of this archetypal garment to make it new, a fashion-forward piece that is still classic.
- Close on its heels is the bomber or flight jacket , which sometimes goes by its more official moniker, the A2. Originally designed for Army Air Corps pilots on the eve of the Second World War, it’s a military issued leather jacket with a center front zipper, ribbed cuffs and hem, and two large front flap pockets; the G-1 is its Naval variant. This jacket was made for serious business: it was cropped at the hip so a pilot could sit comfortably for long hours, and most were lined with shearling for warmth in the cockpit. Fleece, flannel, and corduroy are popular lining materials today, and shearling remains so in the bomber’s modern descendants. The bomber jacket has changed very little through the decades, a stalwart example of stylish utility.
- The motocross jacket, or racer, is a slimmed-down, ostensibly more aerodynamic version of the “rider.” It usually sports a symmetrical front zipper, band snap collar, zippered pockets, and otherwise minimal design details. The moto jacket possesses a more fitted cut than its popular sibling; streamlined and simple, it is arguably the most versatile of leather jackets.
- The cattleman is a thigh-length leather jacket made for horseback; it often flares slightly from the waist, a detail that betrays its equestrian intentions.
- Variants are the leather fatigue, the field coat, and the blazer. Precisely like its cousin in cloth, the fatigue is cut loose, with a soft collar and large flap pockets, sometimes cinched at the waist, occasionally belted. Many jackets possess some or all these details, each defying a true style category.
WHAT IS THE BEST TYPE OF LEATHER FOR A JACKET?
- If steerhide or cowhide appear in your mind’s eye when you think of a leather jacket, you’re spot on: this type of leather is the skin of an adult steer or cow, frequently used to make jackets. It’s tough and durable, but takes a long time to break in, and because of this it’s generally reserved for more practical outerwear.
- Deerskin is lighter weight, traditionally yellow or orange tinted, and more suitable for use in warm-weather jackets; it does not resist damage like thicker leathers do, but is durable nonetheless and stretches well.
- Goatskin is lighter weight still than deerskin, wears well over time, and has a distinctive pebbled appearance.
- Lambskin is the softest, silkiest, and most luxurious leather, but is not as durable as the others. It is still increasingly popular for use in leather jackets precisely because of its softness. But because the raw skins are smaller, it takes more of them to make a single jacket; its price tag reflects this and the softness premium.
- Calfskin makes a nice compromise between cowhide and lambskin because it possesses the softness of the former but the durability of the latter.
HOW TO CHOOSE A LEATHER JACKET
- First settle on a style. The bomber is made for warmth and practicality, so if that’s what you’re after it is an excellent choice. A jacket with moto-inspired details is more fitted, and as such less accommodating of layers worn beneath it. If you want length, go for a fatigue-style jacket. And while you may find something longer—a duster, for example—your wear options will be sharply limited by this very stylized leather coat.
- Also think about the kind of leather you need: choose calfskin, goatskin, or lambskin if you want a soft, lightweight jacket. But in general, the lighter weight the hide, the more prone it is to tearing: don’t choose lambskin if you plan to rip down the highway in it on your bike.
Remember that by its very nature a leather jacket is a casual garment; it will not work in every situation, though it will in most. But unless your work environment is casual, it will not pass as business wear and looks decidedly out of place in the boardroom. You can get away with a moto-inspired or bomber jacket paired with a dress shirt, wool trousers, and black leather shoes in some casual work environments. Stick with brown or black leather, and remember this rule of thumb: the more “decoration” on the jacket, the more casual it is.
HOW TO FIT A LEATHER JACKET
If it does not fit like a proverbial glove, then it does not fit:
- There should be enough “play” that it does not pinch or bind, but that’s about it.
- A leather jacket should hang close to the body, snug but not tight, and with room for a sweater underneath if you’ll need the warmth of additional layers.
- If you plan to wear a hoodie under the jacket, wear a hoodie when you try it on. If you don’t make this allowance, you’ll almost certainly be uncomfortable in the jacket later when you try to pile on layers.
- Oversized jackets do not hang well and should be avoided.
A leather jacket should bend and mold itself to you. You should also be able to move your arms freely; the sleeves should not reach beyond the wrists, and the rest of the jacket should stop at the waist unless you chose a longer style. The jacket must fit well from day one to look good on you thereafter; leather can’t be altered like other materials (at least, not easily), so it’s important to get it right from the get-go.
How to Recognize Quality in a Leather Jacket
It’s the thought that counts—thoughtful details, that is. The highest quality leather jackets will possess them in spades. Here’s what to look for:
- The grain of the leather: This is the single biggest factor in determining the price of a leather jacket. Full grain refers to leather made from the whole hide of the animal, including the outer layer of skin; it is not altered and retains the natural skin pattern of the animal. It also shows natural irregularities—scuffs, scars, and blemishes—that occurred during the life of its original wearer. This is what gives full grain leather so much appeal.
- Top grain is most preferred for leather jackets; the outer skin is split from the under layers of full grain leather and smoothed off to create an even surface. This results in a thinner, more pliant, arguably more comfortable leather.
- Topstitching: visible stitchery on the top, or “right” side of the jacket. Beautiful topstitching sets apart an exceptional leather jacket from its cheaper counterparts.
- Lining: low-grade synthetics are used in cheaper jackets. They breathe poorly, and they’re usually the first thing to fall apart over time. The best quality leather jackets have separate lining materials in the sleeves and body, and you will often see a higher quality insulating material in the body in particular.
- Armholes: look for armholes set higher on the jacket. This allows for ease of movement and a better overall fit. Armholes placed further down on the jacket will limit arm movement.
- Zippers: a cheap zipper is a dead giveaway of a cheaply made leather jacket.
You get what you pay for—it’s one of life’s great truths. An exquisite leather jacket improves with age and lasts a lifetime and beyond.
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