A wardrobe is an expense: Most clothes wear out over time and are replaced as needed. A great men’s leather jacket is the exception to the rule, an investment that will last a lifetime and beyond—it’s a statement piece you’ll pass down to your children or grandchildren.
With rare exceptions, a leather jacket looks great when you pair it with anything, a quality that can claim the versatility of a few other garments in your wardrobe. And it only gets better with age. But knowing how to choose the perfect leather jacket for your specific budget and wardrobe requires some effort, and looking good in it isn’t as easy as throwing it on your back. We’ll make sure the effort is worth your time, and to help get the ball rolling, we’ve answered a few essential questions about this classic men’s leather jacket outerwear.
Types of Leather Jackets: A Guide to Popular Styles
- If there’s one style to define the genre, it’s the leather motorcycle jacket, known in the garment industry as a “rider” or “double rider”: belted, snapped and zipped. Wide lapels and a flared collar with snaps to secure it against the wind. It was and still is a champion for Harley-riding biker gangs and teen idols, but Marlon Brando brought it to the fore of pop couture. Despite the genuine article, his others take bits of this ancient garment to make it new, a fashion-forward piece that’s still classic.
- Close at its heels is a bomber or flight jacket, which sometimes goes by its more official moniker, the A2. Initially designed for Army Air Corps pilots during World War II, this is 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. The jacket was made for serious business: it was cut at the hip so a pilot could sit comfortably for long periods and lined with shearling for warmth in most cockpits. Wool, flannel, and corduroy are popular lining materials today, and shearling remains the same in modern descendants of the bomber. The bomber jacket has changed little over the decades, a classic example of stylish utility.
- The motocross jacket, or racer, is a slimmed-down, apparently more aerodynamic version of the “rider.” It usually sports a symmetrical front zipper, band snap collar, zippered pocket, and minimal design details. The Motorcycle Jacket has a more fitted cut than its famous sibling. Smooth and simple, this is one of the most versatile leather jackets.
- A cowl is a thigh-length leather jacket made for horseback riding. It often flares slightly at the waist, a detail that betrays its equestrian intentions.
- Different types are leather fatigues, field coats, and blazers. Just like its cousin in clothing, fatigues are loose, with a soft collar and oversized flap pockets, sometimes cinched at the waist, sometimes belted. Many jackets have some or all of the details, each defying an actual style category.
What is the best type of leather for a jacket?
- If you think of a leather jacket of steer hide or cowhide, you’re spot on: This type of leather is the hide of a mature steer or cow, often used to make jackets. Is used. It is tough and durable but takes a long time to break in and is therefore usually reserved for more practical outerwear.
Deer fur is lighter, traditionally yellow or orange, and more suitable for use in warm weather jackets. It is not as resistant to damage as coarse leather but is nevertheless durable and stretches well.
- Goat skin is lighter than deerskin, wears well over time, and has a distinctive grain.
- Lambskin is the softest, silkiest, and most luxurious leather, but not durable as others. It is still increasingly popular for leather jackets due to its softness. But because rawhides are smaller, it takes longer to make a jacket. Its price tag reflects this and the softness premium.
- Calfskin is a good compromise between cowhide and sheepskin as it has 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 built for warmth and practicality, so it’s a great choice if that’s what you’re after. A jacket with moto-inspired details is more fitted and thus has less room for layers to be worn underneath. If you want length, wear a fatigue-style jacket. And while you can get something a little longer — a skirt, for example — your wear options will be severely limited by this highly stylized leather coat.
- Also think about the type of leather you need: if you want a soft, lightweight jacket, choose calfskin, goatskin or sheepskin. But in general, the lighter the weight of the fur, the more prone it is to tearing: don’t choose sheepskin if you plan on tearing up the highway on your bike.
Remember that a leather jacket by its very nature is a comfortable garment. This won’t work in every situation, though it will in most. But unless your work environment is casual, it won’t pass as business attire and would look out of place in a boardroom. You can get away with a moto-inspired or bomber jacket 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 a jacket, the more comfortable it is.
How to Fit a Leather Jacket
If it doesn’t fit like the proverbial glove, it doesn’t fit:
- Should have enough “play” that it doesn’t pinch or bind, but that’s about it.
- A leather jacket should hang close to the body, fit but not tight, and have room for a sweater underneath if you need the warmth of extra layers.
- If you plan to wear a hoodie under the jacket, wear the hoodie when you try it on. If you don’t make this allowance, you will definitely feel uncomfortable in the jacket later when you try to pile on the layers.
- Large 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 past the wrists, and the rest of the jacket should stop at the waist unless you choose a longer style. The jacket should then fit well from day one to look good on you. Leather can’t be replaced like other materials (at least, not easily), so it’s important to get it right away.
How to recognize quality in a leather jacket.
It’s the thought that counts—the thoughtful details, that is. High-quality leather jackets will keep them in spades. Here’s what to look for:
- Leather Grain: This is the single biggest factor in determining the price of a leather jacket. Full grain refers to leather made from the entire hide of an animal, including the outer layer of skin; It is not altered and maintains the animal’s natural skin pattern. It also shows natural irregularities—scratches, marks, and blemishes—that occurred during the lifetime of its original wearer. This is what gives full grain leather so much appeal.
- Top grain is preferred for leather jackets. The outer skin is separated from the lower layers of full grain leather and smoothed to a smooth surface. This results in a thinner, softer, arguably more comfortable leather.
- Top Stitch: The stitch visible on the top, or “right” side of the jacket. Beautiful topstitching separates an exceptional leather jacket from its cheaper counterparts.
- Lining: Inexpensive jackets use low-grade synthetics. They breathe badly, and they’re usually the first thing to fall apart over time. The best quality leather jackets have separate lining material in the sleeves and body, and you’ll often see high-quality insulating material, especially in the body.
- Armholes: High armholes on the jacket look for Wills. This allows for ease of movement and optimization. Overall fit. Armholes placed further down on the jacket will restrict arm movement.
- Zipper: A cheap zipper is a dead giveaway of a cheap leather jacket.
You get what you pay for—it’s one of life’s great truths. A great leather jacket gets better with age and lasts a lifetime and beyond.
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