Few things are as badass as wearing dead animal skins but unfortunately finding the ideal leather can do some major damage to your wallet. If you’re on the hunt be sure to read through this guide and save yourself hours of pain-staking research. I’m going to cover some of the key considerations to make when shopping for the right jacket. This will include breaking down the major styles and covering things such as fit and types of leather.
Full guide after the jump
Bomber (Flight) Jackets
Prior to the development of synthetic jackets (such as the MA-1 and it’s predecessor the B-15) leather pilot’s jackets were the norm. The most notorious model of such leathers was the A-2 Jacket.
“Although the actual design would vary slightly depending on the manufacturer, and even among contracts within a single manufacturer, all A-2 jackets had several distinguishing characteristics: a snap-flap patch pocket on either side that does not have hand warmer compartments (hands in pockets were considered unfit for a military bearing), a shirt-style snap-down collar, shoulder straps, knit cuffs and waistband, a back constructed from a single piece of leather to limit stress on the garment, and a lightweight silk or cotton inner lining with a leather hang strap (not a loop) and military spec tag attached just below the back collar.” via Acme Depot
The A-2 Bombers were used by the US Air Force throughout World War II and were found in horsehide or goatskin. Many vintage models of the jacket feature either embroidered patch details or hand-painted art.
Visvim Elmendorf Jacket
The A-2 bomber worked it’s way into popularity amongst the civilian population and is frequently used as a base design for designer versions of the style. You can easily find this style in either brown or black leather and I’ve included some of my favorite variants on the style below. If authenticity to the original is important to you Japanese repro (reproduction) experts Buzz Rickson and The Real McCoy’s do the best traditional models. If you’re on a bit more of a budget I’d recommend checking out Alpha.
Double Riders / Perfectos
The Double rider may be the most enduring and iconic leather jacket style. The jacket has become synonymous with motorcycle and punk culture with countless entertainment icons doning the jacket over the years.
Most double rider styles are based upon two particular brands who have popularized the style throughout Europe and America respectively.
The Schott Perfecto
Double Rider(aka Perfecto) – The original first leather motorcycle jacket developed by Schott NYC and introduced in 1928. This is the jacket that was most famously worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones and The Ramones throughout their musical careers. This jacket has a very distinct look because of it’s asymmetrical front zipper and large snap lapels. Also standard on the Perfecto are shoulder epaulettes, slash pockets, and zippered sleeve cuffs. Occasionally the Perfecto comes with with cinches at the waist in order to further adjust the fit.
The two most popular historical models of the Perfecto are the 613 and 618. Their detailing is nearly identical with the main difference being the inclusion of star detailing on the shoulder epaulets. The more modern version of the Schott Perfecto is the 118, which is made in the USA of 1.2 to 1.4mm thick leather cowhide. It has chrome pocket zippers with different pulls and a snap under the belt buckle that is designed to prevent it from damaging a motorcycle gas tank. It has a snug fit that is suitable for motorcycle riding.
Neighborhood x Schott One-Star
On the other side of the pond, the Lewis Leather is England’s answer to the Perfecto.
Lewis Leathers is the brand name of the oldest British Motorcycling clothing company, established in 1892, the brand has made extremely high quality rider’s jackets with two models The Cyclone and The Lightning as it’s most popular models. For those interested in more on Lewis Leathers, I highly recommend this Honeyee interview with the current owner of Lewis Leathers Derek Harris.
I really love Lewis Leathers for their shape, fit and also the variety of color options available. They have inspired many designer offshoots including takes on the designs from the likes of Undercover and Neighborhood. For those willing to wait and pay a little extra, custom Lewis Leathers are an option. If you’re looking for something a bit more luxe, Saint Laurent, TOJ, Givenchy and Rick Owens.
Undercover Double Rider , Image via Kieth Tio
Moto (aka Café Racer)
If you’re looking for a minimal pared down style of leather, the deconstructed moto or café racer style is for you.
Think a double rider that is a little slim and without some of the details such as asymmetrical zippers, flaps, epaplets, belts and the like. Sleeker with simple small or snap collars instead of fold overs, occasionally this style will feature zippered chest pockets.
Maison Marin Margiela 5 Zip Jacket
Rick Owens Intarsia Moto Color Jacket
These are aggressively cut jackets usually on the slim/slender side with a curved zipper design. Based on the design from actual fencing jackets these are less versatile then the above designs but definetly make a strong statement. Avant Garde Labels such as Dior Homme, Julius, CCP , Number (N)ine and Attachment have all done variations on the style.
Depending on the fit you’re looking to achieve here are some important things to keep in mind. The most important area to check for fit is in your shoulders, if the shoulders are too snug the jacket will pull and if the shoulders are cut too wide, it’ll fall strangely on your body. Also note that the length of the sleeves can be quite variable. A brand like Rick has intentionally long arms that are meant to stack but in most cases you should try to find a jacket that will be close to the correct arm length for you.
The other thing to note is to consider what you want to wear under the leather. If you want to do any sort of layering and wear it under colder conditions you’ll want to consider finding a jacket that has extra room in the chest and body. Some designer cuts are quite slim particularly in the arms so don’t expect to wear a thicker knit or flannel with it.
Most of the jackets you’ll come across will feature these types of leather although in some cases the leather may be distressed, washed or dyed or otherwise altered.
Horsehide/Cowhide: Once common-place for leather jackets, it has become less common over recent decades. Horeshide is still one the toughest leathers you can buy. Because of that resilience, horsehide jackets can be difficult to break in and uncomfortable to wear at first so you may want to take that into consideration if comfort is an important quality. Cowhide is also known for it’s durability and while it may not be as supple to the touch it’s still commonly found amongst jacket models for which warmth is a key selling pint.
Goatskin became the go-to leather used by the Air Force and Navy for their later revisions of the A-2 and G-1 flight jackets. Softer and more flexible than cowhide, goatskin can usually be identified by it’s textured pebble grain. Goatskin guarantees that your jacket will weather and age extremely well – it’s one of those rare leathers that wears in beautifully while maintaining it’s durability.
Rick Owens Lamb Pilot’s Jacket
Lambskin is found on many higher end designer leathers and is certainly the most luxurious and soft to the touch. If you’re looking for durability this won’t be your first choice as it’s not uncommon for lambskin to scratch and rip. Extraordinarily lightweight and comfortable, it tends to be expensive with a buttery soft look and feel. Some lambskin can still be appropriate for colder weather. If a jacket feels buttery soft, expect that it’s made from lambskin.
Saint Laurent Paris Washed Calfskin Double Rider
Calfskin is softer to cowhide but not as supple as lamb. It’s a good middle ground for those who want a jacket that is easy to break in, comfortable but still offers good durability and weight.
I hope this guide has given you some inspiration and helped you consider what’s important in the search for your next leather jacket.