The History of the Effortlessly Cool Biker Jacket
Long associated with rock and roll and actual bikers, the biker jacket is the epitome of ‘cool’. An integral piece of men’s (and women’s) wardrobes, the biker jacket is a staple in men’s closets along with blue jeans, t-shirts, and button downs.
But where exactly did this garment from? We’ve got your answers.
In 1913, second-generation Russian immigrants Irving and Jack Schott founded the apparel company, Schott NYC. Working from their basement factory in the Lower East Side, the duo originally made raincoats.
Fifteen years later, Irving dreamed up a new coat for warmth, protection and comfort for motorcycle riders. In 1928, the first biker jacket – called the Schott Perfecto named after Irving’s favorite cigar – was born.
Schott began to sell their motorcycle jackets through a Harley Davidson distributor in Long Island, NY. The jackets were sold for $5.50 each, the equivalent of $76 today.
The jacket itself had the signature belted waist for a secure fit, the asymmetrical zip closure (it was more comfortable for a motorcycle rider when they are hunched over on their bike), a double layer of front material for additional insulation, and was the first jacket (as Schott says) to feature a zipper closure rather than buttons.
It may come as a surprise, but the biker jacket of today closely resembles the biker jacket of 1928 save for an extra pocket or two or an altered epaulet.
The leather – not biker - jacket was born around the early 20th century. Originally worn during WWII, the leather jacket, also known as the bomber jacket, it was the military’s uniform thanks to its heavy-duty material and high quality.
Those bomber jackets featured a similar style to today’s bombers but with button closure.
In fact, with the introduction of the Perfecto in 1928, the signature A-1 bomber jacket evolved into the A-2 jacket complete with zippers and a pointed collar in 1931.
Schott was also an integral part of WWII fashion. He was asked by the Air Force to create extra-warm jackets for the B-17 and B-24 aircraft bombing crews. Although the airplane cabins were closed they were not pressurized so they were extremely cold in high altitudes.
So, Schott created the B-3 jacket. Similar to the A-2 jacket, the B-3 featured a heavy sheep fur lining along with a buckled collar and leather material (as opposed to the wool cuffs and waist found in the A-2.
Adapted from the British Royal Navy, Schott also created the melton wool pea coat for the US Navy. He continued to create military garments for the next 60 years.
All during the wars, Schott was still making their motorcycle jackets – but to a limited audience. But, that all changed in 1953 thanks to the Marlon Brando film ‘The Wild One’. Brando played Johnny Strabler, the leader of a California motorcycle gang known as the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.
Fun fact: the film was actually based on a short story called “The Cyclists’ Raid” by Frank Rooney. Originally published in Harper’s magazine in 1951, the story was based on a 1947 motorcycle rally in Hollister, California that ended in violence and chaos due to a motorcycle club known as the “Boozefighters”.
The jacket Brando wore in the movie was the epitome of countercultural, hyper-masculine attitude – complete with his character’s name on the chest and their gang’s insignia on the back.
Thanks to the idolization of Brando’s edgy style, they ate up the look and the Perfecto skyrocketed to fame. Another fun fact: Schott’s sales actually dipped thanks to schools banning leather jackets during this time period from fear of gang culture and rebellious teen stereotypes.
And just a year later – in 1955 – James Dean, the man unabashedly tied to the motorcycle jacket’s popularity, was in the fatal car crash of his Porsche 550 Spyder. Even though Dean never wore a leather jacket in his films, he did wear one with a fur collar in his free time. His early death immortalized his rebellious style – biker jacket and all.
The biker jacket’s popularity kept rising throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, when high-end fashion joined in on the fun. At just 24 years old, Yves Saint Laurent (then head of Dior), famously – or infamously – designed the single-breasted, fur-lined alligator leather jacket for women with cropped sleeves.
During the mid-1970s, the biker jacket became synonymous with the punk subculture and rock music. The motorcycle jacket was essentially a uniform for bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joan Jett, and Blondie.
During the 90s and early ‘00s, other designers began to create biker jackets of their own. Kate Moss wore a biker jacket made my Rick Owens in French Vogue during the early ’00s.
Modern brands are designing biker jackets with their own spin – think bright colors and crazy details – while still remaining truthful to the original silhouette.
No matter what style you choose – whether it’s a bright pink biker or the classic Schott Perfecto, still made in the USA to nearly the exact specifications as the original design – the biker jacket will forever remain an iconic style that will always be cool.
Check out our own collection of biker jackets here.
Thanks to Grailed for the information for this article!