Motorcycle Jackets History and Future

Of all menswear, very few garments can match up to the appeal of motorcycle jackets. Wearing something like the Alpinestars leather jacket exudes charm, mystery, and adventure.

While originally worn for protection, the biker jacket also became a common item in men’s wardrobe. The garment became increasingly popular as many celebrities wore it, including the king of rock and roll himself.

From protective gear to fashion staple, we explore the revolution of motorcycle jackets.

Before the Motorcycle Jacket

Leather jackets were around decades before brands like Alpinestars came along.

But prior to biker jackets, there were flight jackets. In World War I, nearly all airplanes had open cockpits, which meant pilots were vulnerable to getting cold as they fly thousands of feet above the ground at high speeds. In an effort to keep aviators warm, the US army came up with heavy-duty leather flight jackets.

Then World War II started, and with it came one of the most iconic bomber jackets in history, the G-1 military flight jacket. Though first introduced by the US Navy in the 1930s, other military branches adopted the jacket including the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The jacket caught on with government agencies, police departments, and even civilians because of its sturdy material and sleek design. 

First Came the Bike

Motorcycle jackets only came to light when the advent of, well, motorcycles. We simply can’t talk about biker jackets without touching on motorbikes.

The late 1800s saw the birth of powered two-wheelers. The first bikes used humble internal combustion engines. By today’s standards, those motorcycles were ridiculously underpowered, but they were the starting point.

In the beginning 20th century, motor engines started improving and motorbikes could drive at higher speeds, which meant rider would have to endure fast cold winds. Due to necessity, protective gear came to increase the safety of bikers on the road and to shield them from the weather.

In addition to helmets, goggles, and gloves, motorcycle jackets came along to protect motorists’ upper body.

The Early Days

Back in the day, riders used motorcycle jackets as a means to protect against the weather. However, those simple garments made by individual tailors became state of the art protective gear manufactured by large apparel companies like Alpinestars.

Irving Schott designed the first styled leather motorcycle jacket ever made. The jacket was among the first to feature a zipper, and it defined the look of biker jackets ever since its manufacture.

Schott NYC, which Irving and his brother Jack founded years earlier, manufactured the Perfecto motorcycle jacket in 1928, which Irving named after his favorite cigar. The jacket saw little change during the next couple of decades as the American clothing company continued to mimic the original design.

Schott NYC, which made the first biker jacket, continued their Perfecto line throughout the 1930s and 1940s, varying slightly from the original design. 

Despite achieving little success early on, the jacket achieved immense popularity in the 1950s. In 1953, Marlon Brando played a motorcycle gang leader in the film The Wild Ones. The movie legend wore the jacket as part of his character’s image. Thanks to his stellar performance and edgy style, the Perfecto became famous worldwide.

The timeless biker jacket continued to gain popularity throughout the decade, with the likes of Elvis Presley and James Dean wearing it on a regular basis.

The Fashion World Joins the Fray

While the 1950s propelled it into the mainstream, it wasn’t until 1960 that the high fashion took notice of the motorcycle jacket. The head of design at Christian Dior, a young man by the name of Yves Saint Laurent, presented the world with his take on the biker jacket.

The sixties also brought The Beatles, Steve Mcqueen, and many other big names in music and film wore the motorcycle jacket, which propelled it into worldwide fame. Fans all over the globe sported the jacket to imitate their favorite celebs’ fashion.

During the same decade, motorcycle clubs chose either leather vests or jackets as their uniform almost exclusively. Many clubs boasted their names and insignias on the back of the jackets, a look that became suggestive of rebels and outlaw bikers to this day.

Rock, Punk, and Disco

The 70s saw the emergence of some of the most influential rock bands in the world, including Queen, AC/DC, and Kiss. Rock stars were often seen clad in leather jackets, and many picked the motorcycle jacket to define their signature look. Millions of fans followed suit, copying the style of their favorite rockers.

The decade ushered in the punk rock genre with bands like The Ramones, who adopted the biker style wearing the timeless Perfecto. During their early performances, Legs McNeil, the founder of Punk magazine, was quoted saying: “They were all wearing these black leather jackets…They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.” Since then, the motorcycle jacket became a staple in punk fashion.

But the era wasn’t all just about Rock, Disco was a hallmark of the 1970s. Disco artists appeared wearing the biker jacket regularly throughout the decade. In turn, this made the biker style more mainstream.

At the end of the decade, Mad Max shook the world with Mel Gibson portraying Max Rockatansky, a patrol officer tasked with maintaining law and order in a dystopian Australia. 

The plot revolved around biker gangs, and as you can imagine, nearly the entire case sported motorcycle jackets. The movie made a huge impact on culture and fashion, but most importantly, it made biker jackets even more fashionable.

Movies and Motorcycle Jackets

The 1980s was a pivotal point in Motorcycle Jackets history. A couple of movies featured two of the most recognized motorcycle jackets to date.

First, The Terminator hit theaters in 1984, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cyborg assassin sent back in time to save the machines. 

In the movie, the T-800 (the terminator) rides a bike, and you guessed it, he (or it) wears a motorcycle jacket. The film spawned several sequels, gained a huge cult following, and popularized the biker look.

Only a couple of years later, the most iconic motorcycle jacket appeared in Top Gun, where Tom Cruise played a fighter pilot name Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. 

Maverick rode a bike in several scenes, wearing what many consider the most famous bomber jacket in history. The movie was a hit and became an instant classic, making bikes and biker jackets trendy.

A Decade of Excess

The 90s saw an unprecedented surge in the entertainment industry. Hollywood produced unforgettable movies such as Ghost, Jurassic Park, and Titanic. TV produced history defining shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and even The Fresh Prince of Bel-air. Boy bands like the Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, and NSYNC dominated the music scene.

How did this influence motorcycle jackets? In short, it made them massively popular.

The internet became widely accessible, and even Google, the mighty search engine, went live during the decade. Products reached millions of people around the globe through online advertising, and motorcycle jackets were among those products.

At this point, Schott wasn’t the only big name in the motorcycle jacket business. Other brands like Alpinestars became popular. The industry became competitive, and with the progression of technology, jackets became a mix of art and science.

Modern Day Motorcycle Jackets

In recent years, public interest in vintage clothes grew exponentially. Many clothing companies like Schott and Belstaff started making modern versions of classic jackets. Even fashion houses, such as Yves Saint Laurent, joined in and elevated the motorcycle jacket to luxury, runway-worthy clothing.

As social media became an essential part of our lives, celebrities got more famous than ever. Even regular people with a refined sense of fashion or an interesting hobby became internet sensations with millions of followers to their name. The biker style spread like wildfire, leather motorcycle jackets are one of the essentials in most people’s wardrobes.  

Bikes have also become a popular mean of transportation as they’re easier to navigate through traffic jams, crowded areas, and narrow passages. In turn, The need for jackets has increased to meet the demand.

Top 3 Motorcycle Jacket Brands

Motorcycle jacket brands are aplenty nowadays, but only a handful take the lion’s share of the apparel market. Here they are.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee Motorcycle Clothing Company rank among the best brands when it comes to biker jackets. Why? Well, it’s in the name. As their name suggests, they specialize in making motorcycle gear only. With over 40 years in the business, the company produces top-notch motorcycle jackets, boots, and accessories. 

The jackets are made of premium leather and often feature retro designs. If you’re a classic man, you can’t go wrong with one of Milwaukee’s leather motorcycle jackets

Alpinestars

Founded in 1963, Alpinestars is a leading manufacturer of clothing and protective gear for motorsports. The company makes sleek, functional, and durable motorcycle jackets which incorporate the latest technology in the industry. 

The Viper Air, one of Alpinestars most impressive creations, features mesh panels, windproof lining, and even abrasion resistance. Worth noting is that motorcycle clothing company produces gear for Formula One and Nascar, which tells you a lot about their high standards.  

Joe Rocket

The name of the brand, Joe Rocket, came during a brainstorming session at a bar. Sounds sloppy, right? Maybe, but the motorcycle gear company makes some of the best biker jackets in the world. 

Combining visual appeal with functionality, the Atomic 4.0, one of Joe Rocket’s most celebrated jackets, features thermal linings, ventilation membranes, and a custom adjustment system. A masterpiece by any measure.

The Bottom Line

Throughout the 20th century, motorcycles kept on getting better, faster, and prettier. Technology changed the slow, two-wheeled vehicles into modern motorbikes that can reach insane speeds.

Motorcycle jackets experienced a similar transformation. Biker jackets of the past were simple, functional, and were no different than other articles of clothing. Nowadays, however,  many high-end jackets feature cutting-edge technology that makes them seem more like machines than garments.

From humble beginnings, the motorcycle jacket came a long way. While most clothes go in and out of style, the timeless jacket is here to stay, especially with the renewed interest in all things vintage during the past couple of decades.