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Biker Jackets

Rugged and rebellious (grrr!), the biker jacket is an enduring wardrobe staple

  • The Ramones backstage at the Old Waldorf club, San Francisco, 1978 Photo by Ed Perlstein/ Redferns/ Getty Images

There's something about leather biker jackets: as soon as you slip one on, you instantly become a more rebellious, alive version of yourself, with the swagger to match – even if you're not actually a biker or rock star. It doesn't matter if the closest contact you have with a motorbike is when a courier delivers your online shopping; biker jackets are such a masculine and effortlessly stylish wardrobe staple, it's impossible to resist getting in on the action. Below is a handful of men who have worn them well, plus a little more about the origins of this enduring classic.

  • Mr Andy Warhol, New York City, c1965 Photo Bernard Gotfryd/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

The biker jacket evolved from the leather jackets originally worn by drivers and pilots in the late 19th and early 20th century. These provided a shield against dust, grease and the weather (essential in the days when cars and cockpits were unenclosed), as well as some protection in the event of an accident. When the motorcycle came onto the scene, a jacket with similar properties was required for its riders, with the principal modification that it would be shorter in length than driving coats, and less bulky than leather flight jackets.

  • Mr Elvis Presley in a fim still from Roustabout, 1964 Photo Rex Features

The distinctive double-breasted, zip-up style of biker jacket (commonly known as the Perfecto, and made famous by Mr Marlon Brando in the 1950s) was developed by Schott NYC. The Schott brothers pioneered their now-iconic jacket in 1928, and its design has changed very little since then. With a snug fit tailored to the body, broad lapels held in place by push-stud fasteners, and a diagonal zip, the Perfecto set an early benchmark for biker jacket design.

  • Sir Mick Jagger, London, 1972 Photo Archivi Farabola

Although they were born out of practicality, biker jackets soon became desirable for style purposes – and not just because of their flattering cut. In the 1950s teenage rebels adopted biker jackets, emulating the style and attitude of their screen heroes Messrs Marlon Brando and James Dean, leading schools to ban them. Since then, several style subcultures, from greasers to rockers to punks, have made biker jackets their own, attracted by the sense of rebellion and adventure that they convey.

  • Mr Johnny Depp in a film still from Cry Baby, 1990 Photo Allstar Picture Library

Since the mid-20th century, members of biker gangs have customised their jackets by adding pins and patches, or by painting designs and motifs onto the back of them. In the 1970s and 1980s, punk rockers mirrored this, beating up their jackets and adorning them with safety pins and metal studs. Even if you’re not planning on customising yours, don’t be afraid to let it get well-worn, because biker jackets look good once they are broken in and have acquired some personality.

  • Mr Paolo Nutini at Pinkpop, Landgraaf, Netherlands, 2014 Photo Mark Venema/ Getty Images

The easiest, most timeless way to wear a biker jacket is with jeans, a T-shirt and leather boots. This look can be amped up or toned down, depending on whether you opt for a shredded T-shirt and tight black jeans, or a white crew neck and classic selvedge denims. The key to wearing a biker jacket well is to look as if you don’t care. It should look as if it was slung on, rather than carefully selected, and as if you left it crumpled on your girlfriend’s bedroom floor the night before, not kept on a padded hanger in a wardrobe.

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