The History and Popularity of Leather Jackets


Innovation and designer creativity is constantly keeping the fashion industry moving in one direction or the another. With that said, there is one garment that has proven it can stand the test of time. That would be the leather jacket, 

From the B-52 pilots of World War II to celebrity icons like James Dean and Henry Winkler as the Fonzie, there are plenty of examples of why men and women love the appeal of black leather jackets. 

Let’s take a quick look at the history and popularity of leather jackets throughout the world.

A Historical Look at the Leather Jacket

When a particular clothing item can endure generations of style changes and maintain high levels of popularity, there has to be a meaningful reason for it. Keeping that in mind, let’s track the journey of the leather jacket from the beginning to today.

In the Beginning – 1920s

His name was Irvin Schott. A man with a penchant for good cigars was also a renowned and well-respected fashion designer during the first three (3) decades of the 20th century. It was in 1928 that Schott designed and marketed the first leather jacket for men. He labeled his new creation “The Perfecto” after his favorite cigar company. It’s noteworthy that The Perfecto was priced at $5.50, an astounding amount in the 1920s.

More Than a Fashion Accessory – 1940s

While the leather jacket went through modest iterations over the next 10-15 years, The 1940s brought about a change in the way the leather jacket was used. Prior to this time, people wore this garment largely as a fashion statement. When World War II became a harsh reality, the black leather jacket became a practical clothing accessory for Air Force pilots.

What America’s Air Force pilots found in leather jackets was a real revelation. While trapped in cramped fighter planes at 25,000 feet, pilots wanted and needed an outer garment that was comfortable and functional. They found that in the leather jacket. 

With the proper design, a leather jacket is agile enough to allow pilots to move around liberally in limited space. Of course, durability has always been an unquestionable advantage. Finally, leather jackets were able to keep pilots reasonably warm at high altitudes. That’s not to forget the free bonus of pilots looking quite attractive especially when paired with and aviator sunglasses. 

Leather Jacket Explodes in American Culture – 1950s & 1960s

 After World War II and parts of the Korean War, leather jackets reverted back to being more of a fashion statement, led by motorcycle gangs and some of the biggest names in Hollywood. 

As U.S. pilots returned home after the war, they came with the spirit of outlaws and thrill-seekers. They rode motorcycles and convertible sports cars. All they needed was a fashion garment that would make them look “cool” and “menacing” at the same time. Enter the black leather jacket. 

Bikers loved the leather jacket for the same reasons as pilots. They loved the freedom of movement and the ability to stay warm on a long ride. As a fashion accessory. they loved the way jackets could be customized with zippers, pockets, and beloved patches. 

As the “bad boy” look took hold in America, Hollywood jumped on board as a new generation of Hollywood bad boys traversed the big screen. Marlon Brando was first up in The Wild One. It wasn’t long before heartthrobs like James Dean (Rebel Without A Cause), Steve McQueen, and The Beetles were donning leather jackets and making the women swoon.

Women Join the Fray – 1970s and 80s

In line with a well-established women’s movement, it wasn’t long before rebellious women began to wear black leather jackets to express their androgyny. It started with rockers like Madonna, Grace Slick, Blondie, and Joan Jett leading the female leather jacket revolution. By the time manufacturers started making jackets in other colors, average American females were readily wearing long and short leather jackets as a fashion accessories. Matching shoes and bags anyone?

Popularity Endures and Grows – Last 30 Years

After 60 years as a notable fashion garment, one would think that leather jackets are in their twilight years. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Over the last 30 years, top designers like Rick Owens, Balenciaga, and Anine Bing have been creating leather jackets for any occasion and for any gender. They have added studs, colors, and cuts that make leather jackets look modern and edgy.

James Bond fans surely noticed actor Daniel Craig’s Giorgio Armani’s leather jacket from the 2006 movie Casino Royale. At an estimated $4,000 price tag, such attire fits well for his character’s prestige. While it’s worn during the movie’s Miami scenes, don’t be surprised if you see similarly-inspired jackets at a juicy vegas casino.


Clearly, the leather jacket has traversed the universe for almost a century and its popularity continues to grow. Here’s the most amazing part of the story. Dozens of iterations aside, The Perfecto looks eerily like the leather jackets that are being worn today.

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