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The History of the Leather Jacket

With a rich and rounded history, the ever-loved leather jacket has combined function with fashion like no other.  

Favoured by both men and women alike, leather jackets are perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re heading out for a dinner date or having casual drinks with your friends, throwing on a leather jacket — no matter what your outfit — will keep you looking effortlessly cool.

Having been around for over a century, it’s pretty safe to say that this iconic jacket won’t be going nowhere anytime soon. With that said, here’s the history of a true wardrobe classic: The leather jacket.

Early 1900’s

The first usage of the leather jacket was rather more practical than the fashion purposes it’s known for today. Used during the first world war, the iconic military leather jacket was worn by German fighter pilots — it was this style that became known as a bomber WWII leather jacket in the late 30’s and early 40’s. 

With extremely cold temperatures at high altitudes, the warmth of a bomber jacket was a very pragmatic option. Little did they know that this item of clothing would one day become a high fashion piece!

Joe Browns Men's Bomber Leather JacketJoe Browns Men's Bomber Leather Jacket


During the 1920’s, leather jackets were advertised for both men and women, with the jacket styles almost identical, apart from one small difference the direction of the buttons. 

Already recognised for motoring, aviation, and motorcycling, this was the first time the function and fashion of the jacket united. We can thank Irving Schott for this, as he designed the first motorcycle jacket that was sold at a Harley Davison store in New York. It turns out this design was incredibly influential and is extremely similar to the biker-style leather jackets we still wear today.

Joe Browns Women's Red Leather Biker JacketJoe Browns Women's Red Leather Biker Jacket
Joe Browns Men's Green Leather Biker JacketJoe Browns Men's Green Leather Biker Jacket

1950’s Leather Jacket

By the 1950’s the leather jacket was embraced by Hollywood, as the “greaser” subculture creating the iconic “bad-boy” image. A symbol of the time, the leather jacket was showcased in the movie Grease, which was set in the late 50’s/early 60’s in California. As a result, the leather jacket was all the rage for rebelling teens and young men!

The leather jacket continued to increase in popularity throughout the decade and was worn by numerous celebrities. This includes Jimmy Stewart who starred in the film Night Passage (1957), another star who began to further popularise this now iconic jacket.

Joe Browns Men's Suede Leather Jacket in TanJoe Browns Men's Suede Leather Jacket in Tan
Joe Browns Women's Olive Leather Jacket with Embroidery DetailJoe Browns Women's Olive Leather Jacket with Embroidery Detail

1970’s & 1980’s Leather Jacket

With rock ‘n’ roll beginning to thrive, the leather jacket became a favourite look during the 1970’s. It was worn by legends such as Bowie, who sported the leather jacket for his album cover Heroes in 1977, and was often spotted wearing a full length leather trench style coat around the time. 

However, the 1970’s and 80’s marked one major difference from the previous years. It was during these two decades that the leather jacket became increasingly popular with women. Female stars donned this stylish outerwear, including Joan Jett, who rocked her way through the 80’s in a leather jacket with The Blackhearts band!

The leather jacket also underwent a further transformation during the 1980s, with Michael Jakcson going bold with a red leather jacket for the music video Thriller, released in 1983.

Joe Browns Women's Red Leather JacketJoe Browns Women's Red Leather Jacket

Modern Day Fashion

Today leather jackets are seen on the runway year after year with Hermes, Fendi and Louis Vuitton being just a few of the high-end fashion names seen showcasing their versions. Will the day come when leather jackets are no longer in fashion? Quite frankly, we don’t think so! 

Wondering how to wear a leather jacket? The opportunities are endless! From simple denim pairings, to rocking-up the little black dress and even over the top of your athleisure-wear, there’s nothing a leather jacket can’t do.

Joe Browns Men's Leather Biker Jacket with BeltJoe Browns Men's Leather Biker Jacket with Belt
Joe Browns Women's Olive Leather Jacket with Embroidery DetailJoe Browns Women's Olive Leather Jacket with Embroidery Detail

How to Recognise a Quality Leather Jacket

One of the first things you’ll notice about a genuine leather jacket is that fabulous smell of leather. While artificial products can mimic the style, the leather aroma is not something that can be added. It should also feel like leather (sounds obvious we know!) but when you run your hand across the surface it should feel smooth, buttery and not bunch up.

The texture and pattern on your leather jacket is another thing to look out for, as this will speak volumes about the quality the highest quality leather will show natural, grain-like marks. Additionally, it’s also a great idea to check the label to check the materials it’s made from.

Joe Browns Men's Leather Biker Jacket with BeltJoe Browns Men's Leather Biker Jacket with Belt

How Has the Leather Jacket Changed Over the Years?

Not only has the leather jacket fashion changed over the last century, but the way it’s crafted has altered as well. For example, the very first leather “bomber jacket” was created out of sheepskin with a thick fleece lining to help keep pilots warm in the cockpit. However, as leather jackets became more popular and became part of mainstream fashion, designers looked for more affordable and accessible alternatives such as cowhide.

The construction of the leather jacket has come a long way. Today, most leather jackets are crafted in factories by machines. However, there are also options for custom leather jackets which can be made to order if you prefer that personal touch.

Joe Browns Men & Women's Leather JacketsJoe Browns Men & Women's Leather Jackets

Now you know a bit more about the history, why not read a little about how to wear a leather jacket! You can also find more information and style guides within our Inspiration pieces