An enduring piece in any man’s wardrobe, get the purchase right and a good leather jacket will last you for life…
1. Don’t Go New And Cheap
Chain department stores are stuffed with leather jackets that are cut price. They may even look the business when they’re on the rack. But don’t be seduced. These mass produced monstrosities will have large armholes to fit the largest range of men and that means they won’t fit properly or hold their shape well. They’re also machine stitched with cheap thread and their synthetic linings won’t breathe and will be prone to tear. Worse, the jacket leather will be of low quality and chemically treated to get rid of imperfections and to feel smooth or have an artificial grain. Put simply: you get what you pay for, which is to say, not a lot.
2. Don’t Fear Vintage
If you’re looking for a bargain, you can do worse than hit up op and hock shops, second-hand and antique stores, garage sales and even school fetes. The popularity and durability of quality leather jackets means there’s a strong recycled trade. Finding the style and fit you’re after is largely a matter of luck but given how many men have bought leather jackets only to grow out of that style or size, it’s also not particularly difficult to find a top quality piece that suits you down for less than one-third of what you’d pay new — so a couple of hundred bucks, max. But buyer beware! While you might score a bargain it’ll be for nothing if you don’t inspect the jacket carefully, including the lining and pockets, for stains, tears, serious cracks and even mould. It also pays to take a few deep breaths of the leather and lining. If a jacket’s been wrapped around the sweaty or smoky body of some dude for a decade then that stink isn’t ever coming out. If you’ve any doubts, decline because you won’t wear it and be wasting rather than saving money.
3. Choose A Style That’s Versatile
Whether buying new or vintage, you gotta get it right. Given how much money you’re going to spend, you want a leather jacket style that’s wearable through the most seasons and occasions. So, do you choose bomber, biker or motocross? Bomber certainly complements a wider range of men’s bodies, personalities, wardrobes and occupations. Biker, thanks to its association with James Dean and The Ramones, is an edgier choice, though if you’re slender and can pull of the rebellious vibe without looking like a try-hard, then go for it. That said, unless it’s a high-end designer take on the biker style, you’re not going to really be able to wear it to work without raising eyebrows. Of course, you can split the difference and go for a motocross style – also known as a café racer – which does away with most of the epaulettes, studs and zips for a more streamlined silhouette. Because the motocross is figure hugging, it also really suits a more toned gent. An airforce-style bomber’s also a great choice, usually lined with wool, but they usually look best in brown, meaning they’re more suited to casual occasions.
4. Fit, Fit, Fit
No matter what style you choose, if a leather jacket doesn’t fit correctly it’s going to look ridiculous. Too small and you’ll look like 10kg of sausage stuffed into a 5kg casing. Too big and you’ll look lost and small like a boy playing dress-up in dad’s wardrobe. You need a jacket that fits your frame and allows just enough room between its leather and your skin to comfortably fit a T-shirt or dress shirt and a thin sweater or sweatshirt if you need to layer up in winter. You should be able to move your arms without excessive leather hanging beneath your armpits or bunching at the shoulders. A high-quality jacket will ensure this with smaller and higher-cut armholes. Sleeves should stop at the wrist while the rest of the jacket should sit at waist height. Guys with a narrower build will benefit from a waist that belts or tapers to emphasise their shoulders while rounder men need to avoid a jacket that hugs contours and makes you look fatter. Inspect the stitching along the lining and buttons – small irregularities mean it’s hand-stitched and likely to be of higher quality and durability.
5. Love The Skin You’re In
All leathers aren’t equal and you need to choose based on price, comfort and durability. Cow hide is usually used for tough leather jackets that take a while to wear in and really are what you want to be wearing if you come off a bike at 80km/h. Other than that, you’re going to go for a softer alternative. Lambskin is the lightest and gentlest option. Calfskin is soft but not as durable as goatskin, which also has the benefit of being more water resistant. Pigskin sounds gross but is soft and smooth if of a high-quality and tanned well. Whichever one you choose, inspect the leather for small imperfections and real rather than artificial grain. You actually want these qualities! Leather like this is of higher quality and will wear well with time, creasing, softening and scratching to create true character. Leather that’s super smooth or that has a regular artificially created grain is likely to be weak and wear badly.