Tough men and bold girls dressed in black leather on powerful bikes represent a whole new world dripping with speed, adrenaline rush, and road romance. For bikers, a steel horse is more than just a vehicle; it is their best friend. A motorcycle is the most important part of the biker lifestyle. This movement is probably one of the most widespread in the world. It is present in virtually every country and unites people of all ages.
In addition to the love for motorcycles, bikers are known for their canonic image - leather jackets, vests plastered with patches, denim jeans, etc. Why did bikers choose these particular outfits? Why do they wear leather jackets? What do biker patches mean? This post answers all popular questions regarding biker outfits.
Iconic Biker Outfit – Perfecto Jacket
Biker clothes (leather jackets, leather pants, bandanas, sturdy lace-up boots) are, first of all, means of protection, and only then they are badass outfits and means of self-expression.
Perhaps the most famous element of a biker outfit is a jacket. A biker jacket is a short motorcycle leather jacket with a characteristic skew zipper that runs from the left hip to the right shoulder. Due to an asymmetric zipper, two layers of leather overlap each other and the wind can’t blow through the closure.
Other defining features of leather jackets are: a large slanting pocket on the chest (you can easily put a roadmap in it); side pockets with vertical slits, in which you can warm your hands in winter; a little pocket with a flap for small items; a turn-down collar, a belt at the very bottom of the jacket, special folds at the back and under the arms for freedom of movement, and narrow sleeves with zippers.
A classic biker leather jacket is sewn from cattle (buffalo or cowhide) leather, rather thick and heavy. Musicians and non-formals usually wear jackets made of relatively thin leather (its thickness is approximately 1.2 - 1.6 mm). However, bikers, when buying leather jackets, believe that "the thicker the better." The right biker jacket resembles leather armor and perfectly protects its owner when he ‘eats asphalt’.
History of Biker Jackets
Although it may seem that they have always been here, the first leather jackets have specific creators. These are the sons of a Russian immigrant, the New Yorkers Irwin and Jack Schotts. In 1913, the brothers founded the company Schott NYC, which was engaged in tailoring and selling leather raincoats. In 1928, Irwin invented a short leather jacket and called it Perfecto in honor of a brand of his favorite cigars.
Shortened leather jackets have become widely spread during the Second World War. Aviation was actively used during the war but aircraft building was at the beginning of its development. It came as no surprise that an aircraft of that time was blown through by oncoming air flows. Therefore, pilots needed special clothing able to protect them from the wind. The Perfecto leather jacket became a great aid for aviators.
Thanks to skew zipper and the overlap of two leather layers that it creates, a pilot was safeguarded against a freezing wind. In addition, a pilot's jacket had elongated sleeves that covered the hands even when pulling the arms forward. It provided a comfortable sitting position during the flight and protected fingers from frostbite. On top of that, such a jacket had a fold at the back to ensure freedom of movement.
After the war, many pilots exchanged their aircraft to two-wheelers and became motorcyclists. However, they did not forget about reliable, practical, and comfortable leather jackets. The first bikers took a shortened leather jacket into their wardrobe and since then it has become a symbol of bikers across the globe.
Perfecto Jackets Beyond the Limits of Biker Culture
Perfecto could have remained an element of solely biker outfits if not for the film “The Wild One” (1953). In this movie, Marlon Brando plays the leader of a biker gang and, of course, rides around the town in a Perfecto jacket. Two years later, James Dean showed off similar apparel in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause” (according to rumors, Dean never got out of his favorite leather jacket). A leather jacket has begun to be associated with a hooligan spirit. It has even been forbidden in American schools, which only fueled its popularity.
And then a significant event has happened with a biker jacket. A simple American guy named Elvis Presley decided to include a leather jacket in his stage costume. A perfecto jacket has become an iconic item for rock-n-roll stars and their fans. When Elvis Presley reached the status or the world-class star, he began to embellish his leather jacket with precious stones and gold rivets. Despite the fact that Elvis popularized a leather jacket, it almost lost its significance for tough motorcycle buffs, turning into scenic clothes decorated with rhinestones and jewels.
In the mid-1970s, leather jackets experienced one more peak of popularity since the English punk rock band Sex Pistols chose them as their signature outfit. The rock group opposed Perfecto jackets to the philosophy of the capitalist world. This has made this jacket cult apparel among the rock fans. At the end of the 20th century, a black leather jacket can be seen in a wardrobe of virtually every informal movement follower. It is worn by rockers and punks, metallers, and folk music performers, etc.
A vest, signature element of Western-style outfits, became indispensable clothing item for the steel horse riders along with massive belt buckles, cowboy boots, bolo ties, bandanas, and chaps. The style of "modern cowboys" became a hallmark not only of bikers but also rock musicians, as well as everyone who wanted to emphasize their affiliation to the motorcycle subculture.
Riding a motorcycle imposes rather tough requirements on clothes. While decorative buckles, crocheting, weaving, embossing, and fringe are still in demand among the old school fans, fabric and suede have given way to more durable and practical leather. This material is not only dirt resistant (although it seems that bikers don’t mind it), but it can also protect a motorcyclist when he falls off his two-wheeler.
Biker vests became especially popular with the spreading of club movement. Club members started complementing their vests with patches also known as Colors. Colors are something motorcyclists are proud of. They allow distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them’ and are used to determine a biker’s place in a club hierarchy.
At first, club members sewed Colors directly on their jackets but later they started using vests instead. It is noteworthy that club bikers wear vests not under, but on top of outerwear. Indeed, not everyone likes riding in the same jacket in any weather, at any time of the year, and at any distance. In addition, in a situation where it is undesirable to show off colors, a vest can be easily put on inside out or hidden in a trunk.
Following the example of motorcycle clubs (MC) and moto gangs (MG), more democratic motorcycle unions also began to introduce vests. MCC (MotorCycle Community), RC (Riders Club), OS (Owners Club), MFC (Moto Fans Club) have proprietary vests decorated with colors.
Patches attached to a vest emphasize a biker's belonging to a particular community (or vice versa, his refusal to join any community - No Club, Lone Wolf, etc.), manifest his attitude to life (and death), show logos of his beloved motorcycle brands, flags of visited countries, and motorcycle festivals. Functional patches are also popular, for example, those that indicate blood type.
If a motorcyclist belongs to a club, his vest will be adorned with Colors. Colors are an emblem of a club sewn on the back of a leather vest or denim sleeveless jacket. Colors consist of three parts - top and bottom rockers, and a central patch. The top rocker bears the name of a motorcycle club while the bottom one indicates a place where it has been founded. The central part of Colors demonstrates the logo of a club and the status of its member. The number of the Colors’ elements is equal to stars on military epaulets, that is, it denotes the rank of its owner. Full-patched bikers (those who have the right to wear all three elements of Colors) are valid club members. Prospects can wear only top and bottom rockers while hang-arounds are allowed to have only bottom rockers.
Club members have a full set of rights, including the right to vote at meetings and take part in decision-making. They also bear full responsibility.
A prospect is a candidate preparing to become a member. He does not yet have the right to vote at meetings and the right to make decisions.
Hang Around is a possible prospect, currently performing all dirty work in his MC.
Legal Name (road name) is a nickname of a biker. Legal name is often written on the chest patch, next to the patches indicating status, club location, etc.
Nomad – a club member with the right to wear Colors. However, unlike other members, a nomad does not belong to a certain chapter of a club. He rides on his own. Nomad attends club meetings in various locations and pays fees at a place where his journey takes him.
Free Rider or Loner is a person who shares the values of the outlaw life but at the same time, prefers to be free from the club hierarchy, i.e. does not belong to any specific club.
If a motorcyclist is a member of a particular club, his place in the hierarchy will also be indicated on a vest. A patch with a status (post) is placed on the chest or, more rarely, on the sleeve.
President is the head of a club or chapter. Normally, it is an elected position. A president carries out general strategic management of a club or its chapter, maintains relations with other clubs, officials, etc.
Vice-President is a deputy president of a club who deputizes a president in case of his absence or death (before the election).
Treasurer is responsible for financial matters of a club, i.e. collects membership fees, pays bills, controls cash flows, etc. He is also in charge of club colors and other patches: treasurer keeps records, controls the issue and return of patches by former members.
Sergeant Of Arms (other spellings are At Arms or On Arms) is a deputy president for security. His duties are to supervise how club members abide the charter and rules. He also maintains a healthy atmosphere inside a club and during various activities. In most clubs, the sergeant is responsible for the protection and storage of colors and other patches; he monitors their preservation and return from excluded and retired club members.
Road Captain is the head of the movement during group rides. He builds a route taking into account speed and convenience (in all senses) of movement, availability of gas stations, recreation areas, etc. This position may be permanent as well as assigned to specific rides.
Club Colors are sacred for bikers. They recognize the high level of personal responsibility and self-discipline that people in club patches should show and maintain. Bikers understand that colors are strictly protected, and the process of obtaining them is long and complicated. A biker must honor colors 24 hours a day, even if he is not wearing them now.
Symbols Found on Biker Outfits
In addition to club colors, bikers sport various symbols plastered on their clothing or equipment. The most common symbols are:
Naval Jack - a symbol of non-conformism and the right beliefs of American bikers.
A skull denotes that bikers fear neither danger nor death. This symbol is very relevant for bikers; it serves as a protection because high speed is a drug of any biker but it brings a great deal of danger and troubles. There is even a belief that when Death comes to a person, it leaves its sign in the form of a skull. However, if a person is already marked with this sign, Death considers that it has already paid a visit and leaves this person alone.
“1%” (OnePercent, Onepercenter) this symbol has originated after a notorious speech of the head of the American Motorcycle Association (AMA). He said that all motorcyclists are law-abiding people, and only one percent of them are outlaws. Since then, the “1%” patch means that bikers have attributed themselves to the outlaws. This symbol is very often tattooed.
Iron Cross and the swastika. They were taken over by American soldiers after World War II, when, in fact, the biker movement emerged. Wearing the rewards of the enemy, the soldiers protested against American power. This symbol is ambiguous. On the one hand, most American outlaws are known for their right views. On the other hand, there are reasonable doubts that these bikers are “ideological” nazi. Many bikers wear swastika and Iron cross simply because they want to shock "civilians", that is, people who don’t belong to biker culture.
A biker must feel completely comfortable in his riding outfits. That’s why the bottoms should not hamper the movement. Biker clothes are more about practicality than beauty, therefore they utilize durable materials able to withstand years of use. As for the looks, motorcyclists incline to timeless designs that will be relevant even in 50 years.
Jeans. Now many bikers prefer regular denim jeans or jeans made of special materials. Thanks to Kevlar fibers and other additives, such jeans are well protected from friction when in contact with asphalt pavement and gravel. Bikers prefer straight or boot cut jeans. You won’t see skinny jeans on a real biker because it’s just impossible to spend a few hours in the saddle if you wear super tight pants. Motorcyclists do not bother with their appearance so torn and worn pants with traces of engine oil are their signature look.
Leather pants. Some motorcyclists prefer leather pants. Leather pants are low-maintenance - moisture, dirt, and dust that gets on the pants can simply be wiped off with a damp cloth and the pants look new again. When a biker eats asphalt (falls off a bike), leather pants save from severe injuries. On top of that, in winter leather pants are much warmer than jeans; they do not need to be washed and they are not blown through by the wind so the heat remains inside.
The same as with a leather jacket, the “the thicker the better” rule applies to leather pants. When choosing suitable pants for your rides, you need to carefully examine seams. If a seam is located along the knee, it is not very comfortable to sit or kneel. Plus, such a seam often bursts. Therefore, many leather pants have seams below the patella (although leather may get saggy around the knee).
Chaps. Chaps are essentially two separate legs attached to each other in the waist area. They are the originators of pants. Their upper parts are elongated and attached at the sides of the body with a wide belt. Chaps are convenient because you can quickly put them on or take them off staying in clean jeans.
Other elements of a biker look
Footwear. Biker shoes should be practical, sit comfortably, and feature non-slip soles. Often, bikers wear military lace-up boots or ankle boots with buckles. The sole should be thick, preferably with deep tread rubber outsoles so that the foot does not slide off the footboard. In such boots, it won’t be cold in winter.
Bikers usually wear leather bandanas. In addition to their main function, protection against wind and dirt, a bandana can be used as a plait on a wound or a repair tool if an alternator belt is broken.
Bikers gravitate toward leather gloves, which they wear even in summer. They help protect the palm from rubbing and do not allow the hand to slide off a handlebar if it sweats. In the summer, bikers opt for fingerless gloves.
Eyewear is a mandatory attribute of bikers. Some motorcyclists refuse to wear helmets but you will always see them wearing gargles or eyeglasses. Eyewear protects biker’s eyes from wind and insects.
Biker style in women's fashion
Biker style outfits are very gender-specific, they have been created for motorcycle riders who are traditionally men. However, designers consider acceptable to use biker style in women's clothing. Although, if a woman is not a motorcyclist herself or she does not ride “behind her biker”, then such outfits do not carry any functional significance.
The elements of a biker style for ladies are a leather jacket (or a jacket made in this style), leather pants or shorts, gloves, T-shirts, belts, leather bags with fringe, ankle or military-style boots, and leather vests.
Women jackets are often sewn from thin leather, faux leather, lacquer fabric, and other materials that are not acceptable for men. The only thing that such jackets have in common with a real biker jacket is an asymmetric zipper. Biker-style jackets for women are often worn over a light summer dress or a flowing skirt. The colors of such a jacket can also be varied, but mostly the black color prevails with the addition of silver zippers, fittings, and rivets.
Leather pants or shorts can be combined with delicate blouses and complemented with accessories such as chains, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, and large belt buckles.
Leather bags are decorated with zippers, chains, and fringe.
Such an outfit is suitable for parties, walks around the city, or hanging out with the company of girlfriends. From the point of view of fashion, such a style is quite interesting, unusual, and even appealing. Although, it is completely unacceptable for riding a bike.