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The Badass History of Biker Fashion

You see biker fashion everywhere from fellow riders, on television and movies, and even adapted in fashion magazines nowadays.

These iconic pieces embody an electrifying sense of rebellion, and excitement about the freedom of the open road that the biker lifestyle values.

But how did biker fashion come to be in the first place?

Read on to find out more about the history behind biker fashion, how it has evolved over the years, and why it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

1. The Leather Biker Jacket

The leather biker jacket is crucial to biker fashion, and the first thing that comes to mind when you think of bikers.

It's leather, it's tough, and it makes a statement.

Its use originated during WWII as durable, protective outerwear for the military.

So who set the precedent for making the leather jacket the iconic piece for motorcyclists?

A man named Irving Schott developed the first leather biker jacket with a zipper in 1928, but it wasn't necessarily for a fashion statement.

That came a little bit later.

It was invented mostly out of necessity for a jacket that would function better for bikers.

He called it the Perfecto after his favorite cigar, and it could be purchased for $5.50.

What a deal by today's standards!

The Perfecto was designed to be a fitted leather jacket that could zip up high and contains lapels, snaps, and pockets that would go on to help it become a famous piece of biker fashion history.

The association between the Perfecto and biker fashion was solidified when Marlon Brando wore the piece in The Wild One (1953) as the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.

The popularity of leather jackets continued to increase and eventually bled into later subcultures such as punk rock, its music, and the DIY lifestyle it advocated.

Leather jackets became the calling card of bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.

Punk rockers began to personalize leather jackets by adding things such as spikes, patches, and studs.

Other variations of leather jackets began to become popular as well.

This can be seen in the resurgence of the Perfecto's predecessor, the Bomber jacket, in the 1980s, and even its come back again a few years ago!

Celebrities such as Kate Moss, and even Kanye West to name a few, have been known to sport leather jackets over the years.

Leather jackets have become so versatile today that there is a style for everyone, multiple ways to wear them, and lots of different ways to personalize them and make them your own.

Their role in the history of biker fashion, however, is always present and a reminder of just how far those roots go back.

2. The Motorcycle Vest

Right behind the leather jacket in the biker fashion line-up is the motorcycle vest.

This piece of clothing, similar to the leather jacket, embraces individuality and rebellion.

They were also originally worn as a means of protection and date back to WWII and life for veterans and riders post-war.

In time, they became customized garments that united bikers.

The motorcycle vest, like the Perfecto, was created for function.

Removing the sleeves from jackets allowed bikers to have increased mobility and arm movement, and better ventilation which was beneficial in warmer weather.

It was an added bonus that the vests gave off the look of a rebellious style that reflected the biker lifestyle.

Referred to as the "Cuts," these altered denim and leather jackets paralleled the desire for self-expression that dominated the DIY culture and subcultures of the 70's and 80's.

Motorcycle vests are an important part of biker fashion and motorcycle culture because they usually included motorcycle club names and symbols that gave meaning to the pieces and the people wearing them.

A personalized vest showed commitment to the biker lifestyle, bonded motorcyclists, and was a symbol of their experience as a rider.

3. Skulls and Biker Fashion

Next to leather jackets and vests, skulls are the next thing that comes to mind when one thinks about biker fashion.

The symbol of the skull from ancient times to the present is usually used to represent death, mortality, and the life cycle that we all experience.

While often associated with danger and death in culture, the skull's place in biker culture and fashion stretches further and incorporates other interpretations of the symbol as well.

Like the jacket or vest, the skull is seen as a unifying symbol amongst bikers.

It serves as sort of an unspoken vow to biker life and the thrill of the open road.

While there are the connotations of death and danger with the skull, the use of skulls in biker fashion is not to wish harm or death to others, nor to one's self.

Instead, they function as more of a symbol of power, understanding, and the acceptance of mortality and immortality as a biker.

Once a biker, always a biker.

Bikers embrace skull imagery and accessories because they represent rebellion, toughness, eternity, and courage to face the unknown.

The skull has become so ingrained in biker culture and fashion that it has even made its way into trademarks by well-known companies such as Harley-Davidson.

While skulls, skeletons, and the like can usually be seen on jackets and vests, they're also commonly used in other kinds of biker fashion such as jewelry and related accessories such as necklaces, rings, earrings, pendants, and key chains, to name a few.

Whether by themselves, or paired with wings, snakes, or crossbones, the common symbol of the skull in biker fashion is just as customizable as a jacket or vest and another way for bikers to express themselves.

Wearing skulls signals to other bikers that you identify with them, that you're a biker in life and after death, and that you're dedicated to riding no matter what.


The next time you get ready to put on your biker gear, take a moment to think about the interesting history behind biker fashion.

There's more to leather jackets, motorcycle vests, and the symbol of the skull than what the stereotypes out there make you think.

They've all got purpose, meaning, and bring riders together who are all dedicated to the freedom that the biker lifestyle stands for.

What does your biker fashion say about you?


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