You are 15. No, hang on a minute, maybe you’re 19. Or 25. Maybe you’re actually 40. Or, yes, maybe you’re actually in your 60s. Whatever age you are, it’s a Saturday morning and you’re getting dressed for the day. You can see that it’s cold outside. But it’s a bright, sunny morning, and you want to get out into it.
So you get dressed. You pull on your blue jeans – they could be skinny, could be boot-cut, could be hanging off your backside – and then squeeze yourself into a white T-shirt. It could be capped-sleeve, baggy or practically spray-on, but it’s bright white. Then, having paused to quickly glance at yourself in the mirror, you push your feet into a pair of black motorcycle boots. Then, before you start gathering your keys, your wallet and your phone, you slip into your jacket, your black leather motorcycle jacket.
Done. Finished. You finally look ready to face the day. And yes, some of you might actually go out and put your helmet on before climbing onto your motorcycle; but more than likely you’re either going to get into your car or wander down to the bus stop.
Today we are surrounded by so much lifestyle rebellion that it is difficult to see where attitude finishes and gentrification begins. Youth culture has been so absorbed into the cultural mainstream that we no longer look twice if we see someone walking towards us looking an emo, a punk, a cowboy or indeed a biker boy. Motorcycling and style have merged in a way that has made the ‘biker’ look one of the coolest commodities – not just in terms of fashion, but in terms of how it has been assimilated in the worlds of music, film, television and pop culture in general. You can see the look everywhere, in the pages of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in the posters for Easy Rider and The Wild One, in photographs of The Black Keys, in stills from the TV show Happy Days, and in the pages of every fashion magazine from GQ to Vogue. It is everywhere, and has been for nearly 70 years. Just last year U2 released their comeback album, Songs of Innocence, containing their brilliant single The Miracle (of Joey Ramone); he was of course the lead singer of The Ramones, the 1970s punk band who took their entire look from the ‘50s biker boys. The Ramones were deliberately nerdy, and their whole schtick was based on the fact that they were uncool outsiders; yet they tried to look like the toughest kids on the block.
Which is one of the reasons why the biker look has continued to be so popular. Not only is it the most basic form of teenage rebellion – a black leather jacket, jeans and T-shirt – but it was the first. Not only is it prosaic, it is primal.
Start your engines
Rebel chic is one of the hardy perennials of street style, one that came to prominence after World War Two. Of course in the UK, motorcycling used to mean dealing with the elements, and so in the ‘30s the British company Barbour started making waterproof waxed-cotton jackets just for motorcyclists. They were completely practical, with no sense of how they actually looked. But then in 1953, the biker-boy look became the first post-war wardrobe of rebellion when Marlon Brando walked into The Wild One as the brooding motorbike rebel Johnny Strabler. With his black leather Schott Perfecto jacket, blue jeans and black engineer boots, this was the first time that American, then British, teenagers saw images of themselves reflected back at them. It was a look that would go on to inspire teenagers for generations to come, along with rebels, musicians and genuine outlaws.
You only have to look at the catwalk to see how successful biker chic continues to be. Brands such as Lewis Leathers, Ralph Lauren, Matchless and Hugo Boss have long produced designer versions of the leather jacket, although currently one of the coolest brands to use it as a part of their men’s collections is Belstaff. Elsewhere you can buy a classic black leather jacket from Saint Laurent – well, if you have £3,000, that is. In fact these days you can buy them everywhere, even in places such as Topman and H&M – shearling or quilted, black or brown, bum-freezer or thigh-length.
It comes as no surprise then that Hollywood stars are just as keen on leather jackets now as they started to be in Brando’s time, back in the ‘50s. When Eddie Redmayne turned up at the MTV Movie Awards last year, he looked like he had just stepped off a catwalk. Having already championed brands such as Burberry, Topman and Hugo Boss, this time the actor was wearing head-to-toe leather by AllSaints. Crafted from heavily washed leather, the jacket was not only super-soft but also had that sought after worn-in look that obviously gave the impression that Eddie had just hopped off his chopper.
And this is the thing. Whether you’re sitting in a meeting, taking the dog for a walk, or indulging in some retail therapy, wearing a leather jacket and jeans will always give you something of an edge. We all know that it is just another off-the-shelf look from the litany of cool lifestyle looks that litter the pages of magazines and newspaper style sections, yet it works.
Let’s face it, what man doesn’t, occasionally, want to act a little like Brando in The Wild One? Even if you’re only stepping out for a paper.
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