Worn To Be Wild

The history of the biker jacket packs plenty of Tarmac-shredding rebellion – but plenty of sartorial nuance, too.
Elvis Presley in Roustabout, 1964

“I don’t have one,” says David Himel, with a hint of regret. “I almost had one. And unless there’s some miracle I’m never likely to own one – getting an affordable one now isn’t going to happen.” Himel’s lament is for the motorcycle jacket by Peters, a long-closed west coast American manufacturer. In a heartbeat, though, he is reminded of a rival for his affections. “A jacket by Leathertogs of Massachusetts was possibly the most spectacularly beautiful motorcycle jacket I’ve ever seen. But you don’t see its like often now. It’s extremely rare.”

Himel is one of the world’s foremost collectors of motorcycle jackets, and his passion for the style led the erstwhile vintage clothing dealer to launch, in 2006, his own line of pre-second world war-inspired jackets. Since then, Himel Brothers has become the go-to name for authentic detailing and construction techniques in what is the most ice-cold mutha of a garment in the male wardrobe.

“The appeal of the motorcycle jacket goes beyond riding a motorcycle,” Himel says, as though the wheels of steel – with their intonations of rebellion and the outlaw lifestyle with which society has imbued them – have little to do with it. “The fact is, people always want to look cool, they want to look tough. But beyond that, the motorcycle jacket is also one they want to live with and through, to put their mark on, to see it change and age as denim does, and then maybe to pass it down.”

That was how Himel was introduced to his – a fellow punk offering him his highly personalised black jacket. It gave him the look he wanted, of course, and it provided a useful layer of protection (less for falling off a bike as for fending off flying bottles during bar brawls). But there was something deeper going on. “Wearing leather is primeval,” he says. “Leather was the first thing humankind wore.”

Perhaps that is what lies at the root of the motorcycle jacket’s appeal: the undertones of the material – hardy, womb-like and ageing gracefully, much like the skin we live in – and the overtones of 20th century pop culture, albeit an unholy blend of Hells Angels, rock ’n’ roll, and the near-pastiche of The Village People and George Michael on the cover of his 1987 album, Faith.

Latterly, the motorcycle jacket, somewhat against the type of its hundred-year history, has been recast as a piece to be worn over formalwear, as though today’s CEO might underline his psychological powerplay by giving the impression he’s arrived at the board meeting by Norton. A few year ago, Tom Ford even created biker jackets for toddlers, which seemed to suggest that the style is so macho it can’t help but have a camp side straight out of the dressing-up box.


    February 2022


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