If you’re combining a leather jacket or pants with lace this season, or just want to brush up on your fashion history, read up on the story of biker garments.
Though the motorcycle was actually born in the late 19th century, the idea of dedicated biker garments didn’t come into play in the United States until after World War I. Prior to that point individual bike owners simply used their vehicles while wearing their regular clothing. Thanks to the design of military clothing, however, that all changed in the late 1920s.
During the war clothing manufacturers were producing leather flight jackets and other heavy-duty garments for the soldiers. That meant cattle ranchers were concentrating mostly on producing the leather needed for this clothing. And because leather lasts so long, there was a lot left over after the war, prompting New York’s Schott Brothers to start producing dedicated biker jackets. Their first line came to market in 1928.
Their jackets worked so well they became an integral part of military bikers during World War II. Following that war, returning soldiers influenced the next two most significant changes in biker garments. The first change came by way of the embroidered patches now seen on biker jackets and leather vests.
The idea of using embroidered patches came from military personnel who came home from war, started organising in biker clubs, and wanted a way to identify themselves that was similar to how they were identified in the military. The obvious choice was to sew embroidered patches on their biker jackets. What started out as just a means of paying tribute to their military roots, turned into what some consider an art form today.
The next major change in biker garments in the United States came by way of the leather vest. Although it can’t be conclusively proven, historians agree that the likely origination of this garment was with biker clubs in Southern California during the 1950s. Those bikers, many of whom were also war veterans, wanted to continue wearing their patch-laden leather jackets but found them to be way too hot during the summer months. Since they didn’t want to be seen riding as a club without their colours, they needed a more comfortable garment. Enter the leather vest.
The leather vest enabled them to ride in the hot sun without getting too warm, while at the same time still providing a way to display their patches. Since then leather vests have been modified to specifically accommodate certain types of patches. You can also find them with attached chains, vest pulls, and other accessories.
Last on our list is the biker helmet which is typically an open-face piece in a half-shell design. Among some biker clubs a full-face helmet is considered to be only for pansies. The half-shell helmet is also a military throwback going back to the days of World War I and World War II. Helmets haven’t changed much over the years except to add some padding in strategic places. Most members of motorcycle clubs choose the open-face half-shell along with a pair of classic riding glasses.