What Are Classic Motorcycle Jackets?

R. Stamm

A classic motorcycle jacket is an item of clothing made from a variety of fabrics, usually leather, designed to protect the rider. In addition to functional reasons, many riders choose a jacket for style that will allow them to make a statement. Jackets are manufactured for both men, women, and a variety of riding styles. Motorcycle jackets were invented in the 1920s and were made popular by famous American movie stars.

Man in a motorcycle jacket.
Man in a motorcycle jacket.

Almost all classic motorcycle jackets have similar features such as a removable lining for wear in warm or cold weather. Classic motorcycle jackets are made from a thick or heavy form of leather. The jackets usually have many zippered pockets, both inside and out, built into the design for storage. The sleeves of a riding jacket are articulated and mimic the natural curve of the arm, preventing uncomfortable bunching.

Classic motorcycle jackets are often a fashion statement as well as a way to protect the rider.
Classic motorcycle jackets are often a fashion statement as well as a way to protect the rider.

Those who frequently ride motorcycles are subject to other drivers and the elements. Therefore, the protective features are essential to the design of any motorcycle jacket. Classic motorcycle jackets have built-in protective armor placed in the areas of the elbow and shoulders. Some jackets build the armor into the back area to protect the spine and the chest. Since a rider may be caught in wet weather, certain manufacturers have water-proofed the material of the jackets.

Fit is particularly crucial in choosing a riding jacket. The fabric should be semi-stiff and should not shift around with the rider's movements. While it is necessary to have a snug fit, the jacket should be roomy enough for an additional layer of clothing underneath. The sleeves should cover the rider’s wrist when the arm is extended.

Marlon Brando was one of the first movie stars to appear in a classic motorcycle jacket. In the movie “The Wild Ones,” he wore a double-breasted leather jacket with one star on the epaulet. Upon high public demand, manufacturers began to reproduce this jacket design with stars on both epaulets. The jacket had a fitted waist with a large buckle in the front and a zippered closure.

Other stars to popularize classic motorcycle jackets include James Dean, who wore a similar style to Brando’s, and Steve McQueen. James Dean became an icon in the 1950s in his motorcycle jacket, and young men around the globe imitated him. Steve McQueen wore a single-breasted, button-front leather jacket in the movie “Easy Rider,” and this style became equally popular. Other celebrities and rock music bands, such as The Ramones, would further the popularity of classic motorcycle jackets.

Classic motorcycle jackets are made from a thick or heavy form of leather.
Classic motorcycle jackets are made from a thick or heavy form of leather.

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Discussion Comments


The last time I went shopping for some motorcycle riding gear, I bought a discount motorcycle jacket to wear in the rain and wet weather.

I was very pleased with this jacket at first and it did a good job of keeping me dry if we got caught in the rain. After a couple of years though, this didn't work nearly as well.

I think the finish on the material must have worn off. We got caught in some rain, and when we got to our destination I was soaked. I tried spraying the jacket with something that was supposed to repel water, but it was never the same after that.

The next time I buy a motorcycle jacket that is specifically for wet weather, I will make sure I know what I need to do so it will last longer.


I don't like to get on my motorcycle without wearing some kind of leather motorcycle jacket. This is the best protection if you happen to go down. While you always hope this will never happen, you always need to be prepared.

I know some riders don't like to wear something like this on hot days, but I have seen more than one friend get hurt on a motorcycle.

Even though I like the protection of the leather, I will often remove the protective armor in the elbows and shoulders. This is too much bulk for me to feel comfortable if I am traveling a long distance.

The nice thing is, this armor can easily be removed and put back in when I think I might want the extra protection.


I have a lot of friends who are big Harley Davidson fans, and many of them have motorcycle riding jackets with this logo on them. They also have all kinds of other accessories and gear with the Harley Davidson words and logo.

We ride a Honda Gold Wing, and while you see some Honda gear, it doesn't seem like you see nearly as much as what you do for the Harley Davidson fans.

I have more than one motorcycle jacket and most of them are leather. In the spring and summer, my jacket is lightweight but still gives me some protection. In the colder weather I have a heavy leather jacket that has a lot of pockets in it.


I know many people like to make a statement when they are wearing their motorcycle jackets. If you go to a motorcycle event, many people will have a particular patch or logo on the back of their jacket.

This way others can tell at first glance which motorcycle group they might belong to. When my husband bought a motorcycle and we started riding, this was all new to me.

It took me awhile to recognize what the different back patches stood for on the different motorcycle jackets. I go more for comfort than anything else when I am looking for a motorcycle jacket.

As long as I am comfortable, warm and dry, that is what matters most to me.

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