The History of Leather Jackets: From Aviators to Rebels

Leather jackets have always been a symbol of confidence, rebellion and style. The timeless appeal and rugged aesthetic of a leather jacket, makes it an iconic piece of apparel in both men and women’s wear, and has been a constant in fashion trends.

If we go back to the time when leather jackets were first introduced, we see them as being a functional garment for the military pilots, that kept them protected from harsh weathers and ensured to embrace them with elegance and grace.

Leather jackets have been a wardrobe staple, ever since our fashion industry marked it as a symbol of rebellion and grace. From the time leather jackets as a functional piece of apparel, to the time when it became a fashion staple, it still embraces its place in our fashion line. You can find all these variations of leather jackets on maeve wiley jacket.

Leather jackets have an intriguing history that spans several decades, from aviators to rebels. In this article, we will be going through the history of leather jackets. So, let’s dig in.

The roots of leather jacket 

Leather jackets were initially introduced in the early 1900s, when aviation was still in its infancy. These jackets were designed for the pilots during World War I, as they needed protective clothing as a shield against high altitudes and cold temperatures.

The very first kind of leather jackets that made their way in, were sheepskin-lined bomber jackets, as they provided insulation and warmth. These jackets structured a genuine leather exterior shell, with a soft fur interior, enduring comfort and protection to the pilots during harsh conditions.

Leather jackets – the rise of civilian aviators 

After the war, aviation became increasingly popular, and with it came the rise of civilian aviators. As flying became more accessible to the general public, so did the influence of aviator fashion. The bomber jacket, often made of horsehide or goatskin, became a symbol of status and adventure. It embodied the bravery and daring spirit associated with flying.

Hollywood introduced leather jackets as a symbol of heroism

In the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood played a significant role in popularizing the leather jacket. In movies like “The Aviator” and “Only Angels Have Wings“, leading men such as Clark Gable and John Wayne wore leather jackets, further cementing the garment’s association with heroism and masculinity.

These films sparked a fashion trend, and soon, leather jackets became sought-after items by men who wanted to emulate their on-screen heroes.

Leather jackets – symbol of rebellion

However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the leather jacket truly became a symbol of rebellion and nonconformity. This shift in perception can be attributed to the emergence of motorcycle culture and the rise of the greaser subculture.

Motorcycle clubs like the Hell’s Angels, adopted the leather jacket as part of their uniform, combining it with jeans and boots to create an unmistakable “tough guy” image.

Marlon Brando from The Wild One 

Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Johnny Strabler in the 1953 film “The Wild One“, solidified the leather jacket’s association with rebellion. Brando’s character, with his motorcycle, jeans, and leather jacket, represented the epitome of youthful rebellion, challenging societal norms and authority. The film sparked a wave of imitators and established the leather jacket as an essential piece of attire for rebellious youth.

Leather jacket – staple in punk fashion

The leather jacket’s popularity continued to grow throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with various subcultures adopting it as a symbol of their respective movements. Rock musicians like The Ramones and The Clash sported leather jackets as part of their punk aesthetic, reflecting their anti-establishment and anarchic ethos. The leather jacket became a staple in punk fashion, embodying the rebellious spirit of the genre.

Leather jacket – timeless fashion statement

In the 1980s and 1990s, the leather jacket underwent a transformation, becoming more mainstream and fashionable. Designers began experimenting with different cuts, styles, and colors, broadening the appeal of the garment beyond its traditional associations. The leather jacket found its way onto fashion runways and into the wardrobes of celebrities, further solidifying its status as a timeless fashion statement.

Today, the leather jacket remains a symbol of coolness, rebellion, and individuality. While its association with motorcycle culture and counterculture movements still persists, the leather jacket has also become a versatile piece that can be worn in various settings. From the sleek biker jackets favored by motorcyclists to the more tailored and refined versions seen in high-end fashion, the leather jacket continues to evolve while retaining its timeless appeal.


The history of leather jackets is a tale of functionality, heroism, rebellion, and fashion. What began as a protective outerwear for aviators has transformed into an iconic symbol of rebellion. From its association with early aviators and Hollywood heroes to its adoption by counterculture movements, the leather jacket has left an indelible mark on the fashion world. Today, leather jackets continue to be a wardrobe staple, capturing the essence of adventure and individuality for those who wear it.


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