A brief history of leather in fashion

A Brief History of Leather

Posted: 3rd May 2016 in , ,

Ancient Leather

It is said that the tanning of animal hides to create leather dates all the way back to the Neolithic era (a long time ago), and the use of animal hides to create clothing stems back even further. Leather wouldn’t come along until much, much later, but they did make shoes from leather in the Neolithic area.

Although this isn’t directly linked to the creation of leather jackets, we do have the ancient leather makers to thank for its creation.

Egyptian/Roman Leather

The Egyptians and Romans were very proficient with leather tanning and crafting, and started the trend of creating clothing.

Egyptians created so many things from leather hides including tools, decoration, and various items of clothing. They even started to create leather gloves. The Romans created footwear and tunics, as well as harnesses and shields, acknowledging the strength of the material.

It was during this era that leather crafting was refined, and improved upon.

Medieval Leather

Another leap forward for the leather craft industry, the Medieval ages saw the introduction of suede and nubuck leather, now a main staple within the industry.

It was used within everything from the furniture industry to protective clothing, such as leather jerkins. The knights of old would regularly wear it as a protective measure.

Early 1900s
Brown leather jackets were introduced for military use. The warmth provided by the jackets, combined with sheepskin linings provided warmth and comfort for members of the air force at high altitudes. This is where the “aviator” style jacket comes from, and the “bomber” jacket.

In 1928, Irving Schott designed the first leather motorcycle jacket for Harley Davidson, using leather because of the protection it offers. This is the first time the leather jacket was not considered a military garment. Even in Medieval and Ancient times, it was normally worn by those going into combat in order to offer protection.

Schott’s design introduced the zipper to the leather jacket, which had previously been fastened using buttons.
Marlon Brando is the first to wear a leather jacket (the one designed by Irving Schott) on the big screen, in The Wild One, bringing it into popular culture. Apparently, many schools banned the “Brando look” as the leather jacket was seen as a sign of rebellion against authority. At a similar time, lovable bad boy James Dean is seen wearing a leather jacket, cementing it as a fashion choice of those wanting to rebel.

Steve McQueen (star of The Great Escape for all you youngsters out there) was the epitome of cool in the 1960’s. He was rarely seen without his aviator style jacket and shades, and the trend quickly caught on.

Another group of pop culture legends from the 60’s, The Beatles, were also known to regularly sport the leather jacket. It was now considered synonymous with some of the biggest pop culture icons, especially within the Rock and Roll crowd.

In answer to the originally predominantly male fashion choice, in an era of change for women’s rights, female rockers such as Blondie started rocking the leather jacket look too. The female populace began to follow suite, and the leather jacket became a unisex fashion statement.

The popularity of the jacket continued to grow. “The Fonz” from TV show Happy Days helps clean up the bad boy image a bit, whilst bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Ramones do everything in their power to keep it.

People started customising their jackets with safety pins, studs, and more.


By the 90’s, the leather jacket had become a staple of the fashion industry. Designers started experimenting more with the design, creating more elegant versions, and adding more variety.

This in turn made it more accessible, and put the rebellious image that came along with a leather jacket to rest.

The leather jacket is here to stay, and can be seen worn by people of all ages and cultures.