Men had been wrapping themselves in animal skins for centuries before World War I fighter aces devised the leather jacket as a way to combat freezing temperatures at high altitude. Over the years, the pilot's necessity became a mark of rebellion for bikers and a statement piece for ascendant rock stars.
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These days, a leather jacket is no longer a specific signifier, which means that every man can have one and wear it every day – it is, after all, one of the most versatile pieces of outerwear available. Throw it over a T-shirt and or dress it up with a tie. The options are myriad and it's hard not to look slick.
Still, with countless menswear companies making hundreds of different models in a variety of cuts, actually buying a leather jacket can be quite complicated. But it doesn't have to be. Follow these steps to find a jacket that will fit your torso and your personality.
Pick a style.
While there are many different styles of leather jacket, we're partial to these three classic cuts because they're both comfortable and flexible – you can wear them anywhere. The same cannot be said of the longer leather duster.
Motocross: On the racetrack, a reduction in the slightest bit of drag can mean the difference between celebrating in the winner's circle and treating a serious case of road rash. It's out of this need for speed that the motocross jacket evolved. Fitting snug, this style hits low at the waist, hugs the shoulders and torso, and often includes a strap that buttons around the neck. If you're a thinner fella or just looking for a good jacket to pair with a café racer, a motocross is a good bet. [Leather Biker Jacket; LevisMadeandCrafted.com]
Fatigue: Descended from standard-issue military gear, the fatigue jacket can be easily identified by the dual chest pockets and robust shoulder reinforcements. A versatile article of clothing, the fatigue style (above, in brown) looks sharp no matter whether it's paired with a shirt and tie or your beloved Neil Young concert T-shirt. [Belstaff Panter Jacket, $1995; Belstaff.com]
Bomber: During World War II, advances in aviation technology sent heavy bombers to altitudes of 25,000 feet and higher. Typically these aircraft were neither pressurized nor insulated, and crew members had to wear heavy, sheepskin-lined leather jackets in order to endure temperatures that dipped to 58 degrees below zero. Today, a bomber jacket (above) can be purchased sans sheepskin, but there are insulated versions if you want to stay warm in cold climates. If you're a bigger guy, the bomber's shape will likely flatter your physique. [Orvis Spirit Leather Flight Jacket, $375; Orvis.com]