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Leather moto jackets: vintage and new

Many years ago my father-in-law gave me the leather moto jacket pictured here. It had belonged to his father and is most likely from the 40s or early 50s. It had been in a closet for many years because it was too small for my father-in-law. When I received the jacket the leather was dry and I was not able to zip it (I was carrying some extra weight) and the lining was frayed around the collar. I conditioned it and put it in my closet where it acted as a motivator to lose some weight.

Ten years later I finally listened to my doctor and lost most of the extra weight. It was this experience that led me to empty my closet and start fresh. In the process I rediscovered the jacket and found that it now fit perfectly. It’s almost as if the jacket were a made-to-measure jacket that had been crafted just for me. It was and still is a very satisfying feeling to wear a real vintage leather jacket with all of its patina and character (you can see some yellow paint stains on the right near the pocket). I did have the lining replaced (I only wish I had done research and replaced it with a period lining) and have to baby the Talon zipper since it is fraying at the bottom end. I have no information about who manufactured this jacket or what the leather is, and would love to find out someday. Because it is so old and there are things that I need to baby (the linings in the pockets also seem to be coming unstitched), I began thinking about getting a new jacket that I wouldn’t worry about as much, something that I will hopefully pass on to a grandchild or son-in-law.

Before rushing out to Wilson leather or a department store, I researched makers of leather jackets (by this point I have gotten completely into slow fashion and handmade items, another reason to avoid someplace like Wilson) for two or three years looking for something similar to the 1940s jacket. My research started by reading some of Old26’s posts on the Selvedge & Style Forum. One of the most important components of any leather jacket is the leather (this is also true for leather boots/shoes). The most common leather is probably cowhide/steerhide followed by horsehide, but you will find goat, seal, kudu, ostrich, and many more leathers available depending on where you shop. The leather you choose will have a big impact on the cost of the jacket, but you should plan on spending at least $500 for a high quality leather jacket no matter the leather you choose. The method of production and brand will be other influences on cost (hand-made jackets will cost more as will jackets with a name like Ralph Lauren or Gucci on them).

The next step was to start looking at leather jacket manufactures that are hand-made or American made. I looked at Schott NYC, Simmons Bilt (Alexander Leather), and Aero Leather. Each has a jacket that is similar to my vintage jacket but none have one exactly like it. The number of pockets may be different, they may not have pull adjusters at the wrist or waist, or they may have a different collar style. Simmons Bilt and Aero will do customizations to their existing patterns for a small fee. In the end I chose to work with Aero Leather for a few reasons: they had the style closest to my vintage jacket, had a leather that I found really interesting, they offered tartan lining options, and offered a pay-in-advance option after the pound crashed against the dollar (Aero and Simmons are both in Scotland). The pay-in-advance option ended up reducing the cost by almost $200.

Ordering from Aero was a little confusing. First you select your jacket style and add it to your cart (including leather choice). The next step is to add customizations like linings, zippers, and knitting to your cart. Once you have all your items in your cart you can checkout, where you’ll be able to request further customizations that aren’t listed on the site (shorten the jacket length or sleeve length, remove a standard half-belt, make the chest/shoulder/opening a little bigger than the standard size you’re ordering, etc.). If you want to take advantage of the pay-in-advance option then indicate that as well. After all that you can submit your order and wait for an acknowledgement from Holly or Christine. If there are any questions about your order they will make sure everyone is on the same page before sending your order to the floor. Once your order is on the floor it will be handmade by a single artisan and in 8-12 weeks you’ll receive your jacket. One thing to be prepared for is for your shipment to get held at customs until you pay the duties on it (unfortunately most jackets will be over the $800 limit where customs fees would not be applied).

In the end I ordered a Wayfarer style jacket in a size 40. I requested Tumbled Cordovan Front Quarter Horsehide for the leather and a Ramsay Blue Ancient tartan lining from Lochcarron. My jacket was made by Ruth Sara Mason and is fantastic.

If you are planning on ordering an Aero jacket rather than buying it from a local retailer (Insurrection and Thurston Bros both in Seattle), make sure you do your homework on the fits. Jackets based on styles from the 30s-50s are very slim. This means that you need to let Aero know if you carry weight at your waist or have a gut as they will need to alter the pattern to accommodate, but don’t let that stop you from considering these jackets.