The biker jacket for a man and its history (1/2)
There are a number of items that we all have, where we’ll see them in the streets without even noticing. The great classics of menswear have become a part of our daily wardrobe… But do we really know what basic items will never go out of fashion? Just for you, we have studied the case of the Perfecto biker jacket. The story behind it, the specifics, and advice: we’ll tell you everything you need to know on how to (re)-discover this mythical jacket.
$5.50: This isn’t the price of a packet of Malboro cigarettes in the States, but the very first price of a biker jacket, created in 1928. Irving Schott, a young entrepreneur, received a somewhat special request by a shop called Harley Davidson: a jacket that would protect the wearer, yet nevertheless remaining loyal to the look of the bikers. Schott looked at horse leather (very resistant), which protects the chest in the case of a fall, and staying close to the body to avoid air getting in. The result is what we know and see today, something that hasn’t aged at all! The name ‘Perfecto’ became a set term, inspired by the cigars smoked by Irving Schott himself.
To know a little more, the first part of this article will tell you a bit about the lightening technique, whilst the second will show the different styles of biker jackets, and advice on how to choose one accustomed to your taste.
A technical glossary and the story behind the Perfecto
Schott very cleverly conceived this piece of clothing with a number of special features, which gave it its unique style.
Without being a second layer of skin, the Perfecto is one of the most fitted pieces of clothing around. There is a good level of movement at arm level; the armholes are obvious with a big enough width to not feel like a prisoner in your own clothes – especially when you’re wearing a motorcycle jacket.
The asymmetric zip
Here is the most well known feature of the Perfecto. To protect the chest from tumbles, the designer had the idea of moving the zip to the side, so that the two sections of leather don’t sit on top of each other when the jacket is zipped up. This allows the fitting, as the zip has been moved to the side, but it is also slightly slanted. This system seems simple, but it is very well thought out.
Like most criss-crossed items, the sailor coat for example, the collar is well structured, more than the classic tailored collar. It would be such a nuisance if the jacket closed to the point of a choker, especially when the two parts of the leather could become stuffy. As a consequence, the parts of the leather are folded back at the chest, completely freeing the collar. On the original version of the jacket, pressure allowed the flaps to be attached, preventing them from flapping in all directions when you’re travelling around on bike.
Purists will count four pockets on the outside: three between the zipper (one on the chest, two on the hip) and one on the flap. What is even more practical is that the pockets outline the jacket by small metallic buttons that aren’t noticeable: it maintains the jacket on the torso, even when sitting down. Finally, the small shoulder pads underline well the width of the shoulders, accentuating the V-cut.
Key points and a quality criterion when choosing a biker jacket.
Given everything that we have seen so far, one thing is absolutely crucial: the fit. Taken in at the waist, close to the body, asymmetric… This complicated piece must be well made, to avoid creases/tensions in all senses, and I would advise you to look closely at the seams.
The parts that are strained the most whilst wearing will be, moreover, the sleeves, the sewn down sides, as well as the clear sewn-in zips and the central yoke: don’t put anything onto these parts!
The thread used must be quite thick, in any case more than that of your jeans or shirts. Don’t hesitate to stretch the leather by taking both sides and pulling carefully: if you feel a slight weakness where the certain areas start to come apart, it’s not very encouraging in terms of the quality of the jacket.
If you want to know more, take a break from this article by looking at “how to recognise good leather”.
Leather: the flagship material of the Perfecto
In the main majority of cases, the Perfecto jacket is made with leather. For many reasons, mainly ethical, horse leather or foal leather is rated, and is very often replaced by leathers from calves or lambs. Your little sister will thank you.
With this being said, we also see (although rarely) items made from buffalo. At the base, the leather must be quite thick and rigid, in accentuating the strong aspect of the piece, and thus counterbalancing the flexibility.
The advantages of the suppleness of other leathers (calf, lamb) from younger animals explain why we use them more often than not. The suppleness of washed leather with its fine textures are noticeable qualities, not to mention comfort.
Regarding colour, black often dominates, particularly in menswear. Of course, it’s not always prohibitive, allowing a number of important combinations. You should fully exploit what you already have.
Note from Rafik: Don’t hesitate turning towards other shades of leather, such as brown or camel, which are both very elegant and are becoming the new black leather. As for the beginners, we advise away from black clothing.
What kind of body type is the Perfecto aimed at?
It’s unavoidable: the Perfecto is a challenging item. If you’re well proportioned, you won’t have an issue, as always you can wear what you want… For guys who are tall, stocky or short, it will prove to be difficult…
Can you cheat? Yes and no. For those who are overweight, you can try more of a straight cut, but at the risk of undermining the shoulders. Don’t rely on “slack” leather: it could risk not being consistent and not looking the same, concentrating on the belly, the key issue being creased leather, looking very unrefined.
If you’re too fat or thin, you will have to keep your eye on franchises that are flexible, in order to get the necessary length, and to avoid showing your tummy button! In each case, be patient and try many different models.
Salvation is found perhaps with the Italians, reputable for their irrational tendencies to creating impossibly tight clothing! We immediately think of Armani who, without having an unstoppable quality/price ratio, design everything very (very) well fitted. The last option: a great dressmaker, capable of refitting the sides or shifting the zip.
Note from Geoffrey: always go for a retouching service that specialises in leather (yes, they exist).
You’ll understand it eventually: it’s not straightforward to master the Perfecto! But once again, the advice given here knows many tricks, so try them and don’t worry.
In the next dossier, you will see what are the different styles of biker jackets, and how to choose one for men.
Calling all bikers and leather lovers alike, how do you find wearing leather jackets? What are your favorite brands/colors?