Biker fashion has an unmistakable connection to the alternative scene. From the rebellious spirit of the biker lifestyle to the inspiration from biker gear that’s seeped into alternative fashion staples, biker fashion is forever intertwined with punk and rock style.
But where did biker fashion come from? Which alternative symbols came from biker culture? How do you get the biker look for your wardrobe? We’ll answer all these questions and more in our ultimate biker fashion guide!
The History of Biker Fashion
A Gentleman’s Activity
Biker fashion was quite a dapper look when it started out. This was because owning a motorcycle was quite the expense! Only men of means could afford such a luxurious mode of transportation, and dressed to impress while they were out on the country roads.
Biker fashion was therefore pretty heavily tweed based, since that was the most popular menswear style at the time! But motorcycles were getting faster, and soon it was clear that additional protection was needed.
By the early 20th century, motorcycles had been adopted by the police and the military as their main mode of transport. As part of their uniform, riders would wear full length boots, a flat cap and gauntlet gloves that protected them from harsh winds – many of which are still staples of the gentrified country wardrobe! But where did the biker look we know and love on the alternative scene come from?
A Need For Speed (And Protective Gear!)
Well, the faster motorcycles got, the more the need for protection grew! Military overcoats made from horsehide in the World War I era were adopted by bikers, but these coats were cumbersome and made maneuvering while on the road difficult.
A jacket maker from New York City changed all this in 1928 when he created the first ever leather jacket specifically designed for motorcycles! Irving Schott named his design after his favourite cigar, the Perfecto, and the leather jacket synonymous with motorcycles and biker culture was born. The first iteration of the Perfecto was a fitted leather jacket that could zip up high, featured lapels, snaps and pockets – all the iconic features of the leather jackets we know and love today.
For the English, the toughness of leather jackets wasn’t enough protection on its own. English weather meant that keeping out the rain was essential, so in 1935 the brand we now know simply as Barbour created a wad-cotton jacket for motorcyclists guaranteed to keep out rainwater. Famously worn by motorcyclists including Ewan McGregor and Steve McQueen, the wad-cotton featured four pockets, one of which was angled to the upper left to hold a map and is now as an iconic part of biker fashion as the leather jacket!
A Boot Engineered For Protection
So what about footwear? Around the 30s, a style called the engineer boot emerged. The engineer boot took the classic shape of the English riding boot and fitted it with a stovepipe leg. The style was designed primarily for engineers working on America’s railroads during the infamous Depression era, but in the 40s it was adopted by motorcyclists looking for a tough pair of protective boots to take out on their ride.
The 1950s Rebel Biker
While biker fashion had previously been all about practicality, the tides turned in the 1950s when Marlon Brando starred as the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club in the film ‘The Wild One’. Sporting a black leather Perfecto jacket, a pair of blue jeans and engineer boots, Brando’s biker uniform inspired generations of rebels, musicians and outlaws for years to come! The popular look was even adopted by the British “ton-up” boys, an important part of British motorcycling culture.
Hells Angels Fashion
Among the rebels inspired by Brando’s look were bikers that would go on to form clubs like the Hells Angels MC in the 1960s. The Hells Angels modified the leather jacket by removing the arms and creating a motorcycle vest (also known as Cuts) from either leather or denim.
With the sleeves removed, bikers gained increased arm mobility and better ventilation in the warmer USA climate! As the popularity of Cuts grew, outlaw bikers and MCs alike embellished their motorcycle vests with their MC name and symbols. Aside from being a quick way for MC members to identify each other out on the road, owning a motorcycle vest with your MC name showed your commitment to the biker lifestyle and, depending on what was on your cut, your experience as a rider.
Perfecto Goes Punk
The popularity of the Schott Perfecto leather jacket only grew throughout the 70s, and soon enough it’s reputation for being a symbol of the outlaw lifestyle was adopted by the Punk scene. Bands such as the The Ramones and The Sex Pistols were among the first punk rockers to make the Perfecto jacket a staple part of their look and soon the black leather jacket was synonymous with the punk scene.
While many punk rockers wore their leather jackets as is, many loved the DIY element of punk culture and customised their jackets with spikes, patches and studs to exaggerate their look and take it to a new, anti-establishment vibe!
Racing Through the 80s
The popularity of motorcycle racing and the rise of sports bikes saw biker fashion take a detour through the 80s. The bomber jacket style was adopted for leather jackets in a deviation from the classic Perfecto style. However, the Schott Perfecto design won out in the end and with the popularity of vintage style in the 2000s, the classic leather jacket once again became the alternative scene staple it once was!
The Symbolism of Biker Fashion
Biker history focuses mostly on the leather jacket, but what about the patches stitched onto those jackets? Motorcycle gangs are notorious for the detailing on their motorcycle vests – from the MC name to the symbols and patches, there’s meaning behind every detail that can denote all kinds of things from MC rank to experience and more.
While themes vary, the skull is present in most biker symbolism – in wider culture, the skull represents death and mortality, and can even be a sign of danger or death. For bikers, the symbol unifies them and serves as an unspoken commitment to biker life and the thrill of the open road.
The idea is that once a biker, always a biker. While the skull absolutely represents the rebellious spirit and tough attitude of the wearer, it’s also used as a reminder to not with harm or death to others and to respect and accept one’s own mortality. Pretty deep stuff!
Is The Biker Look Fashion or Function?
Function! Bikers don’t care about fashion trends, they just want the best gear for the job. However, what is functional to a motorcycle gang has heavily influenced alternative fashion for many years.
The biker fashion trend blends traditional rock and roll style with modern biker gear. Think denim jeans with a skull emblazoned t-shirt, leather jacket featuring studs and spikes and accessories to match and a solid pair of ankle boots.. Soon you’ll have a tough biker fashion look that’ll make sure no-one’s messing with you!
How To Style Biker Fashion
If you’re looking to put together a biker fashion look, let’s take a closer look at the main elements you’ll need…
The Leather Biker Jacket
The most iconic part of the biker look, if you’re wanting to invite biker fashion into your wardrobe you’ll need to invest in a leather jacket. Our leather jackets at Attitude clothing are designed in the Perfecto style and come either unembellished or packed with studs and skulls to increase the punk biker vibe.
The Biker Jeans
Blue jeans were a classic part of the Marlon Brando era biker look – but as with all alternative fashion, there’s room for customisation here. In our collection of jeans, you’ll find a huge range of styles from plain black to punk tartan and more so you can style your biker look your way!
The Biker Boots
Your biker boots should be made from tougher stuff and should ideally be flat boots if you’re going for an authentic biker fashion look. If you’re just wanting to take the biker influence and dress it up for a night out, feel free to indulge in a pair of heeled boots or platform boots for an alternative edge!
Biker fashion is a close relation of punk style, so if you’re looking to perfect your look make sure to check out our full punk collection here at Attitude Clothing!!