The Art of Punk and How it Inspired the Coolest Leather Jacket

  We all know someone who went through a punk phase.

image for article The Art of Punk and How it Inspired the Coolest Leather Jacket

We all know someone who went through a punk phase. Maybe it was you, maybe it was your sibling, or maybe it was your high school boyfriend of two years. At its core, the subculture of punk preaches anti-establishment, often through loud, “in your face” music.

There is also an unmistakably unique aesthetic linked to punk that includes feathery mohawks, dark colors, and leather. Lots of leather. But where did that aesthetic come from, and more importantly, who do we have to thank for one of the greatest going out accessories of all time: the leather jacket?

History of Punk Fashion

Today’s generation may be shocked to learn that the 1970s punk look in the United Kingdom was heavily influenced by designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. As a creative team, they worked together to diverge from the norms of 1960s hippie fashion by opening a shop inspired by the rock and roll aesthetics of the 1950s. 

With an unwavering dedication to shock and awe, they made it well known that their target consumer audience was prostitutes, those with unusual sexual fetishes, and other anti-conformists. 

Because punk music was so inflammatory, disturbing, and offensive, it only made sense for Westwood and McLaren’s designs to have the same effect. From spiked heels to graphic tees with an image of a woman’s naked breasts, they were not afraid to shake the table and make other people uncomfortable.

In 1976, their collection included pieces that were reminiscent of outfits worn in combat, dresses, and tops assembled together with safety pins and metal chains and restrictive leather pants with a removable “bum flap.” The bases of these items have painted our collective memory of punk fashion forever ↧— combat boots, metal chains, and leather. 

The Leather Jacket and Its Influence on Punk

Though the punk era of the 1970s may have reinvented the way the public perceived the leather jacket, its history runs much deeper. In 1928, designer Irving Schott developed the very first leather motorcycle jacket for Harley Davidson. Schott’s expertise was later called upon once again during WWII to design what we now know as the bomber jacket.

Post-WWII, the leather jacket became even more prominent in popular culture, thanks to rock and roll trendsetters and iconic cinematic heartthrobs like James Dean and Marlon Brando. By the time the 1970s rolled around, Schott’s name had already become synonymous with the leather jacket, so it should come as no surprise that he is considered to be a revolutionary in the punk fashion scene.

Part of what made the leather jacket so popular during this time was its ability to be customized to the consumer’s liking. Punk’s entire ethos is centered around individuality and distinctiveness, so it’s not hard to understand why customization became such an essential aspect of punk fashion.

The incorporation of chains, patches, studs, and more was what separated a punk leather jacket from any other ordinary leather jacket, and therefore set the punks apart from the rest of society.  

Furthermore, it is because of female rock stars such as Joan Jett and Debbie Harry and their public embrace of the leather jacket that the garment has become a universally accepted article of clothing across all genders.

Prior to the 70s, the leather jacket was exclusively considered to be a male clothing item. It wasn’t until the women of the punk scene started adopting them into their wardrobe as well that people began to realize the full potential of the staple piece that is the leather jacket.

Maybe the next time you throw one on, you can listen to a little Blondie as a thank you.

How To Style Your Leather Jacket

For some, the edgy, dark, punk aesthetic that a leather jacket radiates can be difficult to pull off. You can’t make an outfit look effortless when it actually took a substantial amount of time to put together.

This is why we have created a list of the definitive do’s and don’ts of all things leather jacket styling. So, whenever you find yourself struggling to style your jacket, remember to refer back to this list. 

When in Doubt, Pull the Jeans Out

If you are ever unsure of what bottoms to pair your leather jacket with, nine times out of ten, the answer is simply: Jeans. It’s a common sentiment, but it remains true: you can never go wrong with denim.

Denim looks good with everything, and the best part is, it’s versatile. You can pair your leather jacket with black jeans, white jeans, light wash jeans, cropped jeans, boyfriend jeans, skinny jeans...the possibilities are endless.

As long as you’ve got an eclectic range of jeans to choose from, your leather jacket will always look fresh and stylish.

Print is Your Best Friend

You could just throw on a white t-shirt underneath your jacket and call it a day, or you could have a little fun and express yourself through prints and graphics. One thing to note about leather: it’s agreeable. That means it will look great with almost anything you match it with.

Whether you’re into stripes, polka dots, florals, or plaid, you’ve got a friend in leather. Not to mention, graphic tees and leather jackets have one of the longest-standing relationships in fashion to date.

There is nothing cooler than pairing a band tee with a leather jacket and letting your outfit speak for itself. Or if you’re looking for an ensemble with a little more dichotomy, opting for a more subtle graphic tee, like a collegiate shirt, will still give you your desired “I threw this together in five minutes and still look trendy” look. 

Leather and Lace: A Match Made in Heaven

Speaking of dichotomy, don’t be afraid to branch out and mix leather jackets with more delicate pieces. There’s no need to save your maxi dresses, mini skirts, lace tops, and pastels for a cottagecore moment anymore.

By adding a leather jacket over a typically feminine ensemble, you can give yourself the edge that you so desire while still maintaining your approachableness. 

Pump Up the Party

If you’ve learned anything by now, it’s that leather jackets look great with just about anything. And because they can be paired with a variety of different designs on top, they can be styled with practically any kind of shoe as well.

In the spirit of punk, a leather boot will always make for a great accessory. Whether that be a bootie, a thigh-high, a lace-up, or a Chelsea boot is up to you. 

If you’re going for more of a daytime look, however, there’s nothing wrong with putting away the boots and pulling out the sneakers instead. A pair of high tops will always look effortlessly chic, and you should never underestimate the power a pair of low-top platforms can have on an outfit, either. 

Because leather jackets are often considered to be casual, you can also make a statement with a simple moto jacket and a showstopping pair of heels. You can get a lot of use out of an outfit like this; between date night, concerts, or even just a night out with friends, the shoes you choose can help decide which identity your leather jacket will take on next. 

The Delicate Art of Accessorizing

When it comes to accessorizing, it’s important to remember that less is more. Leather jackets don’t need much assistance from accessories, especially the jackets that are already decked out with zippers, pockets, and metal hardware, like this one.

The key is to commit to one major accessory per outfit, but make sure it doesn’t overpower the jacket. For example, if you’re opting for a casual, “running around town” look, a baseball hat is a great addition to a leather jacket and sneakers combo to give you that model-off-duty vibe.

If you want an outfit that can seamlessly transition from day to night, sometimes all it takes is the perfect pair of sunglasses to give any outfit a new life. And as for jewelry: always leave the statement pieces at home. A classic pair of huggie earrings and a skinny chain-link bracelet will get the job done just fine. 

Perfectly Punk

You may not know it, but there is a lot of history that comes with wearing a leather jacket. Whether you are actively paying homage to the punk pioneers of the 1970s or just love a good leather accent, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the global impact that the leather jacket has had since its inception.

And in the name of punk, remember to always make an effort to customize, individualize, and revolutionize your leather jacket with each wear. 


Vivienne Westwood (born 1941) and the Postmodern Legacy of Punk Style | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Malcolm McLaren | British impresario and musician | Britannica

Gentleman of Style: James Dean | Gentleman's Gazette

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