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vintage biker jackets

September 13, 2015

Vintage biker jackets are emblematic of rebellion. They smell of snarling youth, danger, sweat and sex.

Biker jackets have been worn and adopted as a uniform by teenage biker gangs, Hells Angels, Rock n Roll Stars, Punks, gay leather queens, and all those legions of people who want to look like any of the above.

Vintage biker jackets -Teen Biker Gangs of the 1950s

In both Britain and the US, teenage biker gangs started up around the 1950s. Often they morphed from innocent church groups into something more threatening and daredevil – these mostly teenaged, mostly boys had some spare money to spend on motorbikes, had time to tinker with them, fix them up, ornament them, and give them super fast engine makeovers, and then, with little else to do with their time, they would hang around transport cafes, listening to jukebox music, admiring each other’s wheels and racing.

These races were deadly, reportedly resulting in at least mortal injury a week as the disaffected teenagers, with little else to live for, showed each other what their machines could do.

vintage biker jackets-Bikers on Film

“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) and “The Wild One” (1953) are both iconic films illustrating this mindset, with James Dean and Marlon Brando providing a blueprint on how to wear your vintage biker jackets.


“Grease” of 1978 and “Cry-baby” of 1990 both offer a pastiche of this genre. In fact, for some, John Travolta in the later film, “Grease”, is far more iconic as a 50s Greaser than the original Marlon Brando.


A wonderful but lesser known film from the original era is kitchen sink British drama “The Leather Boys” of 1964. It was filmed at the Ace Cafe, a real British transport cafe where biker gangs hung out, with the gang members as extras in the background.


This film is authentically gritty, and also has a queer subplot – though also the requisite for the times unhappy ending. Which brings us to:

Gay Leather Queens

Biker boy on biker boy sex is a huge fantasy area in the male gay world, and was especially popular in the 70s. It seems you couldn’t enter a gay bar in the 70s without being surrounded by mustachioed men in vintage biker jackets with a few sturdy chains across their chest, most of whom had never been near a motorbike.


There were also “Leather bars”, catering exclusively to those with that fetish. However, with all that testosterone, sweat, and leather, it’s not surprising that the gangs set certain pulses racing. Tom of Finland, the illustrator, for example, thought about it a lot. And he had an eager audience.


Tom of Finland offered up all the stereotypes of muscly, sweaty working men – the biker boy, the cowboy, the construction worker, and policeman that band “Village People” subsequently embodied. Their song, “YMCA”, which suggested that the hostels of the Young Men’s Christian Association was a place where “you can hang out with all the boys” and “do whatever you feel” became a gay anthem, much to the actual YMCA’s dismay. (The actual band members denied that they had anything to do with gayness too, strangely enough).

Village people

Pop stars (without their vests on)

Speaking of pop stars, they too, have often revelled in the atmosphere of danger that a nice collection of vintage biker jackets gives them.


Every Rock n Roll star you can think of has probably worn one at some point in their career. Wearing one next to the skin gives an added frisson of naughtiness.


French pop star Françoise Hardy famously did love her motorbike, and often photographed zipping around on it. Her image was that of a sugar sweet child-woman, not a rock star, but in this instance she was a sugar sweet child-woman in leather.

Models in vintage biker jackets

Finally, for those who would like to capture the allure of vintage biker jackets, this classic Vogue Shoot by Peter Lindberg, and newer one from All Saints gives you some ideas. You’re welcome.






Helena Christianson © Peter Lindbergh

Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder, Helena Christensen –Image by © Peter Lindbergh

Wild at Heart shoot for Vogue 1991, Linda evangelista image by © Peter Lindbergh

Wild at Heart shoot for Vogue 1991 by © Peter Lindbergh

Wild at Heart shoot for Vogue 1991 featuring Cindy Crawford image by © Peter Lindbergh

Supermodels in 1991 for Vogue. © Peter Lindbergh

Biker Jacket (photo Allsaints)

Tom of Finland illustration

Tom of Finland Day and Night

Tom of Finland – boys staying at the YMCA?

The Pirates, a teenage Rock n Roll – biker band of the 50s.

The Leather Boys, 1964

John Travolta in Grease

Johnny Depp in Cry Baby

Scene from The Leather Boys, 1964

Real life teen biker gang The Scorpions – photo Paul Trudelle

Françoise Hardy, Speed demon

Françoise Hardy with a decorated jacket

Patti Smith

Syd Vicious, sans t shirt.


70s leather queens

Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut, from the X Portfolio, 1978

Marlon Brando

James Dean

Ton Up Boys – a real life biker gang




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