With most things (except for motorcycle gear!) it holds true that they just used to make things better back in the day.
Today’s fast fashion shreds after two wears, our food barely contains any real nutrition, our smart appliances go on the fritz after six months…
Stop, Evan, not the time for a rant. Back on track.
Vintage motorcycle jackets are one of those items that have style and craftsmanship above and beyond anything being made today. Maybe their safety features aren’t quite up to par, but I have some ways around that.
In this guide, I’m going to go through a couple iconic vintage motorcycle jacket looks and my recommendation for modern jackets that nail each look while packing safety features learned over decades of crash testing.
And then, in case you have a vintage jacket you love (or you found one on eBay), I’ll show you how you can wear any jacket while still keeping your bones intact and your skin where it should be in a crash.
Let’s get into it.
Vintage Motorcycle Jackets: From MCs to Cafe
Motorcycles are more than a hobby, they’re a frickin’ lifestyle. They are a culture, and sue me if I love that culture loudly and proudly.
Here are several of the most iconic vintage motorcycle looks, and my recommendation for the best new jacket to fit each.
Sons of Anarchy, Hells Angels MC Look
So you’re a tough guy, an outlaw, making your own rules. You get in bar fights at least once a week and wouldn’t put a helmet on if a cop had a gun to your head.
What you’re looking for in a jacket is something rugged, dark, with patches all over it. That’s going to be leather, or maybe denim. Whatever it is, you want that look to inspire a certain level of respect and fear in the mere mortals who behold you.
You don’t care about pockets (except maybe for your concealed carry…), windproof liners, vents and all that junk. That’s for the sportbike kiddies that grew up eating cereal in the suburbs behind their white picket fence.
To nail this look, get a riding shirt like the Scorpion EXO Waxed Riding Shirt on Amazon or Revzilla and throw over a leather vest like the Street & Steel Anarchy Leather Vest or 2nd Amendment Leather Vest. You guessed it – that second one has dual side concealed weapon and ammo pockets.
PRO TIP: Worried about a rival gang tossing you off your bike? Get the Helite Leather Airbag Jacket with built in airbag.
Peter Fonda in Easy Rider Look
When it comes to classic vintage motorcycle jackets, the Easy Rider look is hard to beat. This style is all about the American-adorned leather jacket, made famous by Peter Fonda in the 1969 movie “Easy Rider.” The jacket had red-white-and-blue leather stripes down the right side and on the left upper arm, and a huge American flag on the back.
This look is perfect for those who want to channel their inner hippie and rebel against the norm. It’s all about embracing your free spirit and riding off into the sunset with nothing but the open road ahead of you.
The best jacket for this look is carried by the American company Vanson Leathers as the Classic Easy Rider jacket.
Schott also used to make a version, the Schott 671. While that one is discontinued, the Schott 641 is basically the exact same jacket without the stripes or the giant American flag on the back. Have a tailor add those on, and you’re set.
Marlon Brando Look
The jacket worn by Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” became an instant classic, with its signature asymmetrical zipper and belted waist. Brando paired the jacket with a white T-shirt, jeans, and a cap tilted to the side, creating a rebellious look that has been imitated ever since.
That jacket is “the original motorcycle jacket” designed by Irving Schott way back in 1928.
And you can still buy it today. From the same company.
The Schott 118 Perfecto is a rugged jacket made of heavy-duty leather that was built to last. This is the kind of jacket you can pass down to your kids.
Wearing this jacket gives you an instant cool factor – it’s the perfect combination of classic style and timeless appeal. Note that it does lack armor – you’ll want to add that in the form of an armored undershirt.
Bomber and Flight Jacket Look
Originally designed for pilots in the US Air Force, the classic bomber or flight jacket features a zippered front and ribbed cuffs and waistband. It’s made of sturdy materials like leather or canvas and is designed to keep you warm while cruising at 20,000 feet with the windows open.
This style has been immortalized in movies like “Top Gun,” where Tom Cruise rides a Kawasaki in a brown leather bomber jacket covered in patches.
For this look, check out the Spidi Vintage and Spidi Mack Leather Jacket. Both pack everything you want in a safe motorcycle jacket: AA CE-rated abrasion resistance from the 1.0-1.2mm thick leather (good for 50mph slides) as well as included shoulder and elbow armor. There’s space for a back protector too, and a cotton liner that zips in for cold rides.
Patches you’re gonna have to add yourself!
Cafe Racer Look
Cafe racers are pieces of art on wheels, so I get why this is such a huge category of riding gear. You’re spoiled for choice if you want the cafe look.
The Cafe Racer look is all about speed, style, and simplicity. Originally popularized in 1960s Britain, the Cafe Racer jacket is a streamlined version of the classic motorcycle jacket. It usually has a stand-up collar (‘Mandarin style’), zippered cuffs, and minimal pockets, giving it a sleek and modern look. This is a James Dean look, suitable for any vintage bike or V-twin.
To get the right cafe jacket for you, check out what’s on offer under the Cafe filter at Revzilla – you’ll find plenty of riding shirts and slick leather jackets. My personal favorite brands for look and build quality are Belstaff, Merlin, Spidi, Roland Sands, and Goldtop. I’m a sucker for Merlin.
Overall, these vintage motorcycle jackets are iconic for a reason – they exude a sense of style, rebellion, and adventure that is hard to find in modern fashion. Whether you’re a Hells Angels member, an Easy Rider at heart, or a Cafe Racer fanatic, there’s a vintage motorcycle jacket out there for you. So, grab your helmet, fire up your bike, and hit the road in style.
PRO TIP: Want to complement your vintage jacket with a vintage helmet? Check out all our modern vintage helmet picks here.
Wearing Any Vintage Jacket While Riding
Now it’s time for a big knowledge bomb.
You might have an old jacket you love, but you’re smart enough to realize it won’t do a lick to save you in a crash. Or, you’re looking at a vintage jacket on eBay but you’re not sure it’ll cut it as a proper piece of gear on the road.
Here’s what you do to avoid hospital bills and agony while looking badass.
I’ll give you the easy way and the hard way.
Easy Way: Motorcycle Underwear
What if I told you this: you’re going to click a button today, and next week you will be riding all over town in your badass vintage jacket, all while you’re as safely enveloped in armor and abrasion-resistant material as you would be in a brand new jacket?
No alterations or reinforcements to your vintage jacket necessary.
All you have to do is pick up one of these motorcycle armored undershirts. I recommend either the Knox Urbane Pro MK2 Shirt or the Pando Moto Shell UH 02 Armored Shirt. Both have fabrics that provide CE EN17092 AA level abrasion resistance – meaning (in Pando Moto’s words) a slide distance of 16 meters or 2.5 seconds of sliding time before the material fails.
That material also holds elbow, shoulder, and back armor close to your body. The Knox option has CE Level 1 armor at the shoulder and elbows with a CE approved Level 2 back protector, while the Pando Moto shell requires you to buy your own back protector and insert it.
Toss any jacket over this, and you have a badass look with hefty protection underneath.
Hard Way: Alterations
So you want to do this the hard way…
Before you buy any jacket you intend to wear on a motorcycle, you should make sure the material is sturdy and in good condition. I wouldn’t trust the material in any garment not made for motorcycling, except a sturdy leather jacket. And even then, we have a lot of work to do.
Make any necessary repairs as well.
Take your jacket to a tailor and have them reinforce the seams with triple stitched ballistic nylon. If you don’t do this, the seams risk tearing apart and leaving you naked as you tumble down the pavement. That goes for seams around any structural zippers as well, mainly the center front zipper.
That zipper itself should likely be replaced as well with a heavy-duty zipper made for motorcycle garments or other high-stress environments.
Finally, have the tailor sew in a mesh lining with pockets for elbow, shoulder, back and maybe chest armor – unless you’re going to wear an armor set underneath.
I don’t recommend this route, because there’s so much that can go wrong. You’re better off buying a jacket specifically designed for motorcycling instead of trusting yourself or a tailor to make the right alterations.
- How to Pair Cardo with Sena and Get Back to Riding - January 16, 2024
- Not Your Grandpa’s Heated Vest: A Review of the Venustas Fleece Vest - January 5, 2024
- Best Bluetooth Motorcycle Helmets for 2024 – A Real List - October 6, 2023