Fashion Icons: Three Timeless Classic Motorcycle Jacket Styles
Classic motorcycle jacket styles may vary, but finding the perfect one for your collection is a cornerstone of building up a versatile wardrobe.
But we’re often faced with a dilemma when we try to hunt down the holy grail of moto-style: Can a stylish jacket still provide the protection you need when things go sideways?
In this article, we will take a look at the three most iconic classic motorcycle jacket styles to help you decide which one (or two…) is the perfect fit for you, and what you might need to consider when buying.
The Wild One: The Perfecto Biker Leather Jacket
Marlon Brando. Sid Vicious. James Dean. Joey Ramone.
Lots of names come to mind when we think of the iconic “perfecto” bad-boy biker jacket but they all share one thing in common: Attitude.
Few garments have proven to be as timeless as the black leather perfecto, with its gleaming asymmetric zippers, snap-down lapel collar, coin flap pocket, trademark epaulets, and belted waist.
A good perfecto is designed to last a lifetime, and just keeps getting better with age thanks to both the quality of the full-grain leather and to fashion icons like David Beckham throwing them on over a clean shirt and tie for GQ and inadvertently giving the rest of us permission to follow suit in the process.
Many brands have adopted the perfecto style, each adding their own touch here or there for better or worse in an attempt to modernize what was truly the first modern motorcycle jacket when it came out in 1928.
Style & Fit: Who Should Consider the “Perfecto” Style Jacket?
The perfecto style was both designed and popularized before the end of the 1950’s, and the effectiveness of the look often hinges on how true to the original form the jacket is made.
For prospective buyers, that translates to a cut and fit that leans more toward classic than slim, which makes this style a great choice for riders with larger frames, or those who like to have room to layer their clothing underneath a jacket comfortably.
From a personal style standpoint, it goes without saying that the perfecto is intended to stand out from the crowd, a native on the streets of Sturgis or out in front of CGBG’s (RIP), but maybe not such a welcome sight at your nephew’s baptism or your next court hearing.
Still, if uncompromising attitude and classic American style are what you’re after, there’s no jacket better suited to your aims.
What you’ll need to be wary of when shopping this style, especially if you’re looking to shop vintage, is that the “true-to-form” perfecto often includes high-quality full-grain leather, but lacks just about every other modern safety feature we want on a motorcycle.
We recommend checking out some of the modern reinterpretations of this classic that are now available online before you decide one way or another, but for style and quality you really can’t go wrong with a well-built perfecto.
Built For Speed: The Café Racer Jacket
Much like the bikes they’re named after, the café racer is a motorcycle jacket stripped down to its bare essentials.
Also like a great café bike, the best café racer jackets rely on subtle styling features and the quality of their materials to set them apart from the crowd rather than the bold display of buttons, snaps, and belts found on other classics like the perfecto above.
When it comes to classic motorcycle jacket styles, some of the common elements you'll find on a café racer jacket include sleek leather, a minimalist profile, unintrusive pockets, and an abbreviated collar.
From there, the best will feature full-grain leather, high-quality zippers and closures, stretch body panels, interior pockets for armor, and double-stitched seams in critical areas.
Style & Fit: Who Should Consider the “Café Racer” Style Jacket?
The café racer jacket is arguably the most versatile on our list thanks to its refined style and clean lines.
Leave the jacket as-is and it’s just as natural thrown over a suit and tie as it is dressing up your favorite jeans and boots.
Throw a hoodie underneath it and you’ve got instant casual cool.
Our Pilot Racer series of jackets even have the option of a detachable shearling collar, adding fighter-pilot flare and extra insulation in cold weather.
These jackets best complement slimmer or more athletic builds, as they tend to have a more tailored fit that sits closer to the body.
Be wary of cheap “fashion first” reproductions of the café jacket as they often use split leather or, god-forbid, imitation leather to get the look you’re after without providing any of the features you want between you and the pavement.
Maverick Style: The MA-1 Bomber Motorcycle Jacket
Designed by the United States Air Force in the 1950’s, the MA-1 bomber was a much-needed update to the iconic B-10 and B-15 leather jackets of the era.
The MA-1 was originally constructed from nylon to address the high altitude temperature changes faced by jet pilots. However, as the style caught on with civilians in the years that followed, new adaptations came out in a variety of materials including wool, cotton, and of course, leather.
The MA-1 has always been popular for its utilitarian style and functionality, seamlessly blending military toughness and effortless cool into just about any casual look.
A truly timeless piece, MA-1 bombers have had a place in the wardrobes of fashion icons for decades from Steve McQueen to Kanye West.
Staple features of any MA-1 style bomber include ribbed textiles at the wrists and waist, heavy-duty zippers, and a utility pocket on the left or right arm allowing for quick access to basics like your ID or a credit card so you don’t have to do that awkward dance trying to wrestle your wallet out of your pocket with a motorcycle underneath you.
Style & Fit: Who Should Consider the MA-1 Bomber Style Jacket?
Honestly, just about everyone.
Thanks to a recent resurgence in popularity, there’s an MA-1 available now in just about any cut, material, and color out there to suit every person and style on the planet.
A bomber-style jacket is a perfect medium between the in-your-face attitude of the perfecto and the sleek minimalism of the cafe jacket, and looks just as fitting on a big American cruiser as it does on a stylish British twin (or triple, of course).
For motorcyclists however, you’ve got a few more things to consider other than curb appeal.
While the original MA-1 jackets commissioned by the US Airforce were built out of durable nylon, they chose the material for its all-weather performance rather than its abrasion resistance.
For a motorcyclist, that means you’re going to need to find an MA-1 that fits your style without sacrificing safety in the process.
Nylon is still on the table, of course, with materials like 1000D Cordura on the market built to withstand the abrasive forces that a crash can subject us to (check out our article on motorcycle jacket materials for more info), but a full-grain leather bomber like our Aviator will provide the ultimate in slide protection.
In addition to crash-tested materials, again, make sure your bomber of choice can also accommodate armor in the shoulders, elbows, and back. After all, looking good around town is nice, but staying out of a full body cast is even better.
Final Thoughts: The Best Classic Motorcycle Jacket Styles For You
If we’re being honest, all of these options exude classic motorcycle jacket style, and are guaranteed to age well in your collection.
In the pursuit of style, however, it can be easy to forget the fact that your jacket is going to be worn on a motorcycle at speed, and minimizing your risk is essential when you want to look your best at 100mph.
At VKTRE, we believe style and protection go hand-in-hand. That’s why every single one of our jackets is elegantly designed and made by hand, yet still packs a full range of rugged safety features from top-of-the-line abrasion-resistant materials to CE-rated armor compatibility.
Check out our full line of gear today to see how a jacket can be made as uncompromising as the rider that wears it.