In the 1950s, black leather jackets roared onto the scene through films like "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Wild One." They became a fixture of what would later be called "greaser" fashion: an ensemble consisting of a black motorcycle jacket, tight blue jeans, slicked back hair and an anti-authoritarian attitude. As the '50s ended and the '60s began, however, this fashion statement adapted to changing times. Mods emerged onto the scene, and black leather jackets became appropriate for women as well as men.
The Greaser Jacket
The style of black leather jacket worn by greasers in the '50s and '60s is one of utility. Sturdy material protects the wearer from the elements and possible wipeouts when riding the ever-popular motorcycles of the period. A fashion-conscious greaser will always wear his collar flipped up, a denotation of toughness and masculinity. The working-class look of the jacket must match the rest of the ensemble, which can include durable blue jeans, a white work shirt and boots.
The greaser jacket, and the lifestyle that spawned it, was one that distrusted authority and embraced a countercultural life. Greasers embraced a tough, working-class lifestyle and sought escape through the use of motorcycles. They rebelled against the preppy look of "good" young people of the day. The black leather of their striking outerwear represented a clear split from the clean-cut letterman jackets of their collegiate counterparts. Thus, leather was more than a fashion statement. It was an act of defiance.
With the arrival of the '60s, black leather jackets found new outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. In Britain, for instance, a distinct fashion subgroup began to emerge: mods. Like greasers, mods rejected existing ideas and the authority figures that spawned them. They also wore black leather as part of a motorcycling culture, although mods were more apt to ride sleek Vespas and mopeds. Overall though, mod fashion was more posh and less working class, though its purveyors were often young members of the working class themselves.
Women's Black Leather
Mod culture saw the introduction of greaser-style black leather jackets for women. One of the major tenets of mod culture is androgyny. As a result, the line between men's and women's fashion of the period began to blur. Women began to adopt the same fitted looks as men. Women sought a look that was slimmer and less voluptuous. As a result, the jackets they wore hugged their figures in a way that blurred gender lines.