Lifetime leather jacket?
December 29, 2011 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm 19, and I want to buy a leather jacket to last me the rest of my life. Any suggestions as to brands, styles, or where to get one? Ideally I could wear it all my life, wear it in like a good pair of boots, and possibly hand it down to my son, or at least my 10-year-younger brother when it became his time.
posted by ejfox to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I still have the leather biker jacket I bought in the late 1980s when I was 17. Got it at an army surplus store.
posted by JoanArkham at 11:28 AM on December 29, 2011

styles change, and so do your tastes. You don't want to be a guy in his late 30s wearing a Members Only jacket anyways, eh?

That thought aside, I used to have a great leather jacket that my father got in Africa when he was in Peace Corps, I believe it came from Egypt, it is now lost to time. It was warm, but being a bomber jacket, a little snug/small. If that style suits you maybe look towards egyptian made.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2011

My parents bought me a basic brown bomber style leather jacket from JC Penny (their brand too) for Christmas my senior year of college. My son starts college next fall, and I still have the jacket. The only thing I've ever done to it is a few years ago I did have a tailor replace about 1/2 the interior lining, as it was ripped.
posted by COD at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2011

My two oldest items of clothing are London Fog coats. Neither one was expensive or fancy, but both have lasted many years.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to a motorcycle store and buy a basic, classic leather jacket in whichever style you prefer (biker, racer, bomber, etc.) You'll have a number of options for weight and linings, and since a jacket is intended to serve as some measure of safety gear, it will be reinforced in all the right places for wear and tear.

If you are wary of getting ribbing from the employees for not actually owning a motorcycle, you can say that you're looking into it. Or that you're buying it for a friend who has a bike. Or you can shop online instead.
posted by desuetude at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2011

You want to go to a specialty shop for this. If you were in San Francisco, I'd send you to Johnson Leather, but I'm sure there's a similar place in NY.

No, I'm not recommending you get motorcycle leathers, these guys are all-around leather experts; bikers just tend to represent a huge chunk of their customer base. So, why should you go to a place like this if you're not getting motorcycle leathers?

First off, they'll know where the leather comes from, and how it's likely to wear. You can tell them you're planning to wear this jacket forever, and they'll steer you (no pun intended) toward the right materials.

Secondly, they'll help you choose the right lining for you. This effects the weight of the jacket (and leather itself isn't light), the weather it'll be appropriate to wear in, and even the look/bulk. Typically a place like this will put whatever lining you want into the jacket style you like best. Much better scenario than just picking up whatever's on the shelf.

Thirdly, they do a LOT of custom work, so they pay attention to details. The tailor at Johnson's noticed, for instance, that the sleeves on the jacket I was about to buy were a bit long on me, so they shortened them for me, for little or no additional cost. (I've now had my jacket for over 15 years, so I don't remember the details.) A jacket that fits you really well is more comfortable and more flattering, full stop.

Lastly, they've been at this, as a career, for a long time. They've seen trends come and go. So they're in a great position to tell you what to look for, stylistically, if you're going for a timeless look. In a more typical retail setting, you can expect more typical retail customer service, and a more shallow understanding.

I hope you love your jacket as much as I love mine!
posted by nadise at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Following on desuetude's rec, I'd recommend looking at Vanson or Belstaff, two brands that value form and functionality. I got a Vanson jacket 25 years ago at used clothing store--before I started riding a motorcycle--and still use it now that I'm a rider. Belstaff is also a great, durable, stylish brand and many fellow riders love their jackets (official outfitter of Ewan and Charlie of a Long Way Round fame [swoooooooon].
posted by cocoagirl at 12:12 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are wary of getting ribbing from the employees for not actually owning a motorcycle, you can say that you're looking into it.

No one in any motorcycle shop on earth is going to give you "ribbing" for not owning a motorcycle. Half of their customers don't own motorcycles; that's why they go to a motorcycle shop. Harley makes most of its non-motorcycle sales to people who have never and will never own a bike, and the shop owners know it.

Also, a lot of the leather motorcycle jackets you see -- even at motorcycle shops -- aren't really for riding, and are very poor quality.

The problem with some of the anecdotes up top are this: Quality in leather stuff has taken a nosedive over the past 20 years, so saying, "I got mine at X in the '70s and it's held up great!" is pretty useless.

I recommend either going to a specialty shop as nadise recommended, or buying a jacket and taking it to a tailor who does leather work and asking for his opinion (hell, you could even go to one first and see who they recommend in your area). A tailor might also be able to give you suggestions on brands, or what to look for in a good jacket.

On final anecdote: I bought 2 leather jackets last year from a store in the mall (Wilson's, I think). One is great and will probably last me forever. One is shit and already has buttons coming off. The main difference was price. Good leather isn't cheap. A new $99 jacket isn't going to last, while a new $300 might.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:20 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Temple of Jawnz has a good reputation. Personally I like this one but they have a bunch. Very expensive though.
posted by bingwah at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2011

In the PNW I would say Langlitz Leathers and in the NE Schott Leather. I'm sure you can get either in any region, but if you have regional affiliations, etc. My impression of both is that they're "lifetime" quality, I've been wanting a Langlitz jacket for years but have yet to convince myself to spend the money.

FWIW i've never been impressed with Wilson's leather, I almost bought one of their jackets then got a form fitting woman's duster made with better quality leather for $3 from the Goodwill Bins, restitched the button holes to button left or right (double breasted button up jacket) and then stitched some brass buttons salvaged from a Soviet uniform on in place of the chintzy plastic buttons it originally had. I feel this jacket has been a far better value than anything at Wilson's and it was only $3 for the jacket, $30 for the buttons and 2 hours of time to restitch.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:29 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might be thinking that the construction and quality (brand) is the most important thing, but I actually think that the style is the thing most likely to derail your plan to wear this jacket over your lifetime. Obviously the former are important, but there's likely to be more consensus on what the best brand and quality is, while style is something that ultimately only you can choose. The catch is that you have no way of knowing what your style will be in five years, let alone ten or twenty, and what you like as a young man now is much more likely to change over time than if you were making the choice in even ten years. I would suggest going to a bunch of leather stores, and especially to thrift stores, and looking at leather jackets. Identify what you like, and especially why those that you don't like don't look appropriate to you. This is a great exercise with used jackets. Your goal should be to make sure you have a sense of what might age well as a style that you would like.

To circle back to quality: In leather goods, the type of leather you should be looking for is "full grain" leather. This is the highest quality, more durable leather grade. You should heed coolguymichael's advice about people recommending specific shops where they got a good jacket 15 years ago. Johnson Leather, linked above, has only "top grain" leather jackets listed above, which are all inferior to full grain leathers. The styles may be good, but they are less likely to be something you pass down to a future kid.
posted by OmieWise at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Schott, Temple of Jawns and Belstaff. All great brands, and highly respected on sites like Styleforum and Superfuture.
posted by brozek at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding Schott. I bought this bad boy on a visit to NYC about 15 years ago, maybe a little more. I've treated it pretty damn rough often enough, it's weathered beautifully, but it's still absolutely as solid as a rock (and 'lasting' appears to be one of your primary considerations). (A couple of the fabric pocket internal seams have come undone, FWIW, but the exterior is solid).

One odd observation: I'm not a fashion oriented person at all, but this is my one item of clothing where I'm persistently surprised by how many people spontaneously say 'man, what a great jacket. Where's that from?'

And I fully expect and hope that one day one of my sons will want to inherit it...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 12:36 PM on December 29, 2011

On the subject of shops, I'm a UKian, but got mine on Broadway somewhere. I tried various shops where they sold it, put on my best haggling, offered cash and got a reasonable discount somewhere. Precise shop escapes me tho I'm afraid.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 12:38 PM on December 29, 2011

What has been said about style. At nineteen you can get away with what the jackets the Ramones were typically seen it. At some point it starts to look like you're having a midlife crisis early.

The leather pea coat that Hartham's Hugging Robots links is a solid choice, as is the motorcycle jacket that Bingwah links to.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the Navy G1 and G2 style jackets, thought the knitted band around the waste will become less form fitting over time. I'm currently wearing a G1 style jacket with a thinsulate in the shell. My only problem with it is that the zipper has a habit of grabbing my beard and sometimes it's cold enough to require a coat, but not quite 20,000 feet above the Burma-China road cold. If you're not planing on spending a lot of time outside in really cold weather in it, I's recommend skipping the thinsulate.

Reproduction blood chits are silly expensive.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:07 PM on December 29, 2011

posted by MonkeyToes at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2011

cocoagirl: "Following on desuetude's rec, I'd recommend looking at Vanson or Belstaff, two brands that value form and functionality. I got a Vanson jacket 25 years ago at used clothing store--before I started riding a motorcycle--and still use it now that I'm a rider. Belstaff is also a great, durable, stylish brand and many fellow riders love their jackets (official outfitter of Ewan and Charlie of a Long Way Round fame [swoooooooon]."

AFAIK, Belstaff doesn't make any leather products. They are famous for their waxed cotton apparel. A few years go an outside buyer purchased Belstaff's waxed cotton technique and product line and kept the Belstaff name. Belstaff's line of modern textile motorcycle products was rebranded as British Motorcycle Gear, or BMG.

As for leather recommendations, I'm going to second your suggestion of Vanson. I was factory-trained by Vanson a few years ago when I sold their product at a motorcycle shop I worked in. Seriously, their stuff is built to last a lifetime, and they offer alteration and repair services that are second to none. To this day, I carry a Vanson handbag.
posted by workerant at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2011

I have a Vanson jacket my wife bought me. I rode with it a lot (though it's not padded and not 'really' a 'real' motorcycle-riding jacket, they have those too of course) and wore it a lot and have worn out the inner lining. The outside is great though. It's a great piece of workmanship.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:43 PM on December 29, 2011

One more thing to consider: size. You may not be the size you are at 19 for the rest of your life. So maybe think about how the jacket would look if you lost or gained a few pounds (I have a gorgeous wool coat that I thought I would keep for the rest of my life but I'm probably 15 pounds lighter than I was when I bought it and now it looks sloppy).
posted by mskyle at 4:35 PM on December 29, 2011

You don't want to be a guy in his late 30s wearing a Members Only jacket anyways, eh?
Mid forties. And it's still in pretty good shape for being worn regularly for more than 20 years. Unfortunately at this point the zippers need replacement, but the leather is in great shape.
posted by plinth at 5:12 PM on December 29, 2011

If you like bomber jackets, and you want it to last a lifetime get a horse hide jacket. I've had mine since I was in college and it wears like iron. I can recommend: as a vendor, though there are others out there. On size: order one jacket size up, just in case, though I still fit into mine.
posted by mfoight at 8:36 AM on December 30, 2011

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