A leather jacket is a jacket-length coat that is usually worn on top of other apparel, and made from the tanned hide of various animals.The leather material is typically dyed black, or various shades of brown, but a wide range of colors is possible. Leather jackets can be designed for many purposes, and specific styles have been associated with the subculture called greasers, motorcyclists, military aviators, police, and music subcultures (punks, goths, metalheads, rivetheads), who have worn the garment for protective or fashionable reasons, and occasionally to create a potentially intimidating appearance.
Most modern leather jackets are produced in Italy, Pakistan, India, Canada, Mexico and the United States, using hides left over from the meat industry. Fabrics simulating leather such as polyurethane or PVC are used as alternatives to authentic animal hide leather depending on the needs of the wearer such as those pursuing vegan lifestyles or for economic reasons as synthetic fibers tend to be less costly than authentic leather.
In the early 1900s, brown leather flight jackets were worn by aviators and members of the military. During the Second World War, they became known as "bomber jackets" and were heavily insulated and prized for their warmth. The jacket was often part of an overall uniform ensemble meant to protect bomber pilots from exposure to the extreme climate conditions found at high altitude, and sometimes incorporated sheepskin, using the intact fleece on the inside for warmth.
Leather jackets were also commonly worn by Russian Bolsheviks and were nearly a uniform for the Commissars during the Russian Civil War, and later for the members of the Cheka. This practice is said to have been initiated by Yakov Sverdlov.
Antelope, buckskin, lambskin, sheepskin and cowhide are the hides most commonly used to make leather jackets. As soon as the skin is removed from the animal at the meat processing plant, it is refrigerated, salted, or packed in barrels of brine. It is then sent to the tannery where the skins undergo a series of processes designed to preserve and soften the hides. Sewing materials such as thread, lining, seam tape, buttons, snaps and zippers are generally bought from outside vendors and stored in the garment factory.
In the later-half of the 20th century, the leather jacket—in many forms—achieved iconic status and general acceptance through an inextricable link to Hollywood. Such jackets were popularized by numerous stars in the 1940s and 1950s, including actor Jimmy Stewart (Night Passage (1957)), who had actually commanded a U.S. bomber squadron during World War II. The brown leather jacket has become a de rigueur part of wardrobe for the Hollywood adventurer, from Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls to Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones film series.