Is A Leather Jacket A Sign Of A Mid-Life Crisis?

By Dan Ahwa
Get the most out of a leather jacket with the right fit and style to suit you. Collage / Dan Ahwa

The leather jacket has made a quiet revolution in 2023 as designers explore vegan leather options and re-work vintage shapes for a contemporary market. Fashion director Dan Ahwa takes a closer look at the assortment of leather jacket options available to shop right now and how to make a sometimes

Like skinny jeans and the unfortunately termed ‘man bun’, there’s something about a middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket that continues to divide opinion.

But while the leather jacket in its many iterations is one of those items that any gender can wear, it somehow takes a lot more convincing when men decide to slip into one, particularly at a certain age.

When the costume designers for And Just Like That... decided it was a good idea to dress Aidan for its latest season in an overpriced waxed, leathery-looking Belstaff jacket, the questions began circulating. Why a safari jacket? Why not something cooler, like a leather flight jacket open over an old T-shirt? Surely this would have been more convincing? And why was it buttoned up and belted like he was about to go to war?

While menswear has generally progressed beyond the conformity of suits and streetwear, recent images of high-profile men such as Jeff Bezos and Ben Affleck wearing leather jackets have us wondering what type of leather jacket is acceptable to wear past your mid-forties, particularly if you A) don’t ride a motorcycle, and B) are not Indiana Jones.

Jeff Bezos wears a leather jacket with a polo shirt.
Jeff Bezos wears a leather jacket with a polo shirt.

One positive thing about living in 2023 is that menswear has well and truly moved past its own self-consciousness.

Like the overarching memo on fashion at Viva — go ahead, wear what you please, but please make sure you do so with conviction. A leather jacket requires a self-assuredness befitting of a textile that’s tough, resilient and ready to take on whatever the world might throw at it.

It’s why leather jackets are so often considered the tough guy in a wardrobe. They offer up a sense of protection from vulnerability that somehow speaks to people needing something tactile to do the talking for them. Like those character tropes of strong-sensitive types portrayed by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Marlon Brando wearing an iconic Schott Perfecto leather jacket in The Wild One, first released in 1928 and the first motorcycle jacket that used the relatively new technology of zippers.

If you’re going to take to task wearing something as loaded as a leather jacket, be sure to find one that suits your personality first. It might seem easy to throw caution to the wind and invest in the first leather jacket you see but tread carefully.

The leather jacket must fit your body shape correctly in the same way a well-cut blazer or a pair of jeans should. In general, when you reach your mid-40s and beyond, it’s even more essential to have the correct fit when it comes to your clothes. Don’t invest in a high-ticket wardrobe item like a leather jacket without ensuring it fits your shoulders correctly and the length of your sleeves and torso are taken into consideration. For good measure, biker jackets suit men with a trim waistline, bomber jackets and trucker jackets are ideal for medium-sized bodies, and leather overshirts or jacket and shirt hybrids are a good alternative for plus-size men.

If you are in office attire from Monday to Friday, invest in a smart leather blazer or one with less ‘fuss’ with hardware and trims. Try something minimalist that works layered over a crewneck knit jumper (the best thing about wearing leather is that it allows you to explore other complementary textures like wool or denim) or a classic white T-shirt.

Try not to wear one with a polo shirt or any collar for that matter — there’s something about a preppy staple that is incongruous with the rebellion of leather.

With a rise in vegan leather options available to designers, we’ve also seen several iterations of the leather jacket make a return more recently, with an emphasis on leather bomber jackets, leather blazers (off the back of a 90s revival) and the moto jacket popularised in the 2000s, now available from the likes of Diesel and locally at Wynn Hamlyn.

Wynn Hamlyn resort 2024 leather biker jacket, available to shop around November.
Wynn Hamlyn resort 2024 leather biker jacket, available to shop around November.

When Wynn Hamlyn’s biker jacket slinked past me on the runway at Australian Fashion Week in May, it took me to the mid-2000s when Posh ‘n’ Becks wore his and hers Versace versions to a Gucci party. Cut shorter in length and straighter in the torso, this particular style made me wonder if I could in fact invest in a leather jacket and not look tragic. It’s a style of leather jacket that works well for guys in their 40s, an era that sees men transitioning to middle age.

The last time I wore a leather jacket was in 2008 at the peak of the Indie Sleaze era. The jacket in question was an avant-garde take on a classic by Macedonian designer Marjan Pejowski, featuring raw lining (typical of fashion design during this period) and a lapel that curled with age. Since selling it in 2013 as my style continued to evolve, I haven’t been interested in investing in a leather jacket until recently. I’ve been looking for something streamlined, like a leather blazer or a bomber jacket without the fuss.

Another great suggestion is to find something vintage, particularly from local dealers like Search & Destroy, Tango Vintage, and Wellington Institution Hunters & Collectors. Here, you’ll find a pre-loved treasure that has the patina of age, which makes a leather jacket even more desirable, and more importantly, much more convincing to wear.

So, to answer the headline’s question in short — no, there really is no age limit to wearing a leather jacket, you purely need to find the one jacket that works best for you.

The other thing about investing in a leather jacket is you need to inhabit a sense of chutzpah in order for the leather jacket not to wear you. This is the best thing about the confidence of aging — being resolute in what you decide to put on your back. If a leather jacket is it, then choose wisely.

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Who doesn’t love a leather jacket on sale? The menswear stalwart has this buttery brown number, which looks like it would age well. Cut from supple goatskin, it’s great for guys needing something clean-cut and uncomplicated with a versatile mid-length that layers well over blue jeans.

For something even more textural, suede is a great alternative but does require a lot more maintenance. Crafted from the flesh side of leather versus the outer side, opt for something modern like this trucker jacket style featuring recycled polyester lining. It’s a great shape for someone looking to invest in a well-made leather jacket but without committing to the sheen.

It feels sacrilegious to include a leather jacket priced at this level during a cost of living crisis, I know, but we’re giving you some range here. If you have the money and the means to invest in something unique, then take this one into consideration. Made in France from Japanese calf shell leather, its curved zip gives this a unique design element and features Palladium hardware, which is basically the same hardware used on the Ferrari of luxury handbags, the Hermès Birkin.

Now this is one I would be tempted by mostly because it looks easy to wear and is cut from a beautifully rich shade of tobacco brown lamb nappa, a throwback plucked from the 70s, that era in fashion that will never cease to inspire. With so many vintage and second-hand clothing dealers experiencing a barrage of chain store cast-offs, finding legitimate vintage pre-1980s is becoming increasingly challenging, so it’s interpretations like this that are worth investing in. This one comes in black, which also looks good.

The local brand has long been a go-to of sorts for someone looking for that leather jacket with plenty of attitude. Made from 100 per cent lambskin leather, the Italian-made leather jacket is one of those jackets that looks its best with a plain T-shirt; or if you’re in cooler climes, a smart and light piece of knitwear to layer underneath.

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