From the Perfecto to Prêt-à-Porter

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Two-wheeled enthusiast Morgan Sansotta blogs on behalf of Jafrum.com. She owns half a dozen leather jackets. None of them are a Perfecto.

It’s a legend. And it all started with a cigar. 1928 was the year, Irving Schott the man and the product — the world’s first leather motorcycle jacket. The Schott brothers dubbed this particular cut of rugged outerwear “The Perfecto” in homage to their favorite stogie. Previously relegated to outfitting New Yorkers with raincoats (made in their basement and peddled door-to-door) they gained notoriety for being the first to incorporate a zipper on a jacket. Pretty revolutionary stuff.

Soon the U.S. Air Force would be knocking on their door. Tapped by the military at the outbreak of WWII, the world would soon be introduced to Schott’s “bomber jacket”. The leather staple wasn’t their only contribution to the men overseas. They also designed the classic wool pea coat favored by the Navy, keeping both branches warm and dry for over 60 years.

From function to fashion, the leather motorcycle jacket has garnered rabid fans from every decade. When you picture Marlon Brando in your head, is he leaned against a shiny bike with a tight Perfecto belted across his torso? Maybe it’s just me…but probably not. Early tabloid-style journalists reported that James Dean slept in his. As rock n’ roll, greasers and juvenile delinquency became all the rage in the mid-1950’s, schools across the country outlawed the jacket.

It didn’t work. Evidently, they didn’t see ‘punk’ coming. By the mid-70’s, rebellion-as-trend had reached out of the Bowery gutters, crawling its way into suburbs, across the country and across the pond. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Blondie and anyone who would ever go on to emulate those artists — you better believe they had one on display.

The Perfecto’s original retail price (at a Harley Davidson store, no less) was $5.50. Move that decimal point a couple spaces over and it’s a little less than what you’d pay for a new one today. That’s right, the 85-year-old template is still being manufactured in the USA, by third and fourth generation Schotts. You don’t even want to know how much the ‘vintage’ variety goes for…

These days, high-end fashionistas snap up leather motorcycle jackets as fast as couturiers can pump them out. And pump them out, they do. A variety has appeared on every upscale designer’s runway for easily the last ten years. From bubble-gum pop stars bedecked in the real deal to suburban housewives clad in vinyl knock-offs, the trend shows no sign of slowing down. And, hey! You on the motorcycle! You shouldn’t slow down either. Just zip up and hit the gas. Your jacket will do the rest.

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