THE LEATHER JACKET
The Face editor Matthew Whitehouse explains why we all need a piece of rock ‘n’ roll armor in our wardrobe
I remember the feeling of unboxing my first leather jacket: a Lewis Leathers Lightning No.391.
I had, quite ludicrously, had it won for me, six months earlier, by an incredibly well-off (and generous) friend at an auction for the Joe Strummer Foundation. I could never have dreamed of owning one.
This was the leather jacket. The exact fit worn by Strummer during his time in The Clash, with four zipped pockets (two at the sides, two at the chest), zip cuffs, and an adjustable waist – made to measure, like a Savile Row suit. It took six months to arrive. From that point on, the jacket and I were inseparable really.
I think what I liked most was what it symbolized. The No.391 Lightning jacket first entered the Lewis Leathers range in 1958 and quickly became a sort of passport out of the drab domesticity of post-war Britain. A teenage ticket to an exciting world of street fashion, gang culture and all-night motorway cafés.
Even in 2015, when mine arrived, the leather jacket still meant something. Pride and glory. Heroism and attitude. A key heritage wardrobe piece that’s just about as far from tweed and plus fours as you can get.
I’d style mine with blue jeans – invariably Levi’s 501s (the Levi's Vintage Clothing 501 1954s being a particular favourite) – and a white T-shirt. I love the idea of a uniform and, without exaggeration, probably wore that outfit every day for around three-and-a-half years. In fact, when I left i-D magazine to join The Face, the entire office came in wearing the same (it took me a while to notice – I just thought everyone looked particularly great that day).
When I’d wear my jacket, I’d feel invincible. Some of that is, I’ve always thought, a symptom of suffering from quite debilitating OCD. I like wearing the same thing. It messes with my day too much if I don’t. Some of it is the power of the jacket itself. I once interviewed Derek Harris, the proprietor of Lewis Leathers, and he told me that Swedish band The Hives would all buy matching ones before a tour. “They call it rock and roll armor,” he told me. As I zipped mine up, I knew what they meant.
Eventually, I’d try styling the jacket with different things. Adidas 3-stripe joggers were a favorite. Either with trainers or a pair of Dr. Martens Chelsea boots. They help make it feel more contemporary. And I’ve worn it over a denim jacket, in homage to Nick Kamen, or over a cashmere jumper, to soften it slightly, too.
Aside from the runway, where leather jackets have always remained a staple (recent examples include a classic biker at Alexander McQueen spring 2022, a take on the field jacket at DSquared2 pre-fall 2022, and a bomber style at Sando fall 2021), I see leather jackets popping up more and more on TikTok. There, the improbable hashtag #2014tumblr has picked up almost 100 million views for an aesthetic rooted in the Arctic Monkeys and American Apparel era. So, too, are they everywhere on the Instagram account @indiesleaze, where the jackets worn by noughties icons Alice Glass, Alice Dellal and Agyness Deyn would not look out of place on a Celine catwalk.
While my leather was made to measure, the most modern way to style, it seems, is oversized, nodding to the kind of volume popularized by streetwear, while remaining respectful to the heritage you can only really get with a leather jacket.
As we tentatively begin to emerge into the world once more, a little tired and changed from the pandemic, perhaps we all need a piece of rock armor in our wardrobe.