A good leather jacket is a talisman. You might be a scrawny, awkward nincompoop, but put on the right leather jacket over a T-shirt, and you’re suddenly rough-and-tumble — a badass. For a very long time, though, all I seemed to come across was the wrong one. The sleeves on this version would be too long or too loose. The leather on that one too pristine. The color on another too dark (black, of course, but midnight rather than slightly gray).
Then, about three and a half years ago, the Schott flagship opened in Nolita. I’d been waiting for it. Since 1913, Schott’s been making the definitive leather jacket; as you’re reading motorcycle jacket right now, what you’re picturing is a Schott Perfecto, the slightly cropped, diagonal-zipped outerwear worn — in order — by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the Ramones almost always, and Blake Lively on the cover of Esquire. Now, of course, I knew about the Perfecto, but something about its waxy, showroom leather didn’t appeal to me. (A little too high-school production of Grease.) It’s meant to get better with age, but buying something that will only start to look the way I want it to after years doesn’t feel like an investment. It feels like an assignment.
So when I spotted the 626VN at the store, there was no dithering. Part of Schott’s vintage series, the jacket had a weathered, distressed look that aged it by a decade. It was lined with red flannel, which I’ve since discovered is the ideal layer for not-quite-spring and not-quite-fall temperatures. In a medium, the jacket was just the right amount of fitted at the shoulders and loose around the body (I’m five-nine). I pulled it on and felt not like James Dean — I’m Asian — but someone similarly aloof, inscrutable, cool. Soon, I was practically living in the thing, and others noticed. Friends wanted to try it on. Strangers complimented me on it. I can only liken its effect to the time I bleached my hair platinum and walked through Manhattan feeling dangerously more compelling. It becomes a positive-feedback loop, your attitude affecting people’s reactions to you and so on. Even now, I don’t dare wear it to work; its transformative power too potent.
About the price: I realize to someone who studies fashion magazines that $900 is not an absurd amount to spend on a quality leather (not plastic) jacket. Certainly, there are options that range from $1,600 to $2,500 to $6,000. But to me — for whom $900 doesn’t represent some abstract numeral on a trend page — the jacket is wildly expensive. Almost unconscionably expensive. I could tell you about the mileage I’ve gotten out of it (not on motorcycles, but walking from this East Village bar to that, or traveling from one coastal city to another), but defending a leather jacket on the basis of its utility is like eating a rib eye for its calories. Correct, but missing the point: No other jacket has ever made me feel the way this one does. When you know, you know.
But even having the best leather jacket doesn’t mean I haven’t been on the lookout for others. Here are a few others I’ve kept tabs on.
Under-$100 Leather Jacket
I’m ordinarily not a fan of faux leather (though I guess if you’re searching for a vegan leather jacket, this could do the trick), but I love the oversize shape and light quilting of this one, which you can wear exactly as the model does here — layered over a black hoodie whenever the temperature drops below 50.
Under-$200 Leather Jacket
Another fake leather entry, but how cool does this guy look? This jacket does that flattering fitted-shoulder-loose-body thing, too, but move quickly — there are only two sizes left.
Under-$300 Leather Jackets
The direct-to-consumer website sells two leather jackets for men, but I prefer the Lautner to the Preston II — it has fewer adornments, and sticks more closely to the Schott original. Note: This is marked down from $585 only until Friday, after which it will go back to its original price.
Original Price: $585
As with the H&M, Elmut, and Arrivals coats, this leather jacket does away with the belt, which purists would consider sacrilege, but I kind of appreciate (I loop the belt around the back of my Schott, so it doesn’t get in the way). It’s got a nice broken-in-ness, too — rare for an “affordable” leather jacket.
Oversized Leather Jacket
I waver on the subject of epaulets on a leather jacket; I hate them in theory, but I don’t mind them on my Schott. If I were to create my “classy” leather jacket (sans epaulets in a slightly boxier fit), it would be this one.
Ryan Gosling’s Leather Jacket
We can’t not talk about this jacket — the one that made men sit up and take notice of Phillip Lim when Ryan Gosling wore it during the Blue Valentine era. It’s probably not the exact jacket (Gosling supposedly designed his in concert with Lim), but it’s close enough to have inspired its own cult following.
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