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The Classic Leather Jacket - Which Actors Made it Iconic?

Marlon Brando with his leather jacket in The Wild One Marlon Brando with his leather jacket in The Wild One

It’s one of the hottest looks ever - the perennial leather jacket over faded, torn, skin hugging jeans. When did the trend start and which actors made it their mission to keep the look alive and sexy?


We all know who I’m talking about. The black leather jacket has been synonymous with ‘bad boy’ for ages now - but who gave the garment its bad reputation. And who has helped perpetuate it through the years?

The Wild One

In 1953, no-one was hotter than Marlon Brando. His bad boy swagger made his black leather bomber jacket with the multiple zippers famous, and the devilishly canted hat didn’t hurt either. Schools promptly banned students from mimicking Brando - but when have you known teen boys to obey school ultimatums?

Rebel Without a Cause

Skip two years ahead to 1955 and James Dean sneered at fans from astride his own motorcycle, a cigarette dangling from the curl of his lip. His jacket featured a wide upturned collar and girls swooned. His attire was immortalized in Dan MacLean’s hit song "American Pie": “…in a coat he borrowed from James Dean…”

The Great Escape

1963: Steve McQueen was the ultimate macho man, escaping the Nazis and hurtling across the wide open spaces in his traditional bomber jacket. Some have said he was the greatest male fashion icon of the sixties!


In 1974, Henry Winkler started out as a bit character on Happy Days. Soon, however, the cocky, self aggrandizing Fonz moved up to lead character status. The only thing more precious to him than his leather jacket was his hair. The Fonz’s original jacket is now housed in the Smithsonian.

Oh, Those Summer Nights

The name of the 1978 smash hit movie was Grease - and Travolta had enough in his hair! What caught everyone’s attention was his badass black leather jacket!


Who remembers the early screen appearances of Johnny Depp? In 1990, he made a teen musical which turned into a cult classic. Depp as sensitive gang lord Wade Walker rocked the black leather jacket to the max!

Hasta La Vista, Baby

Terminator 2: Judgment Day saw the return of blockbuster star Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen - sporting a big leather jacket with attitude. Bad guys after you? “No problemo.”

Other actors whose characters have carried on the leather jacket tradition include Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the famous series and even Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper on the BBC hit Torchwood. Various bands also adopted leather jackets as part of their ‘look’, including the Ramones, the Libertines and fans of Judas Priest.

Leather jackets can be purchased in hundreds of different styles and variations today, from basic black zip-up jackets with snap cuffs to deluxe, multi-zippered and studded biker jackets to the classic sheepskin lined collared bomber jackets. For the vintage look, check out the jackets at Schott - the makers of the original jackets Brando and Dean wore are still around!

BTW--Don't miss the great cover story on John Travolta in Rosebud Magazine at your nearest hydroponic store and in select bookstores and newsstands from coast to coast right now!

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John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease
Last modified on Thursday, 13 September 2012 18:42

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