How to Buy Your First Leather Jacket

By: Peter Nguyen
Last Updated: February 2, 2018

Today’s Question Comes From Ray:

Hey Peter. I’m still looking for a motorcycle jacket. What’s the keys to value, cost and which vendor? And regarding color for a motorcycle jacket. Is it only black or possibly another color.” 

Buying a leather jacket can be a super stressful process.

A proper leather jacket is an investment. It’s supposed to last you forever.

It’s kind of like getting a tattoo, you get what you pay for, and it shows.

And just like a first tattoo, you get so paranoid about making the wrong decision that you just end up stuck in research mode.

In my years as a menswear designer, I actually specialized in leather jackets. In fact, I wrote a huge guide a few years ago on buying leather jackets. If you want to get super nerdy about leather and leather jackets, I recommend you download it below.

But for today’s post, I’m giving it to you straight.

If you’re in the market for your first ever serious leather jacket (or looking to replace a crappy one), here’s the exact advice I give my 1-on-1 clients.

Motorcycle leather jacket vs. Fashion leather jacket

You might be thinking, aren’t they the same thing?

Before you drop your hard earned cash, it’s important to know the difference.

Motorcycle leather jackets have a real function, and that’s to protect you in the event of an accident. Motorcycle jackets are usually made from thicker leathers, will sometimes have plates sewn inside key areas like shoulders, and will often be cut shorter to make it more comfortable when you’re sitting.

Photo via Third Looks

Fashion jackets are often made with more delicate, softer leathers like lamb and calfskin. (My two personal favorites) Their function is to make you look really good, so they tend to be slightly longer, more flattering, and more stylish.

While you can wear a fashion leather jacket when riding your bike, keep in mind it’s not going to protect you as well as a proper motorcycle jacket will.

And while you can also wear a real motorcycle jacket in place of a fashion leather jacket, I wouldn’t recommend it if your goal is to look stylish. (Just being real here.)


How much should I spend on a leather jacket? 

As a designer of leather jackets, I’ll be blunt: it’s tough to find a good, NEW, leather jacket for under $500.

When it comes to price and quality, here’s what I usually say: A higher price tag is often a good indicator of better quality.

Reputable brands don’t arbitrarily mark up clothes to rack up a huge profit margin.

Consumers (you!) are smart. Word spreads fast on the internet. Terrible quality at a high price will get called out.

So keep this in mind: It’s hard to make something good at a low price. Cheap things are cheap for a reason.

Yes, you can get a $150 jacket at Asos that looks like that $4,000+ Saint Laurent jacket, but I assure you this is like comparing gas station sushi and to an omakase at Michelin Star Jiros. How clothes feel on is even more important than how they look.

It’s not even fair.

Now before I get a billion comments about used leather jackets and indie designers, let’s assume you’re like most guys. Someone like me.

I love hunting for a good deal or picking something up 2nd hand. (In fact, I even created a resource for finding amazing deals). But sometimes you don’t have the luxury of spending months digging and waiting for the perfect jacket to pop up.

Sometimes you just want to go into a store and get EXACTLY what you need in 10 minutes.

When it comes to new leather jackets, I recommend at least budgeting at least $750 (which is about the cost of a classic Schott jacket). To be safe, I usually tell my clients to set aside $1,000 for a good leather jacket.

Differences between a low end $500 leather jacket (left) and a well made $2,000+ jacket (right):
A. Quality and type of the leather – Cheaper leather jackets will be often made of corrected leather, cheaper skins that are chemically treated to look better. These treatments affect how the skins feel, last, and breathe. Over time, they’ll split and crack, leaving you with a sad looking leather jacket.
B. Topstitching – Not all leather jackets have topstitching, but you’ll often find them in well-designed jackets. They’re mostly decorative, but add that much-needed punch to a design. Think of it like bolding text. Well made jackets will be topstitched with heavy duty threads that stand out, where budget jackets will use thin thread or avoid topstitching altogether.
C. Cut and Fit – Because low priced jackets are so cheap, brands have to sell more to make it worthwhile. To do this, they design a jacket that can fit as many people as they can. This means that low priced jackets will be more generously cut, which can be unflattering on a lot of people.
D. Details – General rule in design: More details = more complicated to make = more expensive to produce. High-end jackets will have more interesting details like seams, cuts, pockets, zipper details, etc.
E. Zipper quality – Higher end leather jackets will use heavy-duty, high-quality zippers that can stand up to all the pulling, they’re also buttery smooth to use. My personal favorite high-end zippers are RiRi, and are roughly 10-15x more expensive than standard YKK zippers.
F. Sleeve & Body Lining – An often overlooked part of a garment. You want a lining that is breathable, comfortable, and durable. My favorite kinds of lining on leather jackets are cupro (a silk-like fabric made from the waste parts of the cotton plant) and just plain cotton twills. High-end jackets will often have two different linings for the body of the jacket and the sleeves, with the sleeves being lined with a silky fabric that makes it easy and luxurious to slip on. Cheap jackets will have a single synthetic lining that are often prone to ripping easily.

Why you SHOULDN’T get the famous double rider jacket as your first jacket

The Schott Perfecto. The generic term for this type of jacket is a “Double Rider” because it’s double breasted

It’s the jacket everyone thinks of when they hear “leather jacket.” But when it comes to buying a proper leather jacket, it’s a style that I tell most guys to stay away from at first.

I’m a big proponent of a tight, minimalist wardrobe that’s versatile. And when it comes to versatility, the cafe racer beats out the double rider.

The Café Racer signature are its minimal design, center zip, tab collar, and zippered pockets.

Here’s why.

When it comes to casual vs. formal, you just have to remember this rule of thumb: The MORE details something has, the MORE casual it is.

Think about a graphic t-shirt vs. a plain t-shirt. Faded jeans with rips on them vs. a solid, dark indigo pair. Printed button-up shirt vs. solid button-up shirt.

Double riders association with rockers, along with the extra zippers, snaps, and details, give off an extremely casual vibe.

The cafe racer is a lot more minimal, letting you get away with it even in business casual situations.

What color should you get? Black or brown?

Consider the vibe. Both black and brown are versatile, and can be worn with almost any color tops and pants. Black is a bit edgier overall, while brown has a softer vibe.

Glance at the picture above, what kind of vibe do you get from each guy? Which resonates with you more?  There’s no wrong answer here, it’s just about what makes sense for your lifestyle.

For me, I prefer black as the first choice for any leather jacket style. Once I have a black main, I sometimes consider getting a 2nd one in brown or another color.

Something else to consider – what kind of footwear you wear. You’ll want to match the color of your leather shoes (boots, dress shoes, etc.) with your leather jacket, as well as your belt. (Don’t worry about matching sneakers)

How should it fit?

Key Fit Points:
Shoulders – 
You want to make sure the shoulder seams line up as close as you can to the points of your shoulders.
Armholes – The higher the armholes, the better the fit. If it’s too low, your jacket will shift when you move your arms. A low armhole is a sign of a jacket that’s either too big, or poorly cut.
Sleeve – The sleeve should be fitted, but not super tight. For leather jackets, I like the sleeve to either end at my wrists or the base of my thumb (near the joint as it is on the photo above).
Length – Around your waist or just enough to cover your waistband/belt is fine. There are designers that make long jackets (like Rick Owens), those tend to work best on taller men.

When it comes to shopping, I recommend wearing a t-shirt and a button-up shirt when trying on the jacket.

You want to lean on the tighter side, but you should still be able to move and punch someone in the face if you need to.

A simple visual test: If you zip up your jacket and it makes you stand up straight and look like a soldier, it’s too tight.

(People often overestimate how much leather jackets stretch out. It depends on the leather. Softer lambskin will stretch out more than a thick cowhide. But I still wouldn’t count on a super tight jacket fitting you well over time. Size up.)

For tall guys, brands like Schott will have a long option just like with blazers/suits.

For short guys, your biggest problem will be the sleeves. Here’s what I wrote previously on the style blog for short guys, The Modest Man:

“Sleeve rules are a little bit more relaxed when it comes to leather jackets than, say, a blazer. You can push up your sleeves and have them stack a bit as I mentioned earlier, but sleeve length can still be a problem for some guys when out shopping.

If this is your staple leather jacket, I highly recommend investing in getting the sleeve shortened. I recommend using a leather specialist. My personal favorite? Modern Leather Goods in NYC.

They do mail order jobs and is the go-to place brands like Rick Owens recommend to people for repairs and adjustments. Price will be dependent on the jacket. Expect to pay $75-150.

A sleeve length hitting at the wrist or 1/4″ longer is perfect.


If trying out different styles and going to a tailor sounds exhausting, there’s another option.

Brands like Schott do custom jobs in all their classic styles.

You’ll pay a premium, but with prices starting at $1,000, it’s still a solid value for what you get. Especially when you compare it to $2,500+ designer jackets that might be too long for you.

You can adjust everything from the jacket length to sleeve length, even put in special customization requests that are not listed.”

While there are brands making leather jackets that cater to shorter guys (like this from Peter Manning), I can’t vouch for the quality.

Need a recommendation? Here are a few of my current favorites

Entry level: Schott NYC Perfect P571 Lightweight Café Racer, $700
Slightly Mid-range: Theory Racer Jacket, $1,000
High-end: Saint Laurent Racer Jacket, $3,900

Bonus: Want advice on even more leather jacket styles? Outfit ideas?

I wrote a FREE 35-page guide on leather jackets that breaks down even more jacket style types, leathers, tricks on fit and recognizing quality. I’ve also included a printable shopping guide checklist highlighting the most important points of this post to help you pick up the perfect jacket.

Just let me know where to send it below!

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