Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Moto Cool: The Biker Jacket as Cultural Rebellion

(In light of recent information about Brando having sexually assaulted an actress in one of his movies, I've wondered whether I should delete this post. I decided not to do so because I think other aspects of this post still have merit. I hope I'm making the right decision.)

I had just written about biker chic, and moto jackets in my last post when Beau's sister gave me this amazing moto jacket from the early 90s. But I shall prevail in not boring you with old news. New jacket: new topics.

This time, I found myself on a trip down the history of the biker jacket, as we called it in the past, the kind with all the zippers and snaps. It has almost always been associated with rebellion against mainstream culture, starting in the 1950s and moving forward to today.

From Big or Not to Big
My first sartorial inspiration for the jacket's inaugural outfit was this lovely lass who combined the masculine and the feminine in her styling. I already knew I wanted to pair my jacket with a "girly" skirt but, seeing this photo, I decided to go with my green one.

Both aspects of this look have their roots in the 1950s, and I'll get to that later.

The late 80s and early 90s were one of the first times that biker jackets hit the women's fashion scene in a really big way. Therefore, unlike some other iterations of the biker jacket which are longer, these ones were cropped short to accentuate a woman's waist ...

... as with Madonna's jacket in this famous series of photographs by Herb Ritts. Of course, Madonna has always been ahead of the fashion curve so these were actually taken for her 1986 album, True Blue.

But I did not first think of Madonna when I got this jacket.

I first thought of Alannah Myles in her Black Velvet Days. How sexy was she? She still is, for the record, and she still rocks the leather.

Boots: Ecco; Skirt, jacket, sunglasses, earrings, belt, rings, and brooch: vintage; Shirt: Reitman's; Sweater: boutique; Gloves: Amazon
Obviously, my look was more feminine and less tough looking than Alannah's, but my inspirations were very rock and roll.

Peter Curtis and his 80s band, Stubborn Blood
I also couldn't help but think of Peter Curtis, my old high school pal, when he was in his band, Stubborn Blood. Peter went on to study music at Yale and is now a professor of music in the States. He plays jazz guitar now and is very good.

But, back then, he was our young rock star, our excuse to sneak into bars to watch Stubborn Blood when we were underaged. I swear, I looked about twelve but I only ever got kicked out once.

I did so want a jacket like Peter's.

And now I finally have one!

Somewhere in its travels, it has lost its belt and therefore that necessary addition: the silver belt buckle. Remembering Peter's jacket, I felt that mine just was not complete without some approximation of that buckle.

So I added my own.

This brooch is my pride and joy, a 1930s, Trifari duette in near perfect condition. As a duette, it separates into two dress clips which I just may wear in my hair to hold my veil in place when I get married. I like it that much.

But I digress.

I associate biker jackets with the 80s and early 90s, when Canadians wore them with that most iconic of Canadian pieces: the mac jacket. That style though, as with the popularity of the biker jacket itself, first hit in the 1950s. I saw it "in real life" in its revival, not its original incarnation.

My friend, James, in 1996. See him wearing a biker jacket now here.
This look was lustily adopted by gay men for its macho appeal. The gay community has a great sense of irony and camp about machismo, both adopting and mocking it, simultaneously.

Perhaps no-one personified this camp masculinity as much as Glenn of the Village People in the 1970s.

Bruce Springsteen in the 80s.
Straight or gay, though, the biker jacket spoke of a kind of self-conscious, hyper masculinity ...

Freddie Mercury, of Queen
... which, in turn, was hyper sexualized ...

Photo by John Kozachenko
 ... even by women, especially but not only lesbians, many of whom actually owned the motorcycles for which biker jackets were named. These two women are about to ride in the Dyke on Bikes contingent of the Gay Pride Parade in about 1992.

All the men in this photo look bemused and a bit derisive. Being out was a lot scarier then than it is now.

My first love was a woman who wore this uniform, and owned a bike, and was a trucker. So butch!

Me, in about 1993, all of 22 years old.
The look was so popular that, one year at the Pride Parade, a woman was renting out her leathers and her bike for photo ops. Yes, that's me. I didn't even have a driver's license (and still don't) but I just had to try the look.

Now I do my biker chic look on a mobility scooter. Sigh.

The first iteration of the look was inextricably tied to motorcycle culture, as exemplified by Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie, The Wild Ones.

The rest of us only wish we were as cool as Brando ...

... straddling his bike, wearing that jacket, and copping a lot of 'tude. 

We all try.

Even Elvis was trying to be Brando.

As was I.

This kid in the 50s did a pretty good job, I think, though posing outside of his school did kind of lower his cool quotient.

Not only were the jackets associated with motorcycles, they were associated with motorcycle gangs. I think they still are, aren't they?

If you had one of these jackets, you were bad ass, or you looked like you were, anyway.

I admit, there is something about them that makes the wearer feel it: bad ass, not to be messed with, rebellious, a person who chooses outsider status.

Pair the jacket with black shades and black leather gloves, and, well, the feeling is complete, even if you are wearing a swishy, 50s skirt ... and you don't even own a motorcycle.

Actually, even the gloves alone make me feel pretty bad ass, but not as much as the whole look does.

The Stray Cats, circa 1980s
The look is also inextricably tied to rockabilly music. Anyone I've known who is deeply into rockabilly wears the look, at least sometimes. The man I once loved (long before I met Beau) was a rockabilly musician and he dressed like this often.

I doubt any of these 50s lads owned a bike, and it's not likely that any of them were accomplished musicians, but they had the look, and wasn't that a start? Aren't they cute? 

The look was born of a rebellion against the repressiveness of the 1950s and has often been adopted by those who fancy themselves rebels, particularly angry rebels. 

The Ramones
Punks were and are no exception. 

It was in keeping with the original, 1950s theme that I thought a 50s skirt would be appropriate.

The full skirt with the wide waist band or belt was the skirt for teenage girls in the 50s, even those who danced with the cool boys in the biker jackets.

Their rustle and swish makes them great fun for dancing.

I went even further with the 50s references, with my little sweater ...

... polka dots ... 

... and clip-on, rhinestone earrings.

The mainstream fashions of the 1950s were almost unbearably prim and, to put it bluntly, virginal.

Winnipeg, 1957
Teens rebelling against this cult of virginity and innocence wore the rebel uniform, in their conformist sort of a way, as teens do.

As we all do at times. Sometimes an outfit can serve as a kind of shorthand clue to our mood and the community with which we align ourselves.

Olivia Newton-John in Grease

It was this juxtaposition between 1950s ...

... stultifying primness ...

Olivia Newton-John in Grease
... and 1950s ...

... rebellion that was mocked in the movie, Grease, which was made in the 1970s, when the teens of the 50s were all grown up and had lived through the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

John Travolta in Grease
The movie was all about the that tension of wanting to be tough and sexually experienced in an era that forbid either in young people's lives.

The movie is funny, but I've never yet met someone who was a teen in the 50s who doesn't say that it was a painfully repressive period in cultural history.

The 80s and early 90s revival of the biker jacket included women, many of whom playfully combined the two 50s looks: sweet and sassy ...

... and virginal and rowdy. It was still a look of rebellion.

And it was, most of all, this combination of sensibilities that I was going for in my own outfit.

Successful or not, it was fun. 

Now I shall ride off into the sunset, as chic as Madonna and as cool as Brando. Or that's what I'm aiming for anyway.

(I'm sharing this with Share in Style, Spy Girl, and Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, you look great, and I love that pin that replaces the buckle

    1. Thanks. I love that pin. I can't wait to wear it "properly."

  2. I love that new jacket! I've always wanted a real vintage one like it. And those gloves with the zippers are so fab. Beautiful pictures this week. So fun.
    Brando, watch out!

    1. Yeah! Watch out, Brando! The gloves are actually very practical because my forearms can get very cold on my scooter, but, whenever possible, I like to combine form with function. In other words: yes, the gloves are pretty great, aren't they?

  3. Your jacket is amazing and so full of meaning. Freddie Mercury! and Brando, naturally, and now YOU. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday, xox.

  4. Digression is good! Love your "fashion essay". How about another one on 1930 brooches?

    1. That would be fun, although, honestly, I know more about 1950s and 60s brooches. Well, okay, I know quite a bit about 30s ones too. I just don't own as many.