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British leather jackets from BEFORE the 1950s?

Discussion in 'Outerwear' started by pipvh, Mar 22, 2010.

  1. pipvh

    pipvh Practically Family

    Here's a historical question for the leather jacket experts.

    My interest was picqued by Baron Kurtz's beautiful mandarin-collar A-2-type jacket that he had for sale a little while ago. And then I realized that I couldn't, with any certainly, claim to have seen a single other British leather jacket that dated from before what might be called the Rocker Era, ie. mid-1950s. I'm sure we did wear leather jackets and coats before Gene Vincent came along - they were common over on the Continent, after all - but what did they look like? What were they made of? Who wore them?

    I'm fascinated to learn more. Anyone have any insights?
  2. British leather jackets from before the 1950s aren't that uncommon! They were worn by motorcyclists (in the Summer) and cyclists (all year round) as well as for ordinary civilian wear. They were made by 'the usual suspects'.

    There is enough evidence to make me think that Herr Baron's jacket is by The Wareings Co. of Northampton (later, of course, of RAF equipment fame). I have several very good examples of early 1950s and 1940s British jackets e.g. with The Service label (a.k.a. The Radley Leather Coat co.) and The Uniform Brand (who made hiking gear).

    They differ markedly in style from the 'coffee bar cowboy' or Rocker jackets of the late 1950s or early 60s (more 'civilian') and are usually made from sheep nappa. The build quality (particularly of the early ones) is generally poor, but the zips (Lightnings and Aeros, usually) are very good. My Uniform jacket has leather-covered waist adjustment buckles, which is a nice touch.

    I have been informed confidently by 'experts' that my Radley jacket is really a wartime 'Luftwaffe' jacket - even though it says prouldy 'Made in London' on the label!
  3. pipvh

    pipvh Practically Family

    Thank you, Mr Johnson. The Baron's jacket is lamb napa as well - why the preponderance of lamb over steer and horse (lots of both in the UK)?

    I think it's more than possible that I have actually seen early jackets and just not known what they were. There are some pictures of RFC coats online - this one is rather splendid:
  4. Speedbird

    Speedbird A-List Customer

    ^^^^ lol lol lol ^^^^ HJ you do make me smile!

    I have been thinking about workwear. I have an image in my head of a close fitted button front mandarin collared tube sleeved very plain utility garment maybe worn by coalmen or draymen (if that's the right term) but I can't find an image in evidence so maybe I just imagined the thing.

    Pre-war motorcyclists wore leather trenchcoats - RFC hand me downs or similiar I think. The WW1 derived leather jerkins must have been popular as workwear.

    What the Brideshead Revisited crowd wore must be a kissing cousins of Baron's wonderful jacket and flying coats.

    But you are right - it seems easier to find an ancestor of the Donkey Jacket than a British working mans leather jacket.
  5. Creeping Past

    Creeping Past One Too Many

    Sort of a cross between this garment described by BellyTank, illustrated down the page and this sleeved waistcoat.
  6. pipvh

    pipvh Practically Family

    I do too - I think I've actually seen people wearing them, some sort of very distant memory - I suppose it isn't impossible: I was born in 1964, in London. I think bargemen (bargees?) wore them as well. There were a lot of army leather jerkins around then - I DO remember dustmen and draymen wearing those. As for the Brideshead set, I can't really imagine them wearing leather jackets - coats, yes - but if they did I'd like to know what they were!
  7. I was born in 1945 and I remember similar jackets (and trousers*) being worn by working men as you describe. In my humble opinion they were either actual pre-war Army fatigue Overalls, Denim (the suit that preceded the denim battledress fatigues) or were directly derived from them (in different colours). The Army jerkin was often worn over the jacket.

    * I have a pair of the trousers (reddish denim with a fishtail back and Exelcisor metal buttons) and have long hunted for the jacket to go with them. I am on the point of deciding to replicate the fabric (not easy) and to make one myself.
  8. There is enough evidence that leather jackets were pretty common. There's a picture of my grandfather wearing one on leave from basic training in 1940, so they'd even penetrated the wilds of northern Scotland.

    Herbert, I sold you a 20s leather goods catalogue quite a while ago now. Any interesting stuff to be gleaned from the pics therein?

    Oh! I should look through my Shoreditch Cut-Price Clothing Co. catalogue tonight and get back to this thread tomorrow with anything interesting to be gained from it. I think i remember leather jackets in there.

  9. Mysterious Mose

    Mysterious Mose Practically Family

  10. pipvh

    pipvh Practically Family

    I've just been searching through images and film clips of 1930s UK, and only found two leather garments in the entire exercise - they were coats, in the crowd behind the winners of the Goodwood Double motor race in 1931. The rest - street scenes, demonstrations, motorcycle races, etc etc - no leather jackets. Lots of overcoats, working men in dark suits or shirtsleeves and waistcoat, chaps in jumpers (on motorcycles), racing chaps in flying-suit type things...

    Interesting exercise. No conclusions, but interesting.
  11. Hal

    Hal Practically Family

    As someone a bit older than Mr Johnson, I can remember plenty of army leather jerkins (sleeveless) worn by outdoor workers and, as he says, often over the jacket. (I think they were also worn by army dispatch-riders under their enormous waterproof coats.)
    I can also remember zip-front belted leather jackets, of sports-jacket length, sold by Halfords (who at that time - late 1950s - sold more specialist motor-cycle clothes as well).
  12. Speedbird

    Speedbird A-List Customer

    ^^^ That's sounds like, dare I say it, Belstaff or Barbour?

    Back to pre-war, I am so frustrated - I could draw the blasted thing (badly, but I can see it so clearly!) - unless it is a vestige of an Ealing Comedy memory???

    It's different to the link CP posted .... not quite what HJ described but I know exactly what he means ....

    ... we should manufacture some ... I think it might be popular around here ... HJ you are in the production business aren't you? ;)
  13. Speedbird

    Speedbird A-List Customer

    Is that not a mandarin collar of sorts? low granted, but a simple stand collar that doesn't meet in the middle? Heck, what is a mandarin collar? and is it the same as a Nehru collar? I am easily confused :eusa_doh:

    EDIT: just realised MM means the waistcoats don't have a mandarin collar! told you I was easily confused!
  14. pipvh

    pipvh Practically Family

    Just been looking at the Lewis Leathers site - in their 'archive' section they have a pic of a '30s catalogue with their first leather jacket design. It has waist knits, a conventional collar, a very offset zip and a centrally-placed D pocket. Apparently they introduced this design in the mid 1920s. I'd love to see an original.
  15. Creeping Past

    Creeping Past One Too Many

    This has the potential to turn into a British traditional clothing thread. I'd like to see one of those. A speculative odyssey with a cast of tens...
  16. With respect, my experience is au contraire. Photographs taken at British motorcycle meetings in the 1920s and 30s show plenty of waist length leather jackets (which I assume we are talking about here). One of my favourites is a photograph of physicist, inventor of the SU/Merlin fuel control device and Norton racer Beatrice 'Tilly' Shilling in her autobiography 'Negative Gravity' - a good read in its own right.

    Also, last weekend I was walking in the Malverns and visited the museum of the science establishment where most radar development work was done in the second half of WW2. The personal photographs of staff are included on walking and cycling 'outings'. A number of leather 'Luftwaffe' jackets are clearly in evidence - obviously spying at it's most blatant...

  17. Indeed Hal. Your venerability and learning is to our benefit.

    A number of existing 'high street' (or, more accurately, 'retail park') names are associated with leather jackets in the beriod under discussion. As well as Halfords, which you mention, there was the 'Militus' brand by Milletts. I have also seen leather sporting* jackets by 'sportswear' companies - for instance Slazenger. Almost certainly these were 'outsourced' whereas the Wareings and Uniform brand were certainly made 'in house'.

    * Associated with general outdoor use.

  18. Belstaff tended not to do leather jackets at this time, as 'HG' (the then proprietor and son-in-law of the founder) thought the natural material to be outdated and unnecessarily expensive (but then he 'invented' Ironhyde - sort of the motorcycling Gore-tex (r) of its day).

    I have several jobs on at the moment, but I would like to make a jacket to go with my 1930s fatigue trousers when I get the time.

  19. Yes, you did. And look I will.

  20. Grandad 'H Johnson'

    My grandfather - Harry Johnson -


    Unfortunately not a clear photograph, but this was from a cycling trip somewhere, (I think Stafford) just prewar, around '37. (Harry was born Nov '18)
    He appears to be wearing a suede bomber type jacket, with elastic cuffs and I assume wasitband.

    Edit - taken in Kidderminster.

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