1940s/50s leather jacket for everyday wear?

Discussion in 'Outerwear' started by MondoFW, Feb 22, 2020.

  1. MondoFW

    MondoFW Practically Family

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    Hey guys, I know a fair number of members here own leather jackets that are this old. I own a lot of vintage and am confident enough to treat most of it like regular clothes, but I have no experience with leather this old. I love 1940s leather jackets and am willing to invest in one sooner or later. To owners of leather of this age, how much confidence do you have in the integrity of your jacket? If I were to buy one, I would like to wear it regularly, but I've heard something comment that hide over 50 years old isnt everyday wear material. Would you err on the side of caution and wear it sparingly? Or were these hides built to last generations? Thanks.
     
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  2. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    There won't be any guarantee but generally speaking, a vintage leather jacket that looks to be in very good condition inside and out is likely to be fully suitable for everyday wear. I currently own around 20 vintage leather jackets, most of them from the 30s, some from the 40s. Some of these I have worn for long periods of time without switching to another. I've handled several hundred.

    Things to look out for regarding condition:
    - If the liner appears clean and not tatty, chances are it will smell and feel clean as well. This is something where your reliance on the honesty of the seller and his/her experience with vintage leather is most crucial. Inexperienced sellers will often not be able to comment intelligently on whether the smell of a vintage leather jacket is fine or too.. smelly.
    - The hide needs to be supple, with only minor surface damage (nicks and minor cuts are okay, so is minor surface abrasion and heavy break, but flaking or other indicators of a dry hide are usually not).
    - A (period or not) replacement zip is not necessarily a bad thing. If the zip is original and in good working order, that's great. But a replaced zip is okay, too, plus it often drives the market value down while the functionality may (or may not) be improved.

    Things to keep in mind re that lack of a guarantee:
    - The cotton thread that was almost exclusively used for leather jackets up to some point in the early 50s (maybe late 40s) when nylon thread started to appear (but to what extent I don't know) can rot* over time, causing long seams to rip. Upon close inspection of a jacket it's not difficult to get an idea of how stable the thread is (by pulling at a seam, inch by inch); online there's no way but again, if the general condition of the jacket is very good, the thread is more likely to be fine.
    - Hides that look a little dry/ brittle/ flaking from the outside may be really dry once put to use. Compare NOS vintage leather shoes.
    - Indicators of heavy exposure to the elements are the condition of the hide around the shoulder, collar and elbows. Be sure to check these.

    *Side note:
    There is the theory that cotton thread rot may be enhanced by oils which is why wax-based conditioner is considered the safer route by some, including me (accordingly: if conditioning is at all required, it should be done with as much conditioner as required but not more than that). However, the oils might possibly be just the nail in the coffin; I think it's at least possible that the real culprit is a combination of exposure factors, namely rain and UV rays, and age. For reference, look at how 1930s cotton garments have survived compared to wool ones. Irrespective of that, plant fibers are known to disintegrate with age quicker than animal fibers, that much we do know.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
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  3. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    I'll try to select some pics of jackets to illustrate condition issues.
     
  4. Fifty150

    Fifty150 Practically Family

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    Pardon my ignorance. For I just don't know.

    In the 30's & 40's, especially during the war years, how were leather jackets sold & who was buying them? I can imagine the large military manufacturers producing for pilots. Some trades wore leather, such as leather longshoremen jackets, welding aprons & welding coats.

    As there were no suburban shopping malls, with mall leather jacket chain stores like Wilson's; who was selling leather? I imagine it being a luxury item, like fur coats. Was it sold in the Sears & Roebuck catalog? Were there any particular design elements, like "D-rings" on trench coats, incidental to that point in time? Who was wearing leather, and how did they wear it in the 30's? Was it casual, like today, with jeans? Or was there a more mechanical application, like a leather rain coat or that cowboy style duster coat?
     
  5. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

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    Leather was often worn the way people now wear nylon or Gortex jackets. Mainly as sporting and/or trade wear. Golfers and cyclists wore leather, as did pilots, taxi drivers, truckies, travellers and tradesmen. You could buy leather jackets and coats in most department stores - Sears very notably. There were also a range of small businesses making and selling leathers.

    There may not have been malls, but there were numerous Main Streets crammed with shops. What's a mall but a Main Street with a roof?

    In the forties, largely because of the heroism associated with the A2, there was a near mania for civilian leather bomber jackets which lasted well into the 1950's.
     
  6. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    You can check the original prices in Sears Catalogues against suit prices. Be careful when comparing these prices against calculations of inflation, though, as relative buying power (by place and time) is difficult to determine.
    A leather jacket required next to no maintenance compared to a suit jacket and, if necessary, lasted longer than a suit jacket.

    Leather jackets as a category of clothing were not luxury back then. More like an alternative or addition to a suit - and most people in the 30s had one or two suits. Some of the best dressed men of the era often had no more than five or six suits at a time, and some had even less.
    There were of course high price leather jackets as well, just as there were cheap suits and expensive ones. As a tendency, suede jackets were a bit more luxurious than grain leather jackets - more expensive, more often reserved for occasions, less often used for work.

    In the 30s, before denim became really widespread as legwear, lots of men simply wore their leather jacket with the trousers of their suit.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
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  7. Edward

    Edward Bartender

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    Howard Hughes was a great example of this, often wearing a leather jacket over waistcoat and trews, simply in place of the suitcoat on a three-piece. It's a look I love - I'm tempted myself to buy a half dozen pairs of fortiescut trews and matching waistcoats exclusively for that.

    The illustrations from the likes of Sears catalogues of the day, although drawings rather than photos, are very indicative of how many people did wear them. I particularly love the 'collar and tie' look of those ads with Perfecto and D pocket style, lancer-front motorcycle jackets.
     
  8. tmitchell59

    tmitchell59 Call Me a Cab

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    Great topic! You ask a lot of interesting questions. I've asked myself many of those same questions. Maybe this is a thread to address some of those .

    My interest in leather jackets goes back to around 1930 with the invention of the zipper. My focus is on civilian jackets. These have been my main area of study.

    We have some interesting comments here already. I look forward to more and hope to add something myself.
     
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  9. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    Here's a few images to illustrate hide issues/damage of vintage jackets that I own. I'm not sure if this will do any good at all actually, because it's really difficult to rely on images alone - which is what you will do when buying online, unless you know you can trust the seller.

    I'll start with the heaviest damage, then up to normal wear and break. I'll limit myself to jackets that look fine overall because the question you'll want to ask yourself is, how do I spot a damaged hide on a jacket that looks okay?
    Again, I'm pretty sure we're all capable of fooling ourselves by overestimating our own judgement here, so don't put too much stock in these images.

    1) late 30s (U.S.) horsehide, period replacement zip - this jacket has seen lots of use, lots of rain most likely and has lots of seam replacements that look old.
    Shoulder area and upper back is beginning to show drying hide, flaking and cracking. Note that this is difficult to spot in the flat pics, if it's visible at all.

    [​IMG]
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    2) 30s (U.S.) horsehide, replacement liner (recent) - this jacket has also seen lots of use and although the hide is still supple (unlike the above jacket), the collar is showing what might be called healthy cracking; it's just the surface that has cracked open in spots, and the hide is still intact. The elbows have thinned from rain exposure.

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    And what you see below is in fact just break and patina. No cracking. Pretty impressively aged, this one.
    [​IMG]

    3) late 30s to early 40s (U.S.) horsehide, all original - only surface cracking, but less so than above. The wear at the sleeves doesn't even penetrate beyond the top layer. Now, does the image really prove that? I don't really think so.

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    4) 30s (German), lightweight horsehide, all original - only surface wear, no cracking, nothing dried out or anything. Doesn't look it necessarily, though, does it? It could theoretically be dry for all the viewer would know.

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    5) 40s (U.S.), goatskin, all original - basically just for comparison and to show an aged goatskin: next to no surface wear, just some patina a.k.a. dirt rubbed in and the break.

    [​IMG]
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    6) 40s (U.S.), horsehide, all original - just break and a little patina. You can see the break, the separation of the top layer from what's underneath, in short lines all over, creating a marbled effect. Plus a few nail scratches, I guess.

    [​IMG]
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    Last edited: Feb 23, 2020
  10. Fifty150

    Fifty150 Practically Family

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    Try not to get her so angry.
     
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  11. 41eiffel

    41eiffel New in Town

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    @Rabbit - #2 looks really amazing. Can you please tell me more about this jacket ? Thanks
     
  12. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    Tell that to the jacket. LOL

    The sunburst back is, unlike the Aero model, made up not of separate panels but of one piece with the sunburst being darted - similar to the three darts on the back of a dress glove.

    I think the reason the hide looks the way it does is that after the jacket got its heavy break, it must at some point have been conditioned just right (not too much), probably repeatedly. Added to this, the hide may also have started out with a crumpled-grainy look.
    I have seen other jackets that have such a enormous amount of break but with the hide completely intact, including the top layer, that made me wonder how much of this can be attributed to original characteritics of the hide (when new) and how much was caused by wear and possibly leather care. For example, this here is an early 30s German horsehide jacket that I own with a somewhat similar texture, only more so:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2020
  13. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    Ah, and the sunburst was probably made by Durable. Another member has an identical one labeled Durable, made of Ponyhide.

    Some of the other jackets above have very nice hides as well but some of the pics are too lousy to show it - the two-tone, for example, and the first German waist-length jacket (made by Marke Bergfreund). I had taken those other pics with my old camera.
     
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  14. 41eiffel

    41eiffel New in Town

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    Fantastic jackets @Rabbit ! Thanks for sharing !
    Do you have a post somewhere with more pictures of jacket that you own ?
     
  15. tmitchell59

    tmitchell59 Call Me a Cab

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    Nice jackets! That Durable is a beauty. I had not seen another like that around here. Does your jacket have the original zipper?

    Here is a Durable from pre 1954. This article about the Lang Tannery is very interesting. They ceased the Tannery in 1954 due to competition from other materials.

    This is a fairly odd jacket for it's era, a cafe racer in 1954? It also has a heavy use of pleats in the back design. The zipper pull is on the left side. Also in Blue!

    It is small. Here are more pictures.

    DSC05693.jpg DSC05700.jpg DSC05705.jpg DSC05706.jpg DSC05707.jpg DSC05724.jpg DSC05725.jpg DSC05746.jpg DSC05753.jpg DSC05766.jpg
     
  16. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    No, the zip tape has clearly been re-sewn, there's two somewhat irregular rows of stitching. It has a Conmatic zip in a early-looking design that I haven't seen elsewhere, can't say whether it's a 50s replacement or earlier but simply going by the size and shape of the zip pull it looks earlier than 50s. Can't say whether it's the original Conmatic brand or a Conmar Conmatic, either. I don't have info on Conmatic zips that look like this.

    [​IMG]

    Looks like a halfbelt with mandarin collar to me, nice details with action back and reinforced pocket welts. Certainly not your average 50s HB, but mandarin collars did appear here and there. German jackets seem to have them more often.
     
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  17. Raul

    Raul Familiar Face

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    Great collection Rabbit! I suppose that jackets so old nearly always have smells and/or stains on the leather and lining, how do you clean and treat them to make them good for everyday wearing?
     
  18. Rabbit

    Rabbit Call Me a Cab

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    I circumvent the problem you describe by sticking to jackets that are fairly clean inside and out. I completely rule out jackets with tatty liners and those with mold/mildew odour; just the odour, no colony even, would be enough to raise the risk. Mold/mildew odour means traces of the spores are there (not just the omnipresent spores, I mean they're literally everywhere in the world in low concentration, but leftovers from a colony on or near the jacket).
    The jackets I got don't have any offense odour and no, I don't do any cleaning on them. Cleaning liners is difficult. Cleaning leather is yet another difficulty. I only treat them with wax-based conditioner, and only moderately so. Not nearly enough to even permit overfeeding the hide. Airing helps to remove any odour.
     
  19. PanTadeusz

    PanTadeusz New in Town

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    Would anyone here know where one can find an article on how and when to condition vintage leather jackets? I will be starting a collection soon and want to be equipped with the right tools and knowledge to take the best care I can of the jackets I will own. So that I may use them every day without having any worry.
     

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