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History of the "Cafe Racer" jacket.

Guppy

I'll Lock Up
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4,281
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Cleveland, OH
While on the subject, I'd also like to know why do people call these "double rider" and "single rider" jackets? Didn't this originate from the Japanese having no grasp on the language whatsoever and slapping words together they think sound cool - like they often do in Manga and Anime? What's "double" on an asymmetrical zipper jacket? Overlapping front? Ugh...

I thought that was derived from "double breasted" vs. "single breasted" jackets.
 

Guppy

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Cleveland, OH
While on the subject, I thought "cafe racer" was always a derisive term, applied to guys who liked to emulate the look of a racing motorcycle of the period, but all they ever did was park it outside of their local cafe to hang out and look cool, while not actually racing. Maybe to make fun of them, they were said to "race" to the cafe.

I've also read of stories of riders doing "races" where they would play a song on the jukebox, run out to a point a known distance from the cafe, and return before the song finished playing. This was in the era of the 2-minute single, and served as a way of timing the run.
 

navetsea

I'll Lock Up
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6,697
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East Java
Moto Jacket is another well known alias of the same jacket, or Racer Jacket since that is what it was originally design for, or Stand Collar Racer, i think people will easily understand it without further description.

The cross zip is also known by many aliases mc, biker, perfecto, double rider, rocker, the leather jacket, terminator, brando, grease jacket? I hope not travolta jacket
 
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10,923
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SoCal
Taubers ad from 1966:
Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 7.34.01 PM.png

Beck ads 1965-66:
Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 7.37.16 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 7.41.40 PM.png
 
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lina

Practically Family
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964
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Washington DC
Got this morning a very nice response from Derek Harris of Lewis Leathers. Some great history and he sent some very interesting attachments, which I will include here -- some ads, jacket pics, and even quotes from contemporary accounts of the British "rockers/cafe racers." Derek's history mostly confirms what we've worked out I think, that the jacket style goes way back as racing wear (check out the Lewis jacket from the 1920s, which is a fully formed version of our CR jacket) but that the moniker "cafe racer" was applied only lately to it. He quotes David Himel as saying he coined the term in the 90s, though Himel has since told us that he is not entirely certain where the name came from but knows he started using it in the 90s on Ebay.

Anyway, I'll let Derek speak for himself. I have inserted his attachments in the order listed in his note. The quotes from the magazine article "I was a ton up girl" are from 1961!:

"Thanks for inviting me to this discussion, nice of David to recommend contacting me, he's a good guy.
I mention S Lewis and D Lewis products below, hope it doesn't seem biased, I'm just relating what I know on the subject.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Regarding the term Cafe Racer, historically I have only ever known it as applying to a modified motorcycle as detailed in the titles of books by Mick Walker, Mike Clay and Billy Wells'.

The UK, the Cafe Racer phenomenon popularised during the 1960's, its roots in the 30's scene when riders wore the available clothing of the day, leather and otherwise. Young riders post WW2 were often to be seen wearing ex-RAF flying jackets and boots, in the mid 50's a range of motorcycle clothing actually aimed at these teenage riders became available and, at this point, many adopted the look of that time. The term Cafe Racer was still only applied to bikes though. In the 70's the Cafe Racer name was taken up in the USA.

Here in the UK the advent of colour TV in 1967 (BBC 2) and BBC1 and ITV in 1969 triggered an interest in coloured leathers among British competition riders. Coloured racing suits were first produced in the UK by D Lewis in 1967 and jackets, based on the top half of these suits, soon followed, centre zips at the front with their Mandarin / Nehru / Stand collars, waist adjusters at the back and available with optional stripes. These jackets were essentially an update of the much earlier Universal Racer jacket sans its centre zip guard.

Dave Himel says that, during the 90's, he coined the Cafe Racer jacket name for US jackets of the late 60's and 70's, the name makes sense. But on this side of the pond, among the people that I know, these jackets are generally referred to as sports or racing-type jackets. If the terminology had existed existed here during the 50's and 60's, it would probably have applied to the double breasted jackets from the 50's or 60's as worn by the Ton Up Boy, Cafe Racer crowd.

BACKGROUND INFO & REFERENCE:

IMAGES

S Lewis jacket probably from the late 1920's (Kynoch and early Lightning fastener zips) front and back.

Clipping from late 20s / 30s S Lewis flyer

S Lewis was an early producer of flying and motorcycle apparel, 1924 and 1928 phone directories listings show them as 'Leather Clothing Specialists' 1924 and 1926 motorcycle magazine adverts have no mention of leather motorcycle clothing.

Lewis Leathers advert Motorcycle Mechanics Sept 1973

D Lewis Ltd are also on record as making (competition) motorcycle clothing since 1926.

Both of the above companies advertise dirt and track racing leathers in 1928 motorcycle magazines

ARTICLE:

21 October 1961. I was a Ton-Up Girl + extracts

BOOKS:

Mick Walker: 'Cafe Racers of the 60's', Cafe Racers of the 70's

Mike Clay's 'CAFE RACERS Rockers, Rock 'n' Roll and the Coffee Bar Cult',

Billy Wells: 'Racing in the Street. Early Cafe Racer Years

Paul d'Orleans: 'Ton Up! A Century of Cafe RAcer Speed and Style'

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Hope the above is of some use.

Best regards
Derek

Lewis jacket 1.JPG Lewish jacket 2.JPG
Lewis advert 2.jpg

MM Sept 1973.jpg

Ton up girl 1.jpg
Ton up girl 2.jpg
Ton up girl 3.jpg
Ton up girl 4.jpg
 
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Edward

Bartender
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24,694
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London, UK
A Speedster. New name.

Can't imagine Aero would be happy about that - they already own that mark for a half-belt style. ;)

Schott says:
"The Cafe Racer leather jacket design that became mainstream in the 1960's was developed in England. As soldiers were returning home after WWII they caught the bug of souping up older, prewar motorbikes. These motorcycles were raced between local pubs and cafes which created the need for a streamlined, minimalist leather racing jacket... .. One would imagine there were wagers made and records set during these early cafe racing days. Schott Brothers has produced a café racer leather motorcycle jacket since we produced model 666 RS for Beck in 1956. It was called a "Leather Racing Shirt" and cost $28.95 at the time."

Largely bunk (what a surprise from Schott's marketing department!). Rockers - as they self-labelled - were around from 1958ish, with their heyday being 1960-1964 (the scene largely died out by the end of the sixties; the Ace Cafe originally closed in 1969, when new roads were built and the old North Circular was replaced for heavy traffic, a modern motorway service station replacing the Ace. Rockers tended to be older than mods, but still only late teens to mid-twenties. NONE of them were old enough to have been drafted into WW2. Also, they tended to ride newer bikes: in those days, insurance was cheap and easy, hire purchase finance was readily available, and there were no restrictions on what you could ride once you passed your test. The bikes to have were all British - Royal Enfields were common, Triumph Bonnevilles, BSA Goldstars....the real hardcore had custom bikes like a TRiton (TRiumph engine on a Norton frame).

As noted above, the "cafe racer" aS we know it wasaround, but nothing like as common as a straght-zip / shirt collar, or even a cross-zip.


Schott seem to have put the origin of the US MCs and the Ton-up boys through a blender....



Here they were called Brando or American Bike Jackets.

Brando is a very common apellation here. It's an easy option because it doesn't have the trade mark infringement issues that Perfecto does (!)

While on the subject, I thought "cafe racer" was always a derisive term, applied to guys who liked to emulate the look of a racing motorcycle of the period, but all they ever did was park it outside of their local cafe to hang out and look cool, while not actually racing. Maybe to make fun of them, they were said to "race" to the cafe.

As best as I can make out that is indeed true (see comments further back in this thread) - later on (some speculation that it was via Japan) stripped of the original context and applied retrospectively. At the time, they self-identified only as 'Rockers' and 'Ton Up Boys'.

I've also read of stories of riders doing "races" where they would play a song on the jukebox, run out to a point a known distance from the cafe, and return before the song finished playing. This was in the era of the 2-minute single, and served as a way of timing the run.

That's one of the big legends of the Ace Cafe, though I have heard it said by people "who were there" that it's actually an urban myth. There certainly was a lot of road racing between cafes back when, though - there was also the Chelsea Bridge to the Ace run, which was notoriously dangerous.
 

lina

Practically Family
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964
Location
Washington DC
That's one of the big legends of the Ace Cafe, though I have heard it said by people "who were there" that it's actually an urban myth. There certainly was a lot of road racing between cafes back when, though - there was also the Chelsea Bridge to the Ace run, which was notoriously dangerous.

Yeah I've always tended to discount this story, but it is interesting that in the 1961 article above the "ton-up girl" talks about "beating the juke box trick." Not clear what she means by that, but sounds like it might be this. And it's interesting that she refers to it in an off hand way, assuming everyone will know what it means; so whatever it was had to be fairly common, at least to other ton-ups.
 

Edward

Bartender
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24,694
Location
London, UK
Yeah I've always tended to discount this story, but it is interesting that in the 1961 article above the "ton-up girl" talks about "beating the juke box trick." Not clear what she means by that, but sounds like it might be this. And it's interesting that she refers to it in an off hand way, assuming everyone will know what it means; so whatever it was had to be fairly common, at least to other ton-ups.

It may well have been a media invention some later tried. Bit like punk rock and the leather jacket / ripped jeans "uniform".

Can't think what else it would have been referring to. It's also plausible that some of the kids made it up and it was kept gonig as a community 'in joke' that the press believed it. I've known that in various subcultures.
 

navetsea

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East Java
great read, thanks for the effort Lina, truly a tale of two cafes, but why do american called it cafe racer jacket in the 90 while Harley's envision of cafe jacket was totally a different jacket ( more leisure style ) in the same era.

and since 90's was oversize/ off shoulder baggy period, it is quite against the style to wear something form fitting.. is it possible the seller of vintage clothes invented that name to label their vintage stock of racing jackets to aim a bigger market beyond racing crowd. cafe sound friendly and non intimidating name, compared to biker jacket.
if so it was genius, probably between the name and the style both help this jacket style to be a gateway jacket to leather jacket for many of us.
often people say if you can only have one leather jacket then it should be a black biker jacket , I think that's rubbish, center zip jacket is a lot more versatile and unassuming. brown racing shirt (cafe racer) would be the tamest jacket you can wear everywhere.
 
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navetsea

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6,697
Location
East Java
That jacket might never zippable, like wolverine's
probably the early adopters of cafe racers who buy their jacket in the 90s would buy several size too big to match the rest of the style, probably only very recently or maybe only here they are bought in their intended size/ fit
 
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alish

One of the Regulars
Messages
110
I know this is an older thread, but thought it would be a good place to post this HD catalog image I saw on ebay as part of a listing for an HD Apache jacket and pants (what they were calling their classic two chest pocket CR jacket). The ebay listing said this was from the early 70s...

Screen Shot 2021-06-09 at 10.10.49 AM.png
 

The Mad Hatter

A-List Customer
Messages
321
In an outburst of irrational enthusiasm, I last night actually did purchase a black Aero cafe racer.

Here is my fabulous acquisition: https://www.aeroleatherclothing.com/product-detail.php?id=5313

4960614f87c2732_Front500.jpg


To put this into perspective, while I might someday be cast as a Marcus Brody, Indiana Jones I am not.

Anyway, Aero has already shipped it; so now I must use it somehow. In particular, what sort of hat would go with it? Greek fisherman's?

I must frankly admit that I am going to be more of an Inspector Clouseau than a James Bond.
 

jonbuilder

My Mail is Forwarded Here
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3,552
Location
Grass Valley CA Foothills
In an outburst of irrational enthusiasm, I last night actually did purchase a black Aero cafe racer.

Here is my fabulous acquisition: https://www.aeroleatherclothing.com/product-detail.php?id=5313

4960614f87c2732_Front500.jpg


To put this into perspective, while I might someday be cast as a Marcus Brody, Indiana Jones I am not.

Anyway, Aero has already shipped it; so now I must use it somehow. In particular, what sort of hat would go with it? Greek fisherman's?

I must frankly admit that I am going to be more of an Inspector Clouseau than a James Bond.
I wear fedoras with all my leather jackets. CF usually get a silver belly or gray rancher style think Stetson open road like LJB
Edit I wonder if the mods would tolerate a tread "hats do you wear with your jackets"?
 

Schambach

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500
Location
Ithaca, NY
A bit of a late pass, but cafe racers were quite popular among young, cool non motorcycle riding kids in lower manhattan in the late 80s/early 90s. Post punk/hardcore types, dabbling in hip hop, etc. Not sure where exactly it started, but that's when and where I bought my first "real" leather jacket, a Schott 141, a little too big as someone mentioned. And I doubt this guy started it, but he is probably at least partially responsible for some of the popularity back then:
MCA.jpg
 

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