It may have taken 30 years, but I finally have my perfect 1980s leather motorcycle jacket. It’s red and supple and I bought it for $14.99 at the Value Village store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, while visiting Canada’s east coast in the fall of 2012. It’s not quite cropped, but hits right at the waist and is snuggly tapered with classic skinny sleeves, zippered up from the wrist.
This is not my first ’80s leather jacket, and if luck holds it won’t be my last.
At sixteen, there was nothing more I wanted than a black leather jacket. My friend Cyrus had found a motorcycle jacket from the ’60s or ’70s in tip-top shape at a local thrift store. I was jealous and occasionally he’d let me wear it. Its weight was impressive and forced my shoulders down, which only added to the I-could-give-a-fuck attitude one couldn’t help but adopt as soon as the jacket was slipped on. It was slightly too big on me, like a boyfriend jacket, which made sense considering it was a man’s jacket and belonged to Cyrus, though he was gay and simply a boy friend.
It wasn’t long before I had my hands on my own black leather jacket. My father travelled to Argentina on a business trip and brought me one back from Buenos Aires. It was an oversize bomber style with an aviator jacket influence, but it was distinctly ’80s in its details: the shoulder pads and slightly bat-wing shape to the sleeve. There were snaps at the collar, which if I were to do it all the way up would graze my chin. The leather was lovely, soft and light. It didn’t have the weight of Cyrus’ motorcycle jacket, but the confidence and character it buoyed was the same.
I loved my new leather jacket and wore it everywhere, including the private nightclub all the underage alternative types like myself would find ourselves every weekend. The jacket was maybe two months old when someone swiped it from the coat check. We looked everywhere. The club’s owners tried to help. The coat check attendant had mistakenly given my jacket to another patron who claimed to have lost her ticket. She described the jacket to a tee and the attendant found mine and handed it over. I’d never see it again, and I had yet to contend with explaining to my parents how I lost my new leather jacket at a nightclub I wasn’t old enough to be in.
It was all, as you would expect, most unpleasant and I never dared ask for a jacket to replace the one that was stolen. The closest I came to buying another was many years later, when on a trip to Swizterland I purchased a gorgeous, distressed red shearling jacket with raw, inside-out touches. Still, it wasn’t the same thing. I wanted my perfect ’80s leather jacket.
I have long kept an eye out when on my frequent thrifting excursions for The One. It had to be fitted, in great condition and preferably from the early half of the decade, before shoulder pads got too big. I searched through endless racks of leathers, but nothing was ever quite right. I’d pretty much given up hope by the fall of 2012, but I’d always check the leather section, if only out of habit. The excitement when I found it bordered on disbelief. But there it was, and now it was mine.
It didn’t have to be a motorcycle jacket, but I’m glad that it is, and like Cyrus’ so many years ago, it’s on the heavy side. It forces my shoulders down there’s that I-could-give-a-fuck attitude I can’t help but adopt as soon as I slip the jacket on and remember sixteen.
1. Firenze, Details magazine, March 1989. Photograph by Philippe Berthomé.
2. Marco Glaviano for Vogue, November 1982.
3. Estelle Lefebure, photographed by William Laxton for In Fashion magazine, July 1989.
4. Michael Hoban/North Beach Leather, Vogue, November 1984.
5. Guy Bourdin for Vogue, December 1986. Clothing by Claude Montana.
6. Winlit Leathers, Elle, March 1988.
7. Malisy, Elle, September 1989. Photograph by Christian Moser.
8. Tannery West, Elle, October 1987. Photograph by Rahn.
9. Andrew Marc, Elle, September 1986.