How To Buy A Quality Leather Jacket

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Making The Quality Decision Leather jacket

There’s really no substitute for a quality leather jacket. The softness, scent, and durability of leather just can’t be faked. But what should you look for when buying a leather jacket? How do you find one you can actually afford?

At the cheap end of the spectrum, a mens leather jacket costs hundreds of dollars. If you’re going to make that investment, you want to make sure that the jacket you pick looks great and lasts a long time. It's easy to get a sub-par product on accident, especially if you're trying to save a few bucks.

A lot of guys feel out of their element shopping for clothes, even for something as overtly masculine as a leather jacket. After doing the research, I’ve compiled the factors you should consider before you buy.

Style

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Most leather jackets will fall into four basic styles: double rider, racer, bomber, or flight. If you’re looking for a jacket that won't go out of fashion, you should stick with one of these styles.

The double rider is a classic motorcycle jacket: think Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. Double riders often feature a collar with lots of snaps, a buckled belt, and multiple zippers. These jackets were designed to protect the motorcyclists who made them famous. The double rider style is a good choice if you want a casual jacket, even if you don't regularly find yourself on a Harley.

On the other hand, slim-fitting racer jackets are easy to dress up. If your office has a casual dress code, you can swap your blazer for a racer jacket and still look polished. (Leather's not really professional though, so stick with the blazer if you work in a more conservative place.) Usually, racer jackets have no collar or excessive hardware. This simple design makes them more versatile than other styles.

The final two styles are similar: bombers and flight jackets. Bomber jackets have snap-front pockets and a collar; flight jackets are collarless with streamlined slit pockets. These waist-length jackets were originally designed for pilots in the military. Leather bomber and flight jackets are often made of tough, protective cowhide with warm fabric linings. Both styles are great choices for casual outerwear.

As a last note, while you're picking a style you may also want to consider what color leather jacket you want. Some leather jackets--especially racers--come in bright colors and eye-catching designs. Unless you plan on wearing your jacket on the race track, it's probably best to stick with the classic black, browns, and tans.

Fit

Once you’ve narrowed in on a style, the next thing to consider is the fit. First, think about how you intend to wear the jacket. If you prefer to wear it unzipped, you may want to go for a smaller size to avoid looking like you're wearing a garbage bag. If you would rather layer your jacket over sweaters, you might want to size up.

When you’re trying on a jacket, the sleeves of your jacket should not extend past the wrists. If you’re sporting one of the four classic styles, the jacket should sit at your waist. Those are the basics, but there are two more quick tests to perform to make sure the jacket is a good fit.

First, is the "stuck test. Hold your arms above your head. The jacket shouldn’t feel tight as if you’re “stuck” in it. The jacket also shouldn't ride up past your waist. Next is the "finger widths test." Simply place two fingers under the bottom hem of the jacket. Make sure there's enough room to slide your fingers between the jacket and your body.

The jacket should also be comfortable around your arms with close-fitting arm holes. Even if you find it more comfortable, hanging armholes will make the jacket look ill-fitting. While you're checking the armholes, make sure the jacket isn't too tight around your chest. If your chest and shoulders are much wider than your waist, look for jackets with diagonal zippers. These may fit better.

The shoulder fit is the most important. Make sure the jacket lays flat against your shoulders. Again, make sure that nothing feels "stuck" or too tight. Leather is difficult and expensive to tailor, so be sure the fit is perfect before you make a purchase. An easier way to ensure your jacket fits perfectly is to simply buy a custom leather jacket, however the cost is typically higher and you have to make sure you do your measurements correctly.

Leather Type

The hides of different animals yield leathers with different characteristics. It's a good idea to be familiar with the basic qualities of different animal leathers so you know what you're buying.

Cowhide, also called steerhide, is stiff, durable, and may be tough to break. A cowhide jacket will provide protection and won't wear out over time. If you plan to put your jacket through any type of heavy use, you should pick cowhide.

Other common leather types are goatskin and lambskin. Goatskin is lighter than cow leather and nearly as durable. Lambskin is very soft and smooth, but it is more fragile as a result. Though not as common, deerskin also makes a light, soft leather. Like lambskin, deer leather scratches easily.

If you're looking for something a little more exotic, consider leather made from bison or horsehide. Bison is tough like cowhide but more supple. Horsehide is softer but not as durable. Both bison and horsehide have a cracked or veined appearance that sets them apart from more common leathers.

Some leather makers, like Independence Brothers, offer leather jackets custom made from your choice of animal hide. You can check out the options by checking out how to buy leather jacket.

Leather Quality

Leather varies widely in terms of texture, softness, thickness, and shine. These differences are a product of both nature and the manufacturing process.

To make leather, the hide is first split into the “top cut” and “bottom cut.” The top cut is turned into “top grain”/“corrected” or “full grain” depending on how it is processed. Top grain or corrected leather has been sanded, dyed, and otherwise treated to remove any scars or branding from the hide. You can spot corrected leather by looking for an overly shiny, smooth surface or plasticky feel.

On the other hand, uncorrected, full grain leather will feel soft. The pattern of the grain will have a natural, less uniform appearance. Leather with a subtle grain pattern will wear well over time. The inevitable creases and scratches that develop will incorporate nicely into the overall character of the jacket.

The bottom cut of the hide is used to make lower-quality leather products. When buying a jacket, you'll want to stay away from anything labeled "genuine leather" or "bonded leather." Genuine leather is an industry term for leather made from the inner part of the hide. Genuine leather must be dyed and treated to give it the illusion of the grain.

Bonded leather isn't 100% leather: it's made from pieces of leather "bonded" to other materials. Genuine and bonded leather aren't as durable as top leather. If you want your jacket to last and look great for years, look for only top or full grain leather.

Hardware

Though the leather is the obvious focal point of your new jacket, don’t forget to check out the hardware for durability and quality. First of all, always make sure the hardware is metal. It’s easy to tell by feel if something is made out of plastic.

Metal zippers are a necessity. They should be able to stand up to the wear-and-tear of heavy use. When trying on your jacket, pull the zipper up and down to make sure it doesn't snag. Check that the fittings slide together easily. If the zipper has a placket—a flap of fabric covering the zipper—make sure that the fabric is sturdy and doesn’t catch.

You should also consider the color of the hardware. Silver or chrome will be most common, but some jackets come with neutral hardware that matches the color of the leather. Go with what works for you. However, for longevity's sake, it's probably best to avoid anything too flashy.

Stitching

Stitching is an easy-to-spot indicator for the overall quality of the jacket. Both the interior and exterior stitching should be even, close, and straight. Any loose or frayed threads may lead to unraveling down the road.

The highest quality leather goods are hand stitched with a technique called saddle stitching. To create a saddle stitch, the tailor sews with two needles simultaneously to create a strong bond between two pieces of leather. Here’s a video that shows what saddle stitching looks like...

Saddle stitching is aesthetically pleasing and makes the jacket durable. Even if one thread breaks, the line of stitches won’t unravel. This is not to say that machine-stitched leather jackets aren't durable, particularly if a lock stitch was used. Do a little research into the company you're buying from to find out how their jackets are stitched.

Finally, look at the threads themselves. The fibers might be made of nylon or a linen blend. Either way, each stitch should be flat and sharp with no kinks, knots, or fly-aways. Messy stitching or frayed threads are a dead give-away that the garment wasn’t made with much care or quality.

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Lining

The lining of a mens leather jacket can be made from everything from durable rayon to warm shearling. The lining you pick should reflect the climate where you live and how often you plan to wear your jacket

Even though it’s relatively easy to fix a torn lining, you should still look for durable materials. Silky fabrics might feel nice against the skin, but they’ll also thin and more likely to rip. Like stitching, the lining of a jacket can indicate its overall quality. If the lining looks bunched or feels cheap, the jacket might not be well-made.

Since the lining will be the part of the jacket you feel the most, make sure that it’s comfortable. If you're not sure where to begin, look at the label of your favorite shirt to see what it's made from. On the other hand, if you have a shirt that itches or makes you sweat like crazy, you may want to avoid that fabric in the lining of your leather jacket.

Wrapping Up

Finding the right leather jacket might not be easy, but the extra effort will be worth it. A leather jacket is an easy wardrobe staple that lasts, looks great and requires minimal effort. A quality leather jacket is an investment, but it’s totally possible to find one at a reasonable price. In case you missed it earlier, check out Independence Brothers where you can buy leather jacket custom made.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in comments. Ultimately, the only way to find that great leather jacket is to go out and try some on. While you shop, remember what you want and keep an eye out for quality. While you’re out, pick up a pair of aviators and enjoy a look that will never go out of style.

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