Reader Request: Picking a Leather Jacket

how to buy leather jacket

Reader Krysta e-mailed me this request:

I’d LOVE a post on how to choose a leather jacket–they’re so cool, and so varied, and yet so expensive, that I have a hard time committing. What if this AWESOME one I love now looks irritating and dated in two years?

I adore leather everything, but it took me a while to collect my thoughts for this particular question. As is the case with many investment pieces, it’s tough to generalize. Some women will require one set of characteristics, while others may have entirely different needs! But if you’re in the market for a leather jacket yourself, here are some ideas to mull:

Which style suits your climate and lifestyle?

If you live in Mississippi, a Thinsulate-lined leather jacket isn’t the best choice. If you work or live with animals, super-soft and extremely-delicate lambskin will just exasperate you. If you dress casually most days, a highly detailed, formal-feeling style will languish unworn. Think about what you need in addition to what looks pretty, and do a little research about leathers, finishes, linings, and weights.

Which style suits your figure?

Look at your other coats and jackets. Which ones get worn most? Why? How do they work with your body and affect your proportions? Head out to a department store, a Burlington Coat Factory, or a Wilsons and try on as many leather jacket styles as you can find. Most leather jackets are fairly short, but some come in longer lengths. And although most options will be zippered, there are some with buttons, belts, snaps, and other details that can make all the difference. It’s worth tracking down a length and cut that suit you.

Have you checked the thrift store?

Krysta is concerned both about budget and about looking current. Thrifting for a leather jacket will hit point one, but you may be surprised to find that it’s a great way to nail point two as well. A 10-year-old leather jacket that still looks and feels current today is likely to endure beyond next year. Many of the leather jackets available at thrift stores are a bit crunchy and crusty, buy you can strike gold if you’re willing to look long and hard. I thrifted this gray leather moto for $9.99 and it’s in amazing condition.

Have you considered vegan options?

I’m generally a stickler for genuine leather, but the faux options that are on the market these days are amazing. They’re also surprisingly spendy, but the real deal is even spendier. If your budget is tight but you’re hoping to nab a certain look, check stores like Target, H&M, and Urban Outfitters for faux leather jackets in on-trend styles.

Have you checked eBay and Etsy?

As always, buying from eBay isn’t risk-free. But if you check measurements, photos, vendor ratings, and return policy, you should be able to make an informed decision. Etsy is also a great source for vintage and handmade leather jackets at decent prices. If you don’t mind buying used but strike out at the thrift store, both of these are great resources for leather jackets in a huge variety of styles, sizes, and prices. Both also feature vendors who can custom make a jacket to suit your needs and figure.

What color will work best for you?

I’ll be honest: I can’t really recommend leather jackets that aren’t black, cognac brown, or gray. And in reality, I think black is going to be the most versatile for the most women. But if you look dreadful in black or hate it, consider your other color options. An easy way to determine your best choice is to consider your handbags. What colors are they? Do you want to “match” or “go”? Look at your other coats, too. Which colors get the most wear?

Now, in terms of picking a style that won’t date … ugh, such a tough one! Leather jackets do seem to date quicker than many other pieces, and a blazer or scuba style from 10 years ago will look older and less contemporary than the slightly tweaked new versions of those same styles on sale now. It’s down to details, hardware, length, and very subtle styling shifts. In mulling this over, I’m surprised to find that the leather jacket style that seems to endure is the motorcycle style – asymmetric zip, triangular flaps, and all. This doesn’t mean that YOU will want to wear a moto or that it’s the only style worth buying. Just that it doesn’t matter if your moto was made in 1972 or 1992 or 2012, it will look good now and it will look good later.* Aside from motorcycle/asymmetric styles, my opinion is that plainer designs are more likely to work years into the future. Studs, buckles, zippers, and quilting may look fantastic today, but they also may tie that jacket to this point in time. Go for something clean and relatively unadorned.

And although it’s no excuse to buy a metallic bronze moto for $700 today, always remember that if you purchase a jacket that you end up hating three years from now, you can sell it on eBay or consign it. Even dated leather jackets can typically earn back some of their original price!

*There are certainly some exceptions. A few motos from the 80s have big padded shoulders. This feature looks amazing on some women, makes many others want to run for the hills. I’m a hill-runner on that one myself.

Image courtesy Nordstrom. Jacket pictured is vegan!

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Next Post
Previous Post
  • anya\

    Great article. However, i want to point out that i love leather but black has never been my thing. I have a dark burgundy leather jacket short , collarless, very simple ( It goes well with black and brown boots and purses ) and a grey bomber ( aviator ) style. The grey one cut more loose than the former. Both are very versatile neutrals that go well with my coloring ( and I can always use scarves). I would definitely buy a tan or cognac one if i happened to stumble upon one cute and not very pricey. When choosing the style, i suggest trying the general shape /color in a more inexpensive version before committing to the leather one. ( Also , you can play a bit with styles a couple of seasons till you determine what serves you best in a leather jacket) . I also had a very nice black suede one ( that i outgrown when i lost some weight) . It’s very unisex and very very well cut . Suede is in my opinion softer than polished so it’s why i dared a black one. All in all, leather jackets are things that you’ll love in a wardrobe and they will endure to be a little dated if the rest of the outfit it’s modern. Leather ages well , and a bit of scuffing just ads character and a lived in feel , and that’s the kind of chic money can’t buy. Happy leather jacketing

  • I have a vegan black denim version from Urban Outfitters (Silence + Noise, made in China, unfortunately) that is pretty versatile. Just a little shout out for the vegan options – and thank you for mentioning them.

    I had shopped around at some resale places but didn’t find much so I broke down and got this one – it’s perfect. Sometimes I can find perfect thrifted goods, sometimes not!

    Free People also has a vegan (p)leather version this year:
    http://www.freepeople.com/whats-new-vegan-leather/
    (There’s a biker and “moto” version, it looks like)

    I can layer it with a cardigan for extra warmth, or a fitted hoodie to make it warmer. I’ve worn it almost exclusively since I purchased it.

  • Aziraphale

    Thought I’d mention that the type of leather used to make the jacket can date it, too. We were just talking about that this weekend, because I bought my husband a black leather motorcycle jacket for his birthday, and my best friend was commenting on how different the leather is from the one she bought (new) in the 1990s. She said hers is so thick it could stand up on its own. My hubby’s new one is made of soft lambskin, something that’s quite popular at the moment, even for very tough-looking jackets.

  • Dee

    I have a couple faux leather jackets. One is gray, the other ivory. They are fun and pretty lightweight so I wear them in spring and fall. They will probably looked dated in a couple years but that is okay. I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on them. Last year I finally donated a leather jacket after wearing it for about 10 years! It was longer, (car coat length?) in a blazer style. Black. I think the simple design kept it from looking dated, as a matter of fact I see an almost identical style in the stores this year. (I would have kept it but it was a bit small on me after 10 years.) I am in the market for a new jacket – and it is hard to commit to spending that kind of money. I know I won’t be wearing it everyday. If you are a commuter (walk, train) like me you won’t want to wear it on rainy (or possibly rainy days!), or if its very cold. Some leathers do have linings — but unless its a removable one you then can’t wear it on medium cold days. (You can see why us midwesterners need a whole wardrobe of coats, we have so many types of cold weather LOL!) I would love a RED leather jacket — its not as practical as black but I am okay with that. One tip I do have is be sure the jacket is comfortable for what you want it for, for instance, can you move your arms freely? When you sit in the car does it ride up? (I have a cloth coat that does that so I call it my ‘walk around” jacket — not good for sitting!). I am curious what others have to say on the topic. (oh, big shoulder pads are the worse giveaways of an old jacket…)

  • spacegeek

    I love love leather and suede! I admit that I quite a few different leather/suede jackets–I have a cognac brown suede one that is boho 60’s, a long black leather one which is sophisticated, a cream colored moto-inspired one that I often seem to wear with dresses, and (gasp) a light peach/pink *suede* car coat “audrey hepburn” one with 3/4 sleeves that is completely impractical but that I adore! I just love the supple nature of leather. And since I live in no rain southern CA, these jackets work in 3 seasons!

  • Thank you so much for mentioning the vegan options. I’ve been wanting a black leather jacket forever, became vegetarian a few years ago, and have been wondering since if I could find a quality-looking faux one. I’ve also become addicted to the detective show Castle, and Detective Beckett has an amazing wardrobe of leather (and other) coats that I seriously envy.

    I have this site bookmarked for the motorcycle jacket (they sell other styles too): http://www.veganessentials.com/catalog/biker-jacket-by-vegetarian-shoes.htm. I’ve never bought anything from them; I hesitate because I can’t try it on, and a reviewer said the sizing is a bit off. But it’s exactly the style I want, and I can just picture it with a long poufy skirt.

  • I just bought one from Express. It’s leatherless (I prefer that), but it feels real. It’s better quality than most fauxs and with a couple of Express coupons, it doesn’t hurt your bank as much.

    http://www.express.com/minus-the-leather-peplum-seamed-moto-jacket-47456-33/control/page/20/show/3/index.pro

    • Tara

      That’s adorable! I’m glad to see all of the vegan options posted on this thread!

    • shebolt

      I just purchased that one as well, on sale and with a couple. It’s still pricey for faux leather but it’s looks and feels like the real deal.

      • shebolt

        coupon, not couple. Sorry.

  • Krysta

    w00t!! thanks Sally. I think thrifting with a serious eye to classic is going to be my answer–so off I go.

  • Anne

    I bought a new leather jacket last fall. After repeatedly kicking myself for about 20 years for buying a fox trimmed Andrew Marc leather jacket in my 20’s,(yes, it had HUGE shoulder pads!) I finally listed it on Craig’s list and unloaded it for about $150.00. I looked and lurked for about ten months then happened to find the “perfect one” at Wilson’s. It is a chocolate brown scuba style. I think I wore it about once a week last winter. I like it best with skirts and dresses as it tones down the girlie and gives my rather classic style a bit of an edge. I noticed that leather jackets were in pretty good supply and price around New Years’. (Nordstrom’s online) I also remember that they sold very quickly. If you can be patient, I would recommend trying them on like crazy between Thanksgiving and Christmas (they are a very popular Xmas gift )while they are in good supply. Then be ready to pull the trigger right around New Years when they go on sale.

    My final two cents: Although black leather jackets seem classic, after a certain age they can look a little harsh, at least on me. I also notice that if they are much longer than hip length they can read a little “Matrixy.”

  • Tracey

    I don’t think leather jackets become dated! Yes, trendy, non-classic colors and embellishments may date the look over time, but I feel a black or brown leather jacket is the one wardrobe piece that remains classic and classy throughout the eras, and I find mine has been totally worth the investment. (Maybe I am delusional and the younger ladies look at mid-40s me in my leather jacket and think frump, but I feel great in it and look forward to cooler weather so I can break it out again). Because they are expensive, take time shopping, and choose a style & color that works on you & that you love, and don’t forget to consider alterations. I LOVE mine & would replace it immediately if anything happened to it, but plan on keeping it for years.

  • It’s so true about the moto-style leather jacket being a classic. Though it’s not a style I gravitate towards. I have a great leather jacket in a chestnut brown. It’s kind of theatrical (usually the kiss of death in an item of clothing, IMO). The leather is so soft that it has a drapey cowl neck. It’s also double breasted. I know, I know. I’m making this thing sound like a disaster. My mother got it for me about 6 years ago from Sisley. It was $650.00 then. But I’m still wearing it all this time later.

  • Barbara S

    I bought a dark green Bernardo Jacket at the Nordstrom Anniversary sale this year, and I love it. I’m a redhead, and 55, it’s softer than stark black but still very clsoe to neutral. I love it.

  • shebolt

    This gives me an idea for the leather jacket I purchased a few years ago from Wilson’s that I decided was too “western” for my taste. Maybe I can sell it.

    I have a great red leather jacket I found new with tag at a yard sale ten years ago. It’s a moto style with minimal embellishments. It’s not too short, not too long, and fits me perfectly. I think I paid $10.

    I also have several faux leather moto jackets. One is a classic black jacket with some studs and other embellishments. It’s a current cut. Another is a caramel color from Dress Barn but the lining disintegrated within a month. >:( I just purchased a cognac jacket from Express to replace it, and hope it lasts a little longer.

  • Val C-MN

    Great topic! I love leather and suede jackets and have quite a few of them since I worked part-time in retail for a long time. Most of my leather and suedes have come from QVC and a few from Wilson’s and HSN. The blazer one-button style and the moto styles are my favorites. My first leather jacket was a cherry-kissed mahogany color, then I bought over the years baby blue, rust-orange, kelly green, and finally a black one. I also have 3 faux ones in ivory, black, and distressed copper. My suedes have been a variety of colors (medium purple, dark rose, camel, baby blue, pumpkin). I love color so I buy more colorful jackets than neutrals. However, for someone just starting on their leather journey, I would recommend black, brown or dark grey. I also agree that she may want to start with a faux leather option or a suede as her first purchase and then she will get a feel for what she likes.

    If you shop QVC, I recommend Bradley Bayou (especially for the color and the varied design styles), Denim & Co (they even have washable leather and suedes), and for faux options Susan Graver (anywhere from ruffled trim to metallics to croco to mandarin collar or blazer designs).

    Oh, I am a born-and-bred Mississippian, and we would wear a thinsulate-lined leather jacket (LOL). I often giggle when people in Minnesota hear I am going home for a winter vacation and they ask how “hot” it is going to be. I laugh and reply that Mississippi is normally 40’s/50’s as the high and low 30’s in Winter with a lot of rain (sometimes a week here/there of oddball 60 but mostly 40/50’s). I tell them they have MS confused with the lower FL area (Miami, etc) who have the 60/70 highs as their winter. Granted when I escape the MN tundra for Christmas, I am very thrilled to have my 50-degree Southern holiday. (LOL)

  • A leather coat is something I figure I never “need,” and I always check the sale racks, the thrift stores, etc. and pick them up here and there when I find a neat one. I only get them when the price is very low, so I never worry about the future. When I’m done with it – back to the thrifts it goes! It’s kind of like renting a jacket. My favorite is probably my slate-grey Stefanel moto that I found in a back alley consignment store in Prague on my honeymoon for about 15 US dollars. I found it in a pinch, since I hadn’t packed anything warm enough for the freak storms that hit Europe that August.

  • Hope

    I found my (rather plain, unadorned) leather jacket on vacation at a local shop in San Francisco. I just told myself I would keep my mind open to the perfect leather jacket and it sort of manifested. I spent hundreds of dollars on it but it I will wear it until I die. As a 5-foot-4 woman with an E bra cup, I feared I would never find a leather jacket that didn’t need expensive tailoring. Somehow, this one fit like a glove. Every time I wear it I get positive comments, and it helps that some of them come from young men!

  • Lucy

    I bought mine 3 years ago with a gift voucher I got from work as a “thank you” for something from Warehouse (a UK high street store) for £150 which I guess would have been about $200. It’s black, fitted, quite thin but very soft leather, and the underneath of the arms are elastic panels for a bit of interest. It really does go with everything but is not warm in the slightest. I recently donated a 5 year old ivory bomber with grey faux fur collar because it didn’t go with any of the stuff in my wardrobe.

  • ANGH

    The vegan option is the right one – there’s no difference between wearing leather and wearing fur.

  • My favorite leather jacket is lichen green with white leather trim. It’s a moto style that doesn’t pull when I sit, which I hate about longer leather. It’s gorgeous with my red hair. Because of the mottled color never looks too beat up. It’s strange enough, with the white trim that crosses diagonally over the front that it doesn’t have a date, at least I don’t think so. I’ve worn it for years and it goes great with brown and any other neutrals or greens. I actually inherited it from my beautiful, stylish sister who has longer arms. Luckily for me, the sleeves were a tad too short for her:)