A Look at the History of Motorcycle Fashion & Gear

The powered bike was first referred to as a motorcycle in 1902, several years before the refined Royal Pioneer was built by Royal Motor Works in 1909, according to Bennetts, the U.K.’s leading motorcycle insurance provider. The Pioneer was a well-designed, smooth bike operated by unique, refined controls; its riders were just as urbane. Affluent riders who rode the Pioneer and other venerable motorcycles, such as the prestigious Pierce Four, would spend a sunny afternoon riding leisurely and stylishly. Here’s a historical glance at the motorcycle’s most iconic fashions:

Suit & Boots

Photo by cliche Leon van Dievoet via Wikimedia Commons

During the early 1900s, stylish riders traditionally wore a tweed suit accessorized with a flat cap to prevent messy hair. Full-length boots were also iconically part of the fashionable motorcycle uniform. Riding boots, however, were one item of clothing that wealthy motorcyclists shared with common folk and the everyday worker. Gentlemen were socially required to look highly presentable during a ride through the park, and the tweed suit was the standard uniform for gallivanting in the prestigious countryside, GQ reports.

Protective Looks

Photo by Slick-o-bot via Wikimedia Commons

Early 20th-century motorcycles evolved, becoming faster and more advanced. Motorcycle police and military personnel protected themselves by wearing equestrian-inspired gauntlet gloves to withstand the wind and protect the skin. The officials’ motorcycle wardrobe also included the flat cap, known to be worn by couriers.

Racing Garments

Moving from the countryside to the race track, Harley Davidson became the inspiration for motorcycle racing garb. Thick pullovers worn by the Harley Davidson wrecking crew and the competition sweater made racetrack style statements. The competition sweater fit snugly and was made of wool in a bright color. The motorcycle brand or club name embroidered the sweater in felt letters, GQ recounts.

Photo by The Motorcycle Illustrated via Wikimedia Commons

By 1910, leather skull caps, riding trousers and aircraft-spec goggles enhanced protection and injury prevention for racing motorcyclists, according to Bennetts.

The Leather Jacket

Photo of James Dean by Dr.Macro via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1920s, riders turned to thick horsehide overcoats from the World War I era. By 1928, Irving Schott designed the first motorcycle leather jacket in New York City. The black leather jacket was named the Perfecto after his favorite cigar. Imagine the adored “Rebel Without a Cause” James Dean with a cigarette between his lips riding his Triumph TR5 Trophy.

Headware & Helmets

Wearing head protection became a priority for motorcyclists after T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) died in a motorcycle accident in 1935. British World War II dispatch riders were mandated to wear crash helmets, which were made from cork or tin. By the 1960s, the first full-face, cork-lined helmet was designed by Bell Auto Parts’ Roy Richter. Over the decades, the motorcycle full-face helmet advanced into today’s premier motorcycle helmets, such as the Shoei GT-Air Inertia Full Face Motorcycle Helmet 2013 and Arai VX-Pro 3 Edge Full Face Helmet.

Photo by Triton Rocker via Wikimedia Commons

From the classic Vince Camuto Washed Goat Leather Moto Jacket like the one at Macy’s, to the resilient two-piece leather suit, retro motorcycle apparel ran the fashion gamut. Riding garments moved beyond protective purposes and eventually became cultural. Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” inspired the fashionably legendary motorcycle look defined by the black leather jacket, denim and engineered boots. Today’s riders hit the road in face masks and motorcycle uniforms designed with reflective patterns, high-tech materials and fluorescent colors.

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