Leather coats are a functional piece of clothing, but more than that, they have become a symbol of many things in America. Different styles and versions of leather coats have become associated with various subcultures, movies, and icons in the United States.
The leather coat has been associated with bikers, military aviators, punks, rebels, and police.
Leather coats and jackets have become an icon, in major part because they have been worn in movies. He was most closely associated with the film Rebel without a Cause, and though he didn’t wear leather in the film, it is a common misperception that he did wear a white tee shirt and leather coat in that movie.
The use of leather coats in these movies helped popularize leather coats among teens and the “greaser” culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Years later, the Fonz on Happy Days also defined his look by wearing a leather coat, which is now housed in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The movie and Broadway play Grease also featured T-Birds wearing leather coats.
The leather coats worn by Danny in Grease and the Fonz in Happy Days identified these characters as desirable young men. Only the “cool” and sexy men in movies and TV are seen in leather coats, as if the leather is a symbol of their mystique and appeal with women. Leather coats have thus been associated with virility, masculinity, and sexual prowess.
Unlike the black leather coats of the movie and TV stars, leather coats worn by aviators and military members were usually brown in color, and have been given the nickname “bomber” jackets. Most leading men have worn leather coats on screen at one point or another.
The Indiana Jones character played by Harrison Ford also wore a brown, bomber style leather coat, though his was mainly used for protective purposes as he ran through the jungle or was otherwise in physical danger. Indiana Jones has also been seen as a man with answers, who is tough, and appeals to women, and this look is completed when he wears a leather coat.
There are many additional examples of iconic leather jackets worn in popular culture, such as the one worn by the T-800 character of The Terminator movies. Metal and punk rock bands are also commonly photographed wearing leather coats, including such punk icons as the Ramones, who have often worn leather.