Those who want to stick it to the man are generally bound to have a good jacket. In this list we chart the best threads in our characters' arsenal for kicking ass – from the snakeskin and fur coats of blaxploitation cinema to the ubiquitous leather of the American rebel, and we come out the other side with the ultimate postmodern symbol of the consumer fetish in that scorpion jacket in Drive.
The leather jacket, which features heavily in this list, has a rich cinematic history – from the American outlaw biker epitomised by James Dean and Marlon Brando to its female equivalent in the leather-clad dolly bird Marianne Faithfull in The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) and Madonna's cult '80s look. Finally, it reemerges as a sleeker '90s number in Fight Club.
Most of the characters on this list have one thing in common – on the fringes of society and facing pressure from The Man, they’ve finally had enough. Here’s to fighting the revolution in a leisure suit.
The Wild One (Laslo Benedek, 1953)
It seems appropriate to start with the quintessential film jacket to end all film jackets. This leather number (a Schott Perfecto, if you’re interested, marked with the insignia of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) led to a surge of popularity and sudden banning of leather jackets in schools around the country. The jacket was thought to inspire a threatening new demographic – the teenager, in their pursuit of wild kicks. “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whaddaya got?”
Cleopatra Jones (Jack Starrett, 1973)
The Amazononian kick-ass babe Tamara Dobson plays Cleopatra Jones, a high fashion government agent trying to sort out some drug traffickers – all while keeping cool in a fur bomber jacket, with flares and heels.
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
Demel (Bruno Ganz) is an angel hovering high above the city of Berlin. As he falls in love with trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin), and surrenders his angel immortality, the long black coat of the angels is replaced by a bright and mismatched second-hand jacket. He wanders around awkwardly. The coffee is too hot. The perils of an all-too human world besiege him.
Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964)
The iconic biker’s leather jacket is reinterpreted in Anger’s beautiful experimental film, as we follow a gang of gay nazi bikers as they wreak havoc and get into fights. The sequins on the jacket double up as the opening credit sequence, too.
Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
Another iconic little number here: James Dean’s bright red jacket seduced audiences when it first hit the screen, setting his character apart as a man of passion at odds with society, and irrevocably changing what teengagers perceived as ‘cool’. This may well be the most good-looking jeans-and-white T-shirt combination in cinema. Go on, show me a better one.
Wild At Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
“This here jacket represents my individuality and belief in personal freedom”. Little known fact: Sailor’s famous snakeskin jacket was actually Cage’s own.
Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971)
Private detective Shaft (Richard Rowntree) is a man in charge of his own destiny, and looks badass doing it in a series of leather jackets from black to suede. As “the cat who won’t cop out, when there’s danger all about”, Shaft patrols the streets of a rather dingy looking early '70s New York.
Miami Vice (TV show, 1984-89)
'80s pale-coloured power suits are clearly the name of the game. The sheer volume of pastel shades (Crockett and Tubbs wore about 5-8 outfits in each show, ranging from pink, blue, green and fuschia) was meant to replicate the Art Deco style of Miami’s architecture.
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, 2008)
When not sunbathing topless in a terrorist bootcamp in Palestine, the RAF like to show off their radical chic credentials in a classic take on the leather-jacket-and-shades combination. Violent revolutionary Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreau) at one point chucks his beloved jacket at a young revolutionary. Possessions are evil, man.
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
As prizefighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), that suede jacket cuts a mean shape whether he’s jacking motorcycles, or murdering a sadistic shop owner with a katana in a sex dungeon. “Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead”.
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
A white satin bomber jacket with an embroidered scorpion technically shouldn’t work. But when’s it hanging off the chiselled frame of Ryan “Least Convincing Badass in Hollywood” Gosling, it looks pretty darn good. The film’s costume designer Erin Benach based the look on Gosling’s love of Korean souvenir jackets from the '50s. The scorpion came later as a tribute to Anger’s aforementioned Scorpio Rising. Rest assured you can buy yours at one of several online retailers.
Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)
Susan (Madonna)’s jacket - with its exotic gold pyramid design with an eye on the back, provides the link between her and Roberta, as identities mix and collide, inextricably linked in the plot through the very jacket. As Laura Mulvey, in 1998, observed: “The jacket will provide the means of transporting Roberta into the other world where she in turn will get caught up in danger and romance by temporarily 'becoming' Susan”. The gold pyramid reflects the exotic life that Roberta associates with Susan, while resembling the dollar bill. Like the scorpion jacket in Drive, this look will come to make big bucks.
Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)
Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a naive and well-meaning Texan, whose assertive Southern masculinity is emphasized by a cowboy hat and boots, and that fringed suede jacket. Unfortunately, in the late '60s New York “scene”, this translates as camp kitsch, and he winds up hustling men in old cinemas.
She-Devils on Wheels (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1968)
A key fashion item of any gang is the labelled jacket (see here). Also seen in The Warriors and Grease, the colourful varsity “Maneater” jackets of this fearsome all-female biker girl gang The Man Eaters, would make a cracking look for a hen night.
The Runaways (Floria Sigismondi, 2010)
Costume designer Carol Beadle did a great job at capturing the glam-rock style of '70s girl band The Runaways. Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) wears some great leather jackets here, but it’s this hot pink power shoulder number that steals the show, effecting a move away from the band toward her solo career.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
Uma Thurman’s bright yellow biker jacket holds out as a pretty iconic look for being a badass bitch.
Superfly (Gordon Parks Jr.,1972)
Costume designer Nate Adams coordinates some awesome threads for this follow up to Shaft – expect sweet sheepskin and snakeskin and suede for sticking it to the man in style.
Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
Tyler Turden (Brad Pitt)’s stylish, worn red leather jacket resembles a contemporary take on James Dean’s in Rebel Without A Cause. Its origins are disputed – either costume designer Michael Kaplan bought it at Decades vintage shop, or it was a one-off original design.
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
Dean Stockwell plays Ben, a camp drug dealer pimp in a super sweet paisley satin smoker’s jacket, ruffled shirt and smoking from a cigarette holder. Though only in one scene, he owns it with his rendition of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”.
Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch, 1989)
There are two defining jackets for the price of one here: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins blinkingly bright red suit number as the psychotic Memphis night clerk of a rundown hotel, and the labelled leather jackets of an Elvis-obsessed Japanese couple (played by Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase). It seems appropriate for a filmic homage to Elvis, the man who made the lary sequin jacket a quintessential part of costume history.
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