Think of coats, and bulky garments designed to keep us warm or dry probably come to mind. Think of a suit, and we can’t help but picture the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, or the pinstriped cowboys of Wall Street today.

But there is no single image for the word “jacket,” the most common and variable form of above-the-waist outerwear. Jackets encompass navy-blue double-breasted blazers, Members Only nylon windbreakers, tweed Norfolks made famous by Basil Rathbone in “Sherlock Holmes,” and black leather jackets donned by a million wannabe bad boys in the 1950s.

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, jackets were worn indoors and out, though for entirely different reasons. Before they became a standard article of everyday wear, double-breasted blazers are thought to have descended from uniforms worn by the 19th-century crew that sailed aboard the HMS Blazer. Members of English rowing clubs wore single-breasted jackets, which links the two styles only by their proximity to water.

Short dinner jackets evolved into the top halves of tuxedos, which were so named for their popularity with the late-19th-century gentlemen who frequented the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park outside New York City. After dinner, early-20th-century males would shed their wool or silk dinner jackets for velvet smoking jackets, which were cut long and allowed smokers to leave the odor of the cigar room behind them.

Norfolk-style jackets evolved from late-19th-century hunting attire into early-20th-century driving jackets. Marked by buttons as well as a built-in belt, these jackets had a sporty, casual look, thanks to their big pockets and principle material of rugged, patterned tweed.

Another legendary outdoors jacket was the Barbour waxed jacket, which kept generations of British royals dry as they tramped about the English countryside hunting small game, which were frequently stuffed into the wide pocket at the jacket’s back. Styles of Barbours that remain popular today include the lightweight Beaufort and the heavier-duty Moorland.

Leather bomber jackets were romanticized during World War II, spawning several generations of men who chose goatskin jackets to shelter themselves from the elements, as well as t...

Also hot during the late 1940s and early 1950s was the Levi’s denim jacket. This sturdy blue jacket was considered work wear during the war and in the postwar years, but in the 1950s it was held as a rebellious alternative to more constraining daywear. The denim jacket, made by both Levi’s and Wrangler, would remain staples of young men’s fashion for years to come.

Rock ’n’ roll culture was another important influence on men’s jackets, as young men everywhere dressed like Elvis Presley in two-tone rockabilly jackets. Another popular style in the ’50s was the prep look—blazers made a comeback and letterman jackets were spotted in droves on many college campuses.

In 1960s Britain, the so-called "mod" style reigned, especially the Cardin-like collarless button-up jackets designed by London tailor Dougie Millings and worn by The Beatles early in their career.

Leather and suede were in as well, with jacket-length suede single-breasts gaining widespread acceptance in the late 1960s. Another phenomenon was the leather fringe jacket. This waist-length jacket featured tassels hanging from the sleeves, chest stitching, and sometimes pocket flaps. It was even more sought-after after its appearance on Dennis Hopper in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.”

International clothing styles, starting with the rise of the Nehru jacket, were also a significant part of the ’60s. So were vintage military uniforms, which found customers in trendsetters such as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

At the opposite end of the what-is-hip spectrum was the belted, goose-down ski jacket, which came to prominence thanks to improvements in ripstop nylon and waterproofing technologies. Sometimes these jackets had built-in or snap-on hoods, in which case they were usually referred to as parkas.

During the 1970s, wide-lapelled, multi-pocketed, belted safari jackets came into style. Black leather bomber jackets came back, this time worn by punk rockers like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. In the following decade, leather jackets were produced in a variety of colors and often featured multiple zippers, pockets, and chains—think just about any Michael Jackson music video of that period.

Also in the 1980s, double-breasted jackets fell out of fashion, replaced by large single-breasted, often single-button, coverings. Casual jackets got shorter—the rainbow of Members Only jackets come to mind, as do the short, vinyl, snap-button jackets emblazoned with pro football, baseball, or hockey team logos.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Stunning Mens Belstaff Panther Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket Size LargePristine Mens Belstaff Cougar Brown Leather Motorcycle Jacket Cafe Racer LargeBelstaff Trialmaster Motorcycle Waxed Winter Jacket Size Medium/largeNos Vintage 50 French Moleskin Work Jacket Workwear Post Chore Denim Navy O'allsVtg 50s Hercules Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket MediumVtg 60s 70s Belstaff Black Leather Cafe Racer Skinny Motorcycle Biker Jacket Stunning Vtg 1940s Appalachian Goatskin Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket 46Denim Vintage Jacket C1949 Lee Jean Jacket Nos Labels Levis Gwg Overall Vtg Schott 141 Cowhide Leather Motorcycle Cafe Racer Jacket 38 Fleece LiningOriginal Vintage Levis 507 Big E Type Ii 2 Nd Edition Denim Jean Jacket.Vintage 1940s Gabardine Pleated Half-belt Belt Back Men's Utility Jacket 40Vintage Deadstock Perfecto Schott Buffed Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket Sz 42Vintage French Work Chore Jacket 40s Repaired Denim Workwear Indigo Antique Hbt Vintage Original Levi Big E Denim 3rd Ed. Type 3 Jacket 1950s Distressed L Nr Vintage 1980s Schott Blanket Lined Dark Brown Leather Jacket Sz 44Vtg 1930s Horsehide Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket MediumVintage 1930's Levi Strauss Riders Workwear Pleated Denim Jacket - NrVintage 1940's "pyke Manufacturing" Pleated 1-pocket Denim Jacket -kids- NrMen's Vintage Rocky Mountain Featherbed Gore-tex & Leather Parka Jacket Sz 42Rare Vtg 1992 Polo Ralph Lauren Yellow Blue Cookie Patch Sailing Jacket Sz M LLee Blue Jean Jacket / Destressed Sanforized Shrunk ( 1940's Union Made80’s Schott New York Dark Brown Cowhide Leather Motorcycle Biker Jacket Sz 44Vintage 50s Work Jacket Herringbone Union Long Shop Coat Large Donut SelvageStunning Schott Black Leather Motorcycle Biker Jacket Size 36Stunning B-3 Sheepskin Military Air Force Flight Leather Winter Jacket MediumVintage Deadstock Schott Chocolate Brown Leather Bomber Jacket Sz 44Early Xl Vintage Brown's Beach Jacket Wool Vest Salt And PepperVintage Leather Biker Jacket Extra Small 36 Xs Slim Blk Trucker Denim Jean MensGenuine Quality Filson Garment 100% Vrigin Wool Jacket, Made In Portland, OrVintage Bespoke Tom Brown Eton Check Tweed Jacket Blazer & Waistcoat 38 Dr WhoVintage 40s Horsehide Leather Motorcycle Coat Jacket Usa Mens LargeStunning Vtg 60s British Cycle Leathers Brimaco Motorcycle Cafe Racer Jacket 40Vintage 1940's Cc41 Demob Pinstripe Navy Jacket Blazer 36 Ww2 Utility Vintage 60 French Work Jacket Workwear Chore Post Sanforized Denim Navy O'alls SHorse Hide Jacket, Halfbelt Jacket, Vintage Horsehide Jacket, 1950s, Excl CondtVintage Hamilton Carhartt Super Dux Hunting Jacket XlVintage 1980s Schott Chocolate Brown Leather Jacket Sz 48Vitnage 1930s White Mens Jacket Sanforized Asco Fabric Good Condition FabricVintage 1950's Arrow Windshield Sanforized Plaid Ricky Jacket 44 Rockabilly MintVintage Deadstock Schott 184sm Brown Leather Bomber Jacket Sz 48Vintage 40s 50s Leather Horsehide D Pocket Jacket Sears 44 Harley Buco HerculesVintage 80s Schott Brown Leather Deadstock #184sm Bomber Jacket Sz 54 Vtg French Black Cotton Moleskin Work Worker Workwear Chore JacketAdidas Star Wars X Wing Hoodie Military Jacket Han Solo Size XxlVintage 80’s Men’s Schott Nyc Cowhide Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket Sz 40Stunning Vtg 30s Albert Richard Horsehide Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket LrgRare Find Vintage Okinawa Reversible Map & Eagle Souvenir Bomber Jacket MediumVintage Chevignon Hopi Navajo Native Leather Fringed Jacket Sz LVintage Schott G2 A2 Bomber Pilot Army Chocolate Brown Leather Jacket Sz 40Vintage 1980s Bright White Leather Fringed Motorcycle Biker Jacket Sz MVtg French Nos Deadstock 1960s Salt & Pepper Chore Work Jacket Norfolk BackbeltFred Perry Navy Twin Taped Track Jacket - S - Weller Wiggins Ska Mod CasualsSchott Deadstock Vintage 80s Blanket Lined Leather Biker Jacket Sz 44Vintage 1950s Rust And Yellow Gabardine Ricky Jacket Size Large Rockabilly VlvVtg Schott Perfecto Motorcycle Biker Rider Riders Leather Jacket Black 40 (c24)Rare Find Vintage Okinawa Reversible Map & Eagle Souvenir Bomber Jacket LargeVintage Kleinhans Of Buffalo Black Red Velvet Mens Hugh Hefner Smoking Jacket Pendleton Vintage Chief Joseph Indian Blanket Mens Large Wool Jacket K3Vintage 1960s Famous D-pocket Steerhide Leather Men's Motorcycle Jacket 42Vintage Ford Hertz Sports Car Club Jacket Racing Xl