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    

Vtg 40's-50's Langlitz Horsehide Motorcycle Biker Leather Jacket Distressed OrigVtg 30s 40s Wwii Usaaf Us Army Air Force B-3 Sheepskin Flight Leather Jacket M/lVtg 50s Levis Big E Shorthorn Leather Western Motorcycle Jacket SheepskinVintage Levis Big E 1950s Suede Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western Small/mediumVintage 1940's Headlight Faded Indigo Denim Chore Engineer Jacket Sz 44 Xl LevisVtg Levis Big E 40s 50s Shorthorn Calfskin Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western SVintage Horsehide Leather Jacket Schott Langlitz Knucklehead Panhead Chopper WrVtg Schott Black Leather Cafe Racer Jacket Motorcycle Size 42 LongVtg 1967 G-1 Navy Pilots Leather Flight Bomber Jacket Vietnam War Sz. 44 G1 Ex!B-3 Pilot Leather Jacket Air Force Flight Sheepskin MediumVintage 60 French N-1 Deck Jacket Navy Work Wear Army Post Us N1 Wwii Usn O'allsSuperb Barbour Green Waxed Winter Country Jacket Bedale Size 38Vintage 1930s Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket SmallVintage 1940s Horsehide Leather Motorcycle Sports Jacket Medium/largeVtg 50's Sears Oakbrook Steerhide Motorcycle Biker Leather Jacket D-pocket Steer$9, Paris Brown Deerskin, Vintage Leather Roadster Jacket €Vtg Harley Davidson Cafe Racer Leather Motorcycle Jacket Large/xlargeVintage Aero Leather Co. Black Police Patrol Motorcycle Biker Jacket 42Mens Vanson Cobra Black Leather Padded Motorcycle Cafe Racer Jacket Size L/xl1920s Scarce Early Vintage Duxbak Canvas Field Hunting Jacket Fishing Duxback NrFred Perry Twin Taped Track Jacket In Black - L - Ska Mod Casuals Weller SkinsVtg B-3 Sheepskin Military Air Force Flight Leather Shearling Winter Jacket LrgVntage 1950's Hercules D.pocket Leather Motorcycle Jacket - Rocker Wild One KoolSchott Usa Vtg Black Belted Leather Motorcycle Biker Jacket MediumVtg 60s Brimaco Black Leather Cafe Racer Jacket Motorcycle SmallHorsehide & Sheepskin Vtg 40s Leather Motorcycle Barnstomer Winter Jacket LargeVtg 50s Kurland Steerhide Leather Motorcycle Flight Bomber Jacket Small/mediumVtg 60's-70's Thurlow Deerskin Motorcycle Biker Riding Leather Jacket FlightVintage British Raf Irvin Sheepskin Shearling Bomber Flight Jacket Avirex Xxl 50Sawyer Canada B-3 Pilot Leather Jacket Air Force Flight Sheepskin 40Vintage 1980s Tt Leather Biker Worn Jacket Coat Punk Cafe Racer Xlarge 44Vtg 40s Brown Horsehide Half Belt Leather Motorcycle Sports Jacket Small/mediumSchott Perfecto Vtg 80s 619 Leather Motorcycle Jacket Size 44 Fleece LinerNice Vintage 50's 60's Wrangler Pleated Front Gold Dot Denim Jean Jacket Sz 38Vintage Classic Leather Biker Worn Jacket Coat Punk Cafe Racer Large 42Vintage 1970s Leather Biker Mascot Worn Jacket Coat Punk Cafe Racer Medium 40 Vintage Mens 1960s Tricel Smoking Jacket Dressing Gown Robe MediumVtg Calvin Klein Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket 1930s Style MediumFred Perry Bomber Jacket In Navy - M - Ska Mod Indie Rare Weller Casuals ScooterVtg Antique 1900s Victorian Linen Duster Car Coat Chore Jacket Workwear PatchedVintage 1940s Deerskin Leather Mens Cossack Jacket Talon Zipper Size 38 HendrickWw2 Us Army Mountain Tooper Snow Pullover JacketVintage 1970s Black Tailored Morning Dinner Tailcoat Jacket Black Small 38Vtg Imperial Leather & Sports 1976 Us Navy G-1 Goatksin Flight Jacket 40Superb Mens Belstaff Panther Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket Size MediumVtg 50's C.c. Filson Union Made Blue Plaid Double Wool Mackinaw Coat Jacket MdMens Black Superdry Japan Crombie Trench Winter Wool Overcoat Coat Jacket LVintage Eddie Bauer Buffalo Plaid Wool Goose Down Men’s Jacket Sz XlVtg 1970s Harley Davidson Amf Steerhide Leather Police Motorcycle Jacket S/mSchott "perfecto", Vintage Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket, W/vest, Size 38/40Vtg 1940's Rail Chief Sanforized Union Made Denim Chore Work Farm Barn JacketRare Vintage 1960's Swingster Budweiser Beer Print Men's Jacket Size MediumVintage 70s Lesco Leathers Black Belted Motorcycle Biker Jacket Size 44Vintage Polo Ralph Lauren Crest Satin Jacket 92 93 Usa Stadium Rare Harley Vintage Mens Buco Horsehide D Black Leather Motorcycle Jacket Medium Vintage B-3 Bomber Pilot Shearling Sheepskin Air Force Army Leather Jacket Vtg Schott Leather Jacket Brown Cafe Racer Size 42 Motorcycle Vtg 1976 Imperial Leather & Sports G-1 Us Navy Flight Goatskin Leather JacketVintage Denim Jacket Chore Union Made Hercules Brand Work Jacket Indigo Sm/mVintage 1940s Two Tone Half-belt Mens Leather Cossack Jacket 1930s 44 Jack Miles