Leather: Shirts

After getting leather chaps as my first leather gear investment, I wanted a leather shirt. This was back in the ’80s, before shopping via the Internet was possible.

I saw some photos of guys in leather cop shirts in some magazines, but couldn’t find a place to call to order one. Then I saw an ad in a local paper about a leather store operating at the DC Eagle. I went there — first time I got the willies and didn’t go in; second time, I was about to go in when some guy gave me a sneer an scared me off. Third time was the charm. I ran inside the bar on a slow Saturday afternoon, and up the three flights of stairs to the leather store. I found the shirt I wanted, just paid for it, and left.

When I got home, I tried it on and found that it didn’t fit! It was marked what I thought was my size, but it was too small. I screwed up my courage and went back a couple weeks later, made the exchange, and had my first short-sleeved leather shirt. I really liked it, and wore it a lot. A few years thereafter, once I had become more comfortable going into stores like that, I was measured and had a long-sleeved shirt made for me. Well, then, “the rest is history.” I have about a dozen leather shirts now, most of which still fit, and I still wear.

Here is the snippet from my Complete Guide to Leather Gear with information about leather shirts:

Leather shirts come in a variety of styles, and nowadays, colors too. There are two basic varieties: leather cop-style shirts, and then “all the rest.”

Leather cop-style shirts have two pockets, shoulder epaulets and a snaps down the front. A high-quality leather shirt will have a zipper covered with a snap-fitted covering. Cheaper shirts may have a button closure. I don’t recommend a button closure for the same reason that I don’t recommend a button fly on leather jeans: the button holes stretch and after a few wearings, don’t remain buttoned for long, especially if engaging in any form of activity — from having sex to riding a motorcycle.

You can get leather shirts with long sleeves, short sleeves, or no sleeves. While I have all of these styles, I find that I wear short sleeves more often than others. Short-sleeve leather shirts are more comfortable and don’t get as hot. You can also show an armband (if you wear one). I wear long-sleeved leather shirts as an overshirt when I ride my motorcycle on days when it’s not cool, but not hot, either.

Other varieties of leather shirts may include a one-piece that you pull over your body and close the front with rawhide. These shirts usually hang funny and don’t look right, even on a well-built man. You may also find a leather dress shirt — constructed like a men’s dress shirt with one pocket and a dress collar, meant to be worn with a dress leather tie. There are some variations of leather shirts available, as well.

Features to look for in a leather shirt

The Fit: a well-made leather shirt will fit well, snugly around your chest and tuck in well at your waist. It should not be baggy around the shoulders or the stomach. It should define your shoulders and back. It should have only one seam down the middle of the back, though it may have added decorative seams on the right and left third of the back of the shirt. If it has seams on each side, then that is an indicator of piecemeal construction that is of poor quality.

Style: Leather shirts come in basic black, which is recommended if you will have only one leather shirt. You can also get leather shirts in almost any other color. If you do, I recommend darker colors like blue, olive, or brown. Shirts in lighter colors, like CHP tan, tend to accentuate one’s physical size and makes even thin guys look overweight. Red shirts make you stand out like a stop sign, and seldom look good on anyone but a website’s model.

You can also get piping (small strips of leather) on a leather shirt. Piping runs along the pockets, epaulets, and sometimes across the shoulders or down the sides. This is a purely personal choice. Just don’t go overboard. If you choose to have piping added to your shirt, keep it simple: pockets and epaulets only, and keep it all the same color.

I would not say that a leather shirt is “essential,” but it completes the look. And speaking as a biker, I find leather shirts to be useful when I ride my Harley. They provide comfort, warmth, and look good with biker leathers such as breeches or leather jeans. I wear my leather shirts often in fall, winter, and spring, just around the house and as I go about activities in my community.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment on leather gear: what I call “other stuff,” such as gloves.