Leather jackets are a classic men's style staple that will never go out of style.
Everyone wants to look great and feel cool rocking a leather jacket, but many shorter gents stay away from them because of their height.
This is especially true for leather jackets. A bulky, oversized leather jacket will make a short man look like a kid playing dress up.
Plus, even if you understand how a leather jacket should fit, what about all of those other factors?
How do you identify a quality leather jacket? How much should you spend? What are the different types of leather jackets?
These are all great questions, but here's the thing: I'm no expert on this topic. Sure, I rock a leather jacket from time to time, but I'm not qualified to write the kind of in-depth guide that you need.
That's why I've enlisted the help of Peter Nyugen, founder of The Essential Man and former leather jacket designer.
Peter is a fellow modest man, and he's THE expert when it comes to leather jackets.
Take it away, Peter!
Most guys wonder if they have the right attitude to pull off a leather jacket (answer: of course you do).
It's been a symbol of cool manhood from it's birth in the military to becoming a punk rock staple. It gives you heft, not just mentally, but physically. And this is where it can get tricky for us shorter guys.
As a 5’7” former leather jacket designer, I understand your hesitance.
But I’m here to help.
For this guide, I’m sorting through the best styles and tiny details for shorter men. You'll be able to add this essential piece to your closet.
And learn how to avoid looking like an eight-year-old trying on his dad’s jacket.
The Fitted Racer Jacket
A fitted racer is the number one pick for leather jacket styles for shorter guys. Why? It has softer shoulders and a front center zipper, keeping it close to your body for a slimmer fit.
Boxy or bulky jackets can go wrong fast, making your jacket look too large and wide for you.
Not only this, the racer is a style minimal in details, making it easier to go from work to weekend.
Key Details: Racer jackets will be minimal in details, and have a front center zipper. Band collars are traditional, but you’ll sometimes see them with traditional point collars.
The Ribbed Cuff Leather Bomber
The second biggest problem for the shorter guy when it comes to leather jackets is sleeve length.
Tailoring a leather jacket is tricky. Some tailors won’t touch even touch leather. I actually recommend going to a specialist if you’re looking to get your leather piece tailored (more on this later).
One of my favorite ways around this is going for jackets with ribbed cuffs. A few stacks on your sleeves of your leather jacket are forgivable (and actually look a lot cooler).
Key Details: Ribbed cuffs can be put on any jacket style, and will sometimes also have ribbed hems and collars to match. The stronger and tighter the rib, the better quality the rib is and longer it will last.
The Double Rider Style Jacket
It would be a crime for me to have a list of leather jacket recommendations and not have the classic double rider style on it. Double riders get their name for the off center, double breasted placement of the zipper.
Double rider style jackets have slimmed up a bit from it’s original Schott Perfecto incarnation, and still retains one of the best “features” for shorter guys.
The original Schott Perfecto was cropped high by design. This was to accommodate men who actually rode motorcycles, making it more comfortable to sit when the jacket is zipped up.
Most versions of this jacket, even by different brands, still retain this cropped body style.
A jacket that is too long will elongate your torso, making your legs look short and stumpy. The double rider is the perfect solution for the shorter man.
Key Details: The double breasted, asymmetrical zipper and high crop are key details. Some jackets will have epaulettes, which you need to be careful of. If the epaulettes are too big or thick, it can give the same effect as a padded shoulder.
This will make the jacket appear to big on you. Look for a jacket with flat epaulettes (like the Oak jacket in the example), or no epaulettes at all. Fun fact: “Perfecto” is a trademarked name by Schott and often used illegally by other brands.
Designers will sometimes call their version of the Perfecto jacket a “Double rider” or “Rider” instead.
DOs and DON'Ts of Leather Jackets for Short Men
Try to follow these four ground rules when choosing your next leather jacket.
Avoid “Real” Motorcycle Jackets
There’s actually a difference between “real” motorcycle jackets and “fashion brand/designer” leather jackets.
Real motorcycle jackets have a function beyond looks: they’re meant to act as protection for the rider. A second skin.
Often made of thicker hides, true motorcycle jackets are a lot more structured and stiff. With vintage models, cuts will be boxier, with large sleeves and wider shoulders.
This is bad news for any guy, especially a shorter one.
I'm sure you've seen the guy wearing a thrifted leather jacket looking like he's wearing football pads.
Designer leather jackets aren’t truly functional in the same way. They’re made of softer leathers like lambskin. Designer leather jackets will have a sleek silhouettes that hug the body and flatter you more.
Buy As Tight As You Can
I believe leather jackets should fit like a second skin. If a leather jacket is too roomy, it can appear “too big” for you if worn unzipped. This gives off a “kid wearing his dad's clothes” vibe.
Leather jackets stretch a bit and are more forgiving than other jackets. Make sure you wear what you plan to wear it with when you try on jackets.
If you know you're going to wear sweaters underneath your jacket often, wear a sweater to the store. If you try on and buy a leather jacket wearing a t-shirt, it's going to be too tight for you to wear a sweater underneath when the time comes.
Key areas that should be fitted are the sleeves and the body.
I prefer jackets with 2-way zippers, allowing me to purchase a jacket a little tighter. I can let out the bottom of the jacket when fully zipped, making it a lot more comfortable to wear.
Hire a Specialist to Adjust the Sleeves
Sleeve rules are a little bit more relaxed when it comes to leather jackets than, say, a blazer. You can push up your sleeves and have them stack a bit like I mentioned earlier, but sleeve length can still be a problem for some guys when out shopping.
If this is your staple leather jacket, I highly recommend investing in getting the sleeve shortened. I recommend using a leather specialist. My personal favorite? Modern Leather Goods in NYC.
They do mail order jobs and is the go to place brands like Rick Owens recommend to people for repairs and adjustments. Price will dependent on the jacket. Expect to pay $75-150.
A sleeve length hitting at the wrist or 1/4″ longer is perfect.
If trying out different styles and going to a tailor sounds exhausting, there's another option.
Brands like Schott do custom jobs on all their classic styles.
You’ll pay a premium, but with prices starting at $1,000, it’s still an amazing value for what you get. Especially when you compare it to $2,500+ designer jackets that might be too long for you.
You can adjust everything from the jacket length to sleeve length, even put in special customization requests that’s not listed!
3 Ways to Wear a Leather Jacket
Now you know all about leather jackets, but what kind of outfits should you wear them with? Here are three different looks for three different scenarios.
Look #1: The Relaxed Office
Break away from the sea of gingham shirts and khakis at the office. Brown gives you a lot more color combination options than black.
The chambray shirt looks good on every guy, and wearing a collared shirt shows you do still understand this is a place of work.
Chinos come in more colors than khaki, by the way. Try a darker option, like this slate gray pair from J.crew. Darker tones give your classic red chucks the perfect backdrop to stand out against.
Look #2: The Weekend Runaround
There’s nothing I enjoy more than heading out of my apartment early on the weekends and people watching with a solid cup of coffee.
My default look? A perfectly beat up pair of denim and low key running
The Perfecto can be too edgy for work, and feel like you’re trying too hard on a first date, but perfect for times like this.
Add some much needed color with a button up, like this bordeaux, faintly striped shirt from Steven Alan. Relax, and feel free to leave a couple top buttons undone.
Look #3: From the Office to Date Night
After a long week, finally some alone time with the lady. You two decided on your favorite wine bar with the amazing tapas selection. Elegant, sure, but low key.
The dark collared button up shirt and dress pants keep it serious. But showing up in your work suit would be overkill, so swap it out for a leather jacket.
The black racer jacket gives you enough edge, without be inappropriate for a dinner date. It’ll say “I’m making an effort” while giving off an effortlessly cool vibe.
BONUS: Enjoyed the Post?
I put together a special page for Modest Man readers, where you can get a free one-page buying guide for leather jackets.
This checklist will help you buy the best quality leather jacket. It covers details to look out for, how it should fit and a simple trick you can use to see if it’s good leather, even if you’re not an expert.
Peter Nguyen is a Personal Stylist for successful entrepreneurs, and founder of The Essential Man. He lives and works in New York City.
Questions about leather jackets? Leave a comment below!