From the moment James Dean first rumbled across the screen, the biker look — hulking leather coat, rugged jeans and street-wise swagger — has been ingrained in America’s style DNA.
Designers are returning to the staple, but with a high-fashion update: Sleeker jackets in body-hugging silhouettes paired with hippie tops and edgy, style-conscious accessories round out a Boho-biker look that merges hard and soft.
Supple, studded leather ankle boots and candy-colored fingerless gloves fuse femininity with the masculine style, as designers offer even the most dainty fashionista a chance at feeling like a bad girl.
But make no mistake: Biker style may have gone sleek, but it hasn’t gone soft.
“There’s a real toughness,” says InStyle fashion director Hal Rubenstein, who sees heavy emphasis on the dark, moody sex appeal of the biker aesthetic. “But there’s also a real hippie quality.”
Rubenstein says designers are focusing on cropped jackets with ornamenting in shapes that are less boxy-bulky. Pants, meanwhile, are tight.
Belts and link jewelry seem to overshadow the zippers and buckles traditionally associated with biker chic.
“There’s a tempering of the toughness,” says Rubenstein, who points to Gucci’s gypsy-rocker fall collection as defining the look. The label pairs floaty mini-dresses with hardware belts and knee-grazing boots bearing ultra-long, fringe accents that could be at home swinging from a Harley-Davidson’s handle bars.
At Rodarte, skintight pants and a gauzy cardigan get a punch of toughness with copper and peach fingerless gloves and studded bracelets.
But Rubenstein warns against straying too far from the classic biker ethos this season.
“It’s all about black leather,” Rubenstein says. “It connects to so many things — it’s bad girl, it’s bad boy, it’s the Marlon Brando rebel … There is a certain iconography here that you don’t want to play around with.”
Rubenstein says to stick with black, dark browns or deep grays when it comes to leather.
Key pieces include a fitted leather pant, matched well with a romantic blouse. More modest consumers may try boots.
“Every woman loves a good boot,” he says. “A great pair of high, lace-up black boots or grommeted or studded black boots is a sensational way to take on this kind of look.”
And of course, there’s the jacket.
Offerings from Cole Haan fit the bill: a vintage lamb moto jacket in licorice for him, a more shape-conscious style with an asymmetric front closure and zipper detailing for her.
“Definitely we’re fitting them in the waist,” explained design director Paul Overfield. “The (biker) trend is inspiration, but it’s still very feminine, with the zip details hitting the waist.”
For the woman who wants to be a little more subtle in her moto-chic aspirations, an oversized kilty tote with grommet detailing or peep-toe pumps dotted with tiny studs hint at a harder edge.
The biker look’s latest makeover comes as even real life hog-lovers become more luxuriant, snapping up new bikes from manufacturers like BMW AG and Ducati Motor Holding SpA with price tags topping $72,000.
Moschino has collaborated with Italian helmet producer Max Safety Fashion to produce fun helmets sexed up with Moschino’s trademark heart design — though the headgear is not distributed in America for now, and is designed more for the motor scooter rider than the Harley die-hard, according to the label.
Riders can always strap one of Kiehl’s new men’s grooming kits, designed by West Coast Choppers’ own Jesse James, to the back of their bike.
Whether you’re sporting a traditional leather jacket or slipping into a subtly studded pump, Rubenstein says one element is universal to pulling off the biker look: “You really have to look in that mirror and say, ’I look cool.”’