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How to Buy and Wear a Leather Jacket 

This stylish piece is a wardrobe investment

spinner image People wearing various leather jackets.
Black leather jackets in a variety of styles, from left, Tichina Arnold wears one over a trendy top, Tisha Campbell in a biker jacket, Soledad O'Brien in a moto jacket, Octavia Spencer in a bomber jacket and Chandra Wilson in a long one.
Getty Images (4), Roy Rochlin; Jim Spellman/WireImage; Kevin Winter/BAFTA LA; David Livingston

Move over little black dress. If there's one wardrobe basic every woman over 50 wants now it's a little black leather jacket. Slip it off the hanger, onto your shoulders and you're Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, Foxy Brown and Sandy in Grease all rolled into one. In other words: a little tougher on the inside a lot cooler on the outside. Whether you're classic, edgy or just a little bit trendy there's a leather jacket that's right for your body, style and budget. Here's what to look for, with some major celebrity inspiration:

1. Find a black leather jacket that is you

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Biker-inspired black leather styles lead the pack but there are other options and hybrids that tweak the format. For example, some biker jackets are beltless and have no sleeve zippers. Here are your best bets (as shown above):

  • A biker (a motorcycle jacket) is waist length, belted, with a diagonal zipper and a flared collar.
  • A moto (a racer) is sleeker, more fitted, with a straight front zipper and a banded collar. 
  • A bomber (a flight jacket) zips up the front but has ribbed trim at the waistband and wrists and a softer, slightly blouson fit.
  • A blazer is sharply tailored but in leather, shaped at the waist and hip to below-the-hip length.
  • A belted blazer is a long wrap that defines the waist but covers the hips.

2. Real or faux?

This is a matter of conscience, price and practicality. If a leather jacket is on your wish list but the cost or guilt over cows and lambs deters you, try far more affordable faux. Of course, ethics aside, you might score a vintage leather jacket online, but fake leather (sometimes called “vegan") is now so authentic in feel and look you'll have to read the price tag and label twice. Faux leather — a synthetic fabric that is usually a blend of polyurethane and rayon or viscose — is animal and wallet-friendly and, unlike real leather, many are water-repellent.

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spinner image Woman wearing leather jackets year round
Cindy Crawford in a classic black leather biker over a striped sailor tee and faded jeans. Sharon Stone wears a moto over a longer V-neck sweater and jeans. Frances Fisher, in a biker jacket over a sunny yellow floral dress in May, proves seasonless versatility.
Marc Piasecki/GC Images/Getty Images; BG023/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images; Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

3. Aim for maximum versatility

The most useful black leather jackets are multi-seasonal for year-round wear day or night. Don't get stuck on one look. You can throw your black leather jacket over a T-shirt or sundress (even in June or Miami) in freezing air-conditioned movies or restaurants; layer it over a longer sweater, tank and jeans; slip it over a tailored dress under a raincoat; pair it with leggings and a hoodie or try it under a winter coat or trench for style and warmth.

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4. Get a supple medium weight

Some black leather jackets — especially real leather bikers — are stiff and take time to get broken in, just like new 100 percent cotton dark-wash jeans without stretch. Who has the time or patience for that? Look instead for soft, buttery jackets that mold to your body from day one. Texture varies from a washed, weathered or pebble-grained finish to smooth. If you're shopping online it's often difficult to tell from the photos and description, so check the return policy. Real leather and fakes naturally soften and crease with age, get scratched and fade from wear in spots ... but that's part of their charm and give the jackets character.

spinner image Leather jackets fitting women perfectly.
Andie MacDowell in a biker over a navy silk top, black slim pants and flats. Lesli Linka Glatter (executive producer of Homeland) wears a front-zip biker (no belts or extra bells and whistles) over a black sheath dress. Nancy Grace in a black leather blazer, black blouse and black pants.
GORC/GC Images/Getty Images; David Livingston/Getty Images; Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

5. Be a perfectionist about fit

All leather tends to give a little and fit your body contours even better over time. Jacket shoulders should line up where yours do — no extended pads, puffs or bulky quilting that'll make you look like a quarterback. Armholes should be cut high and sleeves should hug your arms. Check the fit with and without layers. You should be able to wear a jacket open or closed over a light top or a substantial medium-weight sweater and not feel it's too loose or too tight. Cross your arms, raise them over your head, try adding a shoulder bag. FYI: Asymmetrical zips are flattering for big busts. Just be sure the zipper slips up and down easily without a struggle and doesn't catch on the lining. (This goes for all zippered styles.)

6. Know how trendy you can go

Some of us do have a personal style that's a little more gilded and glitzier. Aim for balance. An extra dose of studs on the lapels or belt require a simple streamlined jacket like Tia Carrere’s. Going overboard on the look with symbolic decals, fringed trim and decorative hearts, angels or dragons can cheapen a leather jacket — real or fake — and limit its versatility. Unless you're a five-star fashionista like Susan Sarandon or a rock star, save the dazzle for a scarf and jewelry.

spinner image Black leather jackets worn with all black.
Tia Carrere wears a black cropped moto (no zipper) with matte gold studs over a form-fitting black dress. Susan Sarandon in a biker with hand painted floral design and accessories. Pearlena Igbokwe in a black leather blazer over a jumpsuit. Nia Vardalos in a black loose tank, black biker, pants and pumps.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images; Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Tasia Wells/Getty Images

7. Wear a black leather jacket with all black

spinner image Black leather jackets worn with dressy outfits.
Rita Wilson (with husband Tom Hanks) wears a black leather classic biker over a black tulle midi-skirt and heels. Niecy Nash in a cropped, shiny black leather biker, bustier and bright yellow midi-skirt. Michelle Yeoh in biker/moto hybrid (center zip, no belt) over a black fit-and-flare dress with lace insets. 
Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images; Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images

For the edgiest effect, stick to a monochromatic look head-to-toe. That one black leather jacket elevates black T-shirts and jeans, pencil skirts and heels or ankle pants and booties with a sophisticated/urban/sexy/mysterious vibe. You can't miss.

8. Let it solve the evening out problem

spinner image Women wearing black leather jackets with colorful accessories.
Regina Taylor in black leather blazer over a blue tailored dress, black opaque tights, and knee-high black leather boots. Mary Steenburgen in black leather biker over a red-print silk shirt and black jeans. Christine Lahti in a biker with a big coral scarf, black stretch pencil skirt, black opaque stockings and ankle boots.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival; Matthew Eisman/Getty Images; gotpap/Star Max/GC Image/Getty Images

Throwing a black leather jacket over a dressy dress or night-out pants, like velvet jeans or tailored pants with a sparkly top, makes a pashmina or cardigan seem positively retro. Sling it over your shoulders during cocktails or dinner to chase the chill.

9. Leave room for self-expression

spinner image Black leather jackets worn for a dressy look
Katie Couric in a fitted black leather biker jacket, tailored black pencil skirt and heels, and a dotted scarf at her neck for an elegant ladylike twist. Isabelle Huppert in a black leather tailored blazer over a white turtleneck and black tailored pants.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images; Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

A leather jacket has inborn chic and a badass rep, but it can also handle a feminine twist. Don't be afraid to add a shot of color with a silk blouse or a scarf at the neckline, or pair it with fabrics like lace or velvet or with your favorite clingy knits and floral or cheery-hued dresses.  

10. Take it to work

A black leather jacket is a power piece worn now by CEOs, lawyers and women who work in the most uptight corporate places. You don't need anything else to make a statement — no dark polish, high heels or designer bag could deliver your message better. It's a foolproof, pre-packaged attitude when you want a promotion, your voice heard in a meeting or to have a serious discussion. I'd go with a classic black leather blazer or trim biker. Both are fashionable and authoritative and will mix well with other classic tailored pieces from your wardrobe.

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