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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
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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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.
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.
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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.
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7. Wear a black leather jacket with all black
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.
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8. Let it solve the evening out problem
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.
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9. Leave room for self-expression
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.
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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.