How Extravagant Motorcycle Gangs Led to Modern Japanese Style

The rebellious motorcycle riders we see today are known for their classic leather getup. For years, this outfit has been associated with biker gangs and the growling rev of a chopper. Form fitting black leather jackets quickly rose to popularity among bikers due to its wind resistance and its other protective qualities. Jeans or matching leather pants keep riders’ legs safe from hot exhaust pipes and wind burn. This pairing, combined with boots, provides full body protection. In the 1950s, this style spread to every disorderly teen and nonconformist after movie stars, like Marlon Brando, popularized the outfit and culture. As more people across the country became involved in motorcycle clubs, we saw a spike in diverse outfits.

“Outlaw bikers” in clubs like the Hells Angels dressed in leather vests and jackets emblazoned with patches, supporting their compatriots and equipment of choice: usually modified Harley Davidson hogs. This motorcycle club, or MC, gained infamy in the 1960s as members connected to counterculture movements racked up criminal charges. Despite being classified by the Department of Justice as an organized crime syndicate, the Hells Angels winged skull logo can still be found on graphic tees and leather jackets. Motorcycle culture wasn’t just limited to punks and biker gangs. In the 80s, bike companies began to diversify their lineups and introduced sports bikes, in addition to funded races. The racing culture was inspired by the publics’ favorite riders. A new trend of wearing colorful sponsorship clad jumpsuits kicked off. At about this same time, Japanese and American cultures began a steady exchange of styles and technology.

Just as American motorcycle clubs terrorized the roads in the west, Japanese gangs called Bōsōzoku rode outrageous choppers and wore protective uniforms. These cliques opted for military-style cloth jackets and baggy pants, along with embroidered leather jackets. This comes as no surprise, since many such clubs were actually formed after World War II by former Kamikaze pilots looking to continue seeking thrills. Bōsōzoku also literally means “running-out-of-control tribe,” enforcing the extreme nature of such clubs. Bōsōzoku bikes are easily identifiable by the extended rear seat-backs and exhausts as well as the complex neon paint jobs. Membership declined in the 2000s, but the style of clothing remains ingrained in Japanese fashion. Notably, the baggy designs derived from Bōsōzoku style have endured numerous changes in popular style trends, and can still be found in mainstream fashion to this day.

If you’re looking to copy this biker style, Japanese brands such as Comme Des Garçons and Bape sell retro patched leather jackets and helmets decorated with Japanese branding. Every brand from Uniqlo to Burberry stock oversized shirts and hoodies, which have become a wardrobe staple in recent years. These relaxed fits compliment chunky sneakers and contrastingly tight jeans. Adding a sharp blazer and belt can upgrade the outfit to a semi-formal look. Pair an oversized graphic tee with a crossbody fanny pack for street style. However it’s worn, oversized fits can trace their lineage to American and Japanese motorcycle culture.