Vintage vs. New: How To Pick Out a Jacket

Everyday I speak to potential buyers of leather jackets.  The two most common inquiries by buyers relate to sizing and whether to buy a vintage jacket or a new one.  The answers would seem obvious to both questions, but this is not the case.  Firstly sizing is about the most difficult issue when dealing with clothing.  Buying online does not allow for trying on a jacket to test the fit.  How do you figure out if something is going to fit?  What do you do if the garment doesn’t fit and how do you avert problems before they happen?  It would seem simple enough to measure yourself or a garment but until you do it rarely does the reality sink in that there are many  ways to measure and it is not an exact science.

Firstly I have made a low rent video on how to measure yourself.  Figuring out your size and body type is about the most difficult component of shopping via the internet.  My video while humorous is only just the primer on self measurement…

I often refer to it when a customer calls me trying to figure out if something fits.  Secondly measuring is a two person sport.  It is virtually impossible to measure yourself without the help of a second person.  I always recommend that you measure yourself and you measure a garment that is similar in design to the one your purchasing.  I personally like my customers to send me a picture of themselves from the flat front on view and from the side in order to evaluate the body type.   Real clothes hounds know their measurements but most of us have barely a clue.  It does not help that sizing has become completely dishonest today.  Even though WW 2 required a new set of standards and measurements for garments to cloth the millions of lads going off to war, it appears modern manufacturers have skewed true measurements to appease the growing obesity epidemic.  Nowhere does this become more apparent then when I am comparing vintage (true) measurements to modern garments.  This adds a further complexity when someone is ordering a jacket.  They may believe they are a size 42 when in fact they are a size 48.  They may believe they are a Medium or an XL without any clues what those sizes mean.  Even more tricky is trying to compare measurements.  If you measure a garment with a drop shoulder, or a shoulder pad, your arm measurement will differ to a raised shoulder line.  Ultimately the safest way to figure out your size is to try on a bunch of jackets that are sized and similar in style at a store and noting the measurements of the jacket (short of trying on the actual garment you wish to purchase).  I recommend two things when measuring:  Get a friend to help and do it a bunch of times or,  even better go to a suit store and get fitted or measured by a professional.

Number two on the recommendation list is find a similar garment to what you want and take the two dimensional measurements of that garment on the floor.  For example my jackets  have an average 4 inches of extra room in the chest for movement typical of vintage jackets.  If your chest measurement iis a 38, then my jacket measurement would likely be 42 or 2 x 21 inches on the chest.  Seems complex eh?  The real key is to know yourself.  Go to a tailor.  Acknowledge your build and any freakish body dimensions you may have.  If you have monkey arms accept it and order extra long arms (typically around 26 inches) if you have wide hips and a narrow chest you must note it.  And if you have a big belly you better mention it because many vintage cuts will not fit at all!  And for the bodybuilder set…if you don’t note it I can guarantee it wont fit because it is very hard to accommodate huge muscles.  Part of my strategy is to have stores globally where you can try on a jacket.  Short of that I am working on cotton mockups for paying customers to try on before ordering.  Hopefully there wont be too many issues here.

Now to point number 2.  Vintage or custom jacket?  Well each one has its plus’ and minus’.  It is a common misconception that collectible vintage jackets are unaffordable.  While they are a “limited” resource I still get many vintage jackets that I sell both in my Ebay Auctions and in my Dry Goods section on my Himel Brothers website.  Vintage jackets have definite plus’ in that they are broken in and develop crazy character and patina.  Usually because I dont sell jackets that are not finest quality hides and the leather has reached a state of creasing and character that makes them pre worn awesomeness without any fakery.  Beyond character  the jackets are absolutely authentic in cut.  The down side is of course they are partially through their life, with a strong possibility of failures of liners, zippers and seams.  On a good vintage jacket these are all designed to be repaired and replaced.  The upside of vintage is also the downside.  If you wanted to break in your own jacket or get maximum wear out of it then you need your own new one.  Plus often you will never find your exact size or style.  In this case you definitely need a new jacket.  Here is the kicker, outside of incredibly rare designs and brands, it costs more to make a truly authentic perfect vintage style jacket the to purchase a vintage one.  So vintage is likely where you will find a deal.  This is usually not the case if you are looking for a Trojan or a Buco jacket but buyer beware not all replica or vintage jacket makers are equal.  There are a million websites that debate the quality and characteristics of each manufacturer.  I have a particular philosophy when approaching the issue of vintage vs. new.  I buy rare designs and vintage jackets,  hard to find collectible jackets to add to the HBL collection and I make jackets that are inspired from old jackets or replicate old jackets allowing my customers to get perfect vintage quality.  I like eccentric rare  leather jackets  and designs because I believe everybody deserves one good thing!

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Score: Tapper … Updated Photos

Sitting in my office today I spent the morning with my sewing machine mechanic Henry.  Henry is a tinkering genius. He immigrated from Poland to South Africa, and then to Canada.  Henry is one of the last of of his kind here in Toronto; he can fix a Reece button hole machine!.  As Henry puts it “you are very luck to find such a good machine, Dave…a bit older and maybe it will not make nice holes on leather”.

My machine is difficult to operate.  I spent the last week practicing on scrap leather.  I must have made 400 holes, adjusting tension, threading …re-threading.  I downloaded a manual for my old machine and decided to learn from my mechanic.  Henry told me he learned to fix these machines in South Africa.  His first big job was repair and maintenance in a Schmata shop with 1000 sewers. He lied to get the job and when put in front of his first Reece he told the owner to lock him in the factory and he spent the entire night stripping down the machine and rebuilding it till it worked.  That is how he learned to fix them.  He has the scars to prove it…he is missing one third of a finger.  Almost everybody I have met in the leather business is missing some part of a finger  You only have to chop one small bit off once and you never do it again!  Oh..back to Henry…I spent the week learning to work the machine.  Of course I messed it up in the process.  Actually we are not sure if I messed it up or not but it is a very delicate baby.  I really really wanted to finish my prototype 1910 jacket  “The Tapper” in order to do so I needed to be able to make nice button holes through the thick horsehide and wool.  As Henry explained “This machine does not sew button holes…it is very complex, it knits with a pearl stitch. “.  So I fired up my knitting machine and finally after a 3 hour lesson in service I have a finely tuned working button holer again.  So these are more photos of two of my next 6 jackets.  I am changing the Score jacket a little more.  I will explain the design principals of these jackets in a later post..for now I want to put up some nice pics of the jackets until I cant make a couple more final versions.


Score Sportswear and The Tapper: Developing New Models

Part of the fun of starting this “heritage” project is developing new ideas for leather jackets.  I am very committed to having a solid concept behind every single design that I do.A huge part of that philosophy is applying the knowledge and history that I have accumulated into the creation of a jacket.  Each jacket requires a different process and some of the designs come from my head and some of the designs come from real existent jackets.

When I saw my first Score jacket it was in Rin Tanaka’s History of Motorcycle Jackets book.  It was unidentified by manufacturer.  I researched that jacket.  It was so cool.  As it turns out it should have been in the Canadian jacket section.  That jacket was developed and designed by Score Sportswear of Toronto.  Open since 1930 Score was one of the many jacket manufacturers down on Spadina (now Chinatown)  where I live and work.  I knew one of my first jackets would be a Score!

When I start working on a design I try and assess what my goals are in recreating or creating a jacket.  In this case I have tried to imagine what the diagonal zipped Score racing shirt would have looked like if Score had made one in 1935. I should say I own 4 versions of this jacket from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and then of course the company disappeared.

I sat down with the pattern and imagined a slightly more primitive version.  The leather was thicker, the seams top stitched, the lines hand drawn and the zippers typical of that period.  After justifying ever design change I now have my first prototype, which I will preview fully once I build prototype number two.

I am working on 6 new designs.  The second one I am calling the Tapper.  It is more of a heritage project.  I found this workers jacket from around 1910.  It immediately struck me as absolutely beautiful and primitive.  I was blown away by the simplicity of this jacket and its refined utilitarian lines.  The 1910 jacket looks essentially like a WW 1 era jerkin vest with extra large arm holes for mobility, and then the designers sewed circular gussets and external corduroy arms on to the leather vest.  It is so simple!  A protective wool lined horsehide vest with external twill lined cord arms that continue into the body component of the jacket.  This sort of design is ridiculously primitive and avant garde .  Sometimes the genius and simplicity of the past reflects the cutting edge of the future.  I have not completed this jacket yet but I have a prototype sans button holes that I have completed and am looking for test wearers!