Vintage Style Cafe Racer Leather Biker Jackets, Rock ‘n Roll, Motorcycles, and the Invention of Cool. Movies and Juke Boxes Taught a Generation of Youth How to Be Brooding Bad Boys. These Youth Took to the Streets, Raced motorcycles, Wore Their Leather Jackets, Pins, and Patches Like a Badges of Honor, and Oozed Cool.
Cool. We all love things that are cool. But, what is cool?
Everybody knows Marlon Brando. James Dean. The Fonz. The three pillars of iconic cool. The purveyors of the ducktail – a guy in a t-shirt and a leather biker jacket…all while riding a motorcycle. These three epitomized cool for over 30 years, and still, even today, we can’t talk about being cool without referencing at least one of them.
As Johnny, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Marlon Brando rode a 1950 6T Triumph Thunderbird that was actually his own personal bike in the movie “The Wild One”. Brando became an absolute cultural icon of the 1950’s for this role, and his black vintage biker jacket would influence everyone that followed. He started the whole thing.
James Dean had a stable of bikes. It started with a 1946 Whizzer, then a 1947 CZ 125-cc that he rode to high school everyday (while also wearing a black vintage racer leather jacket that was banned in high schools for being too ‘rebellious’), a Royal Enfield 500-cc twin that he traded the CZ for, a 1952 Indian Warrior TT, a shell-blue 1955 Triumph T110 650-cc, and a shell-blue 1955 Triumph TR5 Trophy that he got to emulate his rocker idol Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”. Why did James Dean want to emulate Marlon Brando? Because Brando wore a vintage style leather motorcycle jacket and he looked so cool wearing it.
Then came the The Fonz, aka Fonzie, Arthur Fonzarelli, the new cool kid of the triumvirate. The Fonz also rode a Triumph -- this time a silver 1949 Triumph Trophy TR5 Scrambler Custom -- just like the one James Dean had, which was just like the one Marlon Brando had. Fonzie rode that bike into our living rooms every week back in the 1970’s, and he and his motorcycle would go on to make the leather motorcycle jacket synonymous with being cool. And jumping 13 garbage cans – and a shark – all while wearing one.
Today, one of Fonzie’s vintage leather motorcycle jackets hangs in the Smithsonian National Museum Of American History in Washington, D.C. Another of Fonzie’s leather motorcycle jackets was auctioned off for charity as a part of Bonham’s TCM Auction Sale in 2021. The other vintage leather jacket remains the personal property of Henry Winkler himself, the actor who portrayed Fonzie on TV. Heeeeyyy!
For those three, cool was easy. For the common man, it’s an elusive aspiration that’s been a part of the Zeitgeist since the 1950’s and 60’s. ‘Being cool’ seemed to dominate everything the ‘scene’ had to offer – hair, attitude, music, movies, bikes and fashion. And the kids wanted all of it.
Movies like Brando’s “The Wild One” certainly set the table, showing that with a rebellious attitude, some music, a bike, and a black vintage biker jacket, anything was possible.
And as for Music, well that was emerging at sonic speed, and was everywhere, too, like a tidal wave of new energy transforming the typical family landscape and the sacred dinner table.
Young Elvis had a seat at that table. Johnny Cash, too. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were there. Little Richard. Carl Perkins. Bill Haley. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee. The list goes on. That table was full of pure attitude for the first time ever. A playlist of those artists from the 50’s, which would become the foundation of rock n roll, turned into the ultimate jukebox mix of hormones and teen angst. Add in a motorcycle and a leather biker jacket and, well, anything could happen. And it most certainly did. It didn’t matter what side of the Atlantic you were on. One side influenced other, and vice versa. The Brits had the Triumphs. What America brought in terms of movies and rock n roll, British teens would take it and transform it into their own version of cool and send back the British café racer leather motorcycle jacket, coin the actual term ‘Rockers’, and invent the famous Ton Up Boys. Back and forth it went -- British bikes, American movies, British Ton Up Boys, American Rock n Roll – it was one cool symbiotic relationship.
Bikes and Fashion went together, too somehow, like hand-in-glove. Because if you rode a motorcycle, and wore jeans, a t-shirt and a leather motorcycle jacket, you had it going on. You were cool, and everybody knew it. You didn’t even have to try. It just was.
Even the Mods knew the Rockers were cool. Mods - aka Moderns, as they were known - were more of a fashion statement than anything else during this era, wore different clothes, rode scooters instead of bikes, and listened to different genres of music. Mods, however, knew that the Rockers were the ones who had the cool café racer leather motorcycle jackets. Maybe that was part of the reason for the giant ‘Punch-up at Brighton Beach’, when the rival youth Mods and Rockers clashed in May 1964 over the Bank Holiday Weekend. Over 1,000 decided to ‘rumble’ and fight – maybe over who got there first, maybe over music, maybe over fashion, maybe over nothing. At any rate, there was trouble and the rivalry was on.
Cool may have been elusive to many a man, but not the ‘Rockers, aka the Ton Up Boys, the leather-clad bad boys who rode stripped-down fast-moving machinery like there was no tomorrow. These guys wore speed like a medal of courage, with a lot of other metal - studs and chains - dangling off of their leather café racer biker jackets.
It’s that feeling of rebellion and being free that sent us, here at Ton-Up Clothing, on a journey to celebrate the spirit, history and culture of cool – and add the iconic café racer vintage biker leather jacket to our stable of Ton-Up Clothing. The vintage style leather motorcycle jacket was the armor of choice for the youth back in the day, and it stands as a beacon of cool for us even today. The place where you proudly show off the scars of your youth, your attitude, your path. Your adventure.
It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage, as they say.
So, like in the 50’s and 60’s, when nothing defined cool more than being a rocker in a café racer leather biker jacket, you can get a lot of mileage out of owning your own vintage style leather motorcycle jacket.
And here at Ton-Up Clothing, we’d be happy to help you celebrate that mileage with our New, Bespoke, Limited-Edition, Custom Café Racer Lewis Leathers ‘Star Lightning’ Ton-Up ‘Starter Girls’ Leather Jackets. The back artwork is our own, hand-crafted gem in the spirit of the Glemseck 101 starting line ladies, that inspire and throw down the flags to ‘get it in gear and off the starting line’. They’re a couple of cuties amidst the center piston pumping along with crossed flags and the age-old classic Ton-Up Boy “Givin’ It 100” rallying-cry centered above to ‘get on, get round, and get back alive’, before that ‘Lulu’ rock record ends. If you did that, well, you just “did the ton” and were forever known as a Ton-Up Boy.
This reference to ‘Lulu’ is what’s known as ‘record-racing’ and was accomplished by a young lad who, while sitting in the world-famous Ace Café in North London, would put on a ‘Lulu’ record in the jukebox and have to run out, mount his bike and be off. So this powerful fusion of motorcycles and Rock 'n' Roll birthed the legendary record-racing, "drop the coin right into the slot", and race on your bike to a given point ‘round the bridge and back, before the record finished.To do that, you had to do at least 100 mph – also known as ‘Doing The Ton’ - on your bike to be back in time - alive. See, in them days, the British motorcycle industry was at its peak, and along came American Rock 'n' Roll. Rock ‘n’ Roll was not played on radio stations in Britain, and initially the only place it could be heard was on jukeboxes at transport cafes like the Ace Cafe. Kids and Ton Up Boys came to listen to the jukebox, many subsequently becoming a Ton Up Boy by doing just that.Them days it was Gold Stars, Tritons, Nortons, and Triumphs. Today it’s much the same - Every Rocker’s got his own style. And a pound for petrol. Maybe making new memories with a fresh vintage style leather motorcycle jacket.
Add your pins, patches, and paints from your travels. From your stops, your rides, your rally’s. Grab a tea. Tell your truth. Ride the road, and chase the chills. Doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everybody needs to belong somewhere. If you ride, you’re family to us.
Ton-Up Clothing – simple stripped-back design and British to the core. All made to the highest quality. So that’s it, done and dusted. Bump start it and get on with it.