While reading Umberto Eco’s Lumbar Thought, I immediately thought of my leather jacket. This jacket is an item that constantly (almost hauntingly) reminds me of my body, as well as how bodies exists in socialized space. Procured from a Brooklyn Flea market, this jacket borrows various cues from the leather jacket lexicon; pockets, Double Rider collar, waist buckle, shoulder snaps etc. From the moment I tried it on, the weight of the jacket itself was one of its most discernible features. This heftiness is not only due to the thick supple leather, or the various accoutrements; many metal parts, zippers, pockets and clasps etc, but also to the weight such an item inherently has. I adopt an even more than usual devil may care attitude whenever I wear it, I find myself less apt to take part in the dreary social niceties of day to day life and find myself feeling protected in some almost indiscernible way. This perception of myself alters the way I approach the world, the manner in which I walk (or rather saunter) to my destinations, the body language I use, and these in turn affect the way that I am received, judged and dealt with in the world. The acoustic elements of the jacket, the wet squish of the sleeves rubbing against the body, the tinny clink of the zipper heads alongside the thick metal zippers, the way the waist buckle taps against my leg, these all further condition my movements and actions as well.
As anyone who has ever worn one know, the most intense part of wearing a leather jacket is the acute awareness that you are in fact wearing a leather jacket. Specifically, wearing a garment that was a part of very particular points in history, and helped to craft and define spaces including decidedly political ones. One cannot look at, wear or consider leather jackets without conjuring up some cultural memory of its legacy, most notably from iterations in highly iconic American historical moments such as Marlon Brando’s performance in Wild Ones, the seminal punk performances of the Ramones in 70’s New York and leather daddies of San Francisco (amongst innumerable associations).
A leather jacket may even exist at the far end of the spectrum of bodily awareness (Eco’s having “jeans on”), with a white t-shirt existing at the other end of the spectrum (light, adaptable, soft, easy). It could very well be these characteristics, and its ability to serve as a reminder of our bodies that finds it put to such apt use as a political tool and by those attempting to access a cool “rebelliousness”. It simultaneously provides protection for the wearer in a literal sense, with a hard body of seemingly impenetrable gusto, and allows the wearer to be made invisible by allowing associations to be projected onto them freely and without much thought (although this process is not unique to leather jackets). One could argue that the leather jacket preferred by motorcyclists provides a dual function, it performs while under the physical duress of an impact with pavement, as well as dressing the body in an assumed cloak of “bad-assery”. As Eco states, “with my new jeans my life entirely exterior: I thought about the relationship between me and my pants, and the relationship between my pants and me and the society we live in.” This awareness of the body alternatively allows us to consider our bodies as sites, sites that receive violence from the state, oppression from society and are constantly subject to policing by various factions. In fact, this “armor” that Eco describes, might be useful in circumstances where we need to mediate the ‘wars’ inflicted upon certain bodies, such as women, people of color, queer folks etc. It seems that it is precisely these clothes, these ‘traps of domination’, are those which provide us the mindfulness of what it means to perpetually exist in a contested body, and in certain instances, they might help reflect some of that energy. When I throw on the leather jacket, my awareness of the confines of a body comes in waves, rolling up the sleeves, I am aware of my body as an object, as I step outside, I am cognizant of the long lineage of those donning leather before me, as I walk the streets of the city, the jacket clinking and crinkling, I am reminded of the tenuous nature of my queer body in socialized space.