TBT The History of Apparel

The history of Harley-Davidson apparel is so extensive and diverse, to attempt to cover it all just might take a book. It all began with a brief mention on the final page of the 1912 Accessories catalog for a wool jersey with the company name red felt letters. Within two years, the line expanded to include cloth helmets, breeches, sweaters, gauntlet gloves and caps.  An early version of a riding jacket arrived for 1920 in the way of a reversible leather three-quarter length coat. The first waist-length jacket was offered in 1928.

When the 1920s began, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, and a full complement of riding gear was needed to keep the H-D faithful on the road. This included early protective gear for bad weather, including the “storm helmet” and several styles of goggles. But style was never an afterthought. One of the most unique efforts came with the rise of motorcycle clubs in the 1930s. A brief offering of custom club logo embroidery was offered in 1938. Clubs submitted a sketch of their logo, received a quote and then ordered the shirts.

In 1947, Harley-Davidson began selling new styles of leather jackets that became a standard into the present day.  The jackets were waist-length with a belt and included zippered pockets and snap-fastened collars. Starting in 1954, the premiere H-D jacket brand was the Cycle Champ for men and the Cycle Queen for women. As with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, both style and function changed in small increments from year to year.

By this time, the appearance of the “modern motorcyclist” had arrived. Black leather jackets, helmets, eye protection and boots added up to the look of the 1950s rider. The first H-D t-shirts were offered, and varying styles of “cycle caps” became a preferred look for the time.    

Through the era of H-D lightweight motorcycles, scooters and snowmobiles, the apparel evolved for functionality. It also changed with the fashion of the times, including the groovy 1970s. A crowning achievement came in 1992 when Harley-Davidson won the Council of Fashion Designers Award for bringing the motorcyclist look to the ready-to-wear market.

Check out the below gallery to see other key and unexpected moments in the storied history of H-D apparel.