From Matrix Trenches To Biker Jackets, Brad Pitt Perfected The Art of Wearing Leather

This week's Style Archive covers Hollywood's most handsome man and his love of all things black and shiny.

January 4th 1988. Brad Pitt is signing autographs outside a hotel in Beverly Hills wearing a leather biker jacket with an upturned collar and a faint smile. Three years before Thelma & Louise would jump-start his career, and with iconic roles in Se7en and Fight Club way ahead of him, Brad Pitt was not yet a byword for handsome Hollywood A-lister. Still, looking at the snapshot of the past, you can see a star in the making. 

Red carpet photos of Pitt during the Eighties show a fresh-faced 20-something from Shawnee, Oklahoma, grinning at the fact he had been granted passage to film premieres. Elsewhere he's laughing into the camera at award ceremonies, or holding his own at parties where celebrities gather around glittering pools like animals around a watering hole.

Pitt signing autographs at a cocktail reception in Beverly Hills

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images.

Before personal stylists became de rigueur, back then dressing wasn't quite such a serious affair, and it shows in Pitt's choice of bulky suit jackets teamed with stonewash denim jeans, waistcoats over loose long-sleeved t-shirts, bandanas, and baseball caps.


But perhaps his biggest surprise was the many different ways he made leather a part of his look: using it to add some relaxed charm to what he was wearing, or making it a statement aspect of an outfit. 

Pitt and Shalane McCall in 1988 at a party at the Director’s Guild

Photo by Ron Galella/Getty Images.

Once the material used for military personnel, the leather jacket became came to symbolize counterculture rebellion after being worn by the likes of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Pete Fonda in Easy Rider, and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

A few decades later, Pitt's red carpet picks saw him mimicking their classic style, opting for black leather jackets with biker-style pockets and a baggy fit. Teamed with his luscious blonde locks it gave him the air of old school Hollywood film star that belonged in the spiritual home of the silver screen. 

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At the New York premiere of The Devil’s Own with then-partner Gwyneth Paltrow

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images.

The Nineties breathed new life into the material, with red and black jackets becoming popular, as well as trousers and trench coats. At the same time, affordable faux leather brought the trend to the masses.

Boxy, straight-fitting leather coats and jackets, now coming back into fashion in 2019, became increasingly popular toward the end of the decade. The trend reached its peak with 1999 film The Matrix, in which Keanu Reeve, Laurence Fishburne, and Carrie-Anne Moss transformed the leather trench coat into a symbol of dystopian cool.

In Paris in 1997, wearing a leather trench coat

Photo by Dominique CHARRIAU/Getty Images.

Later the same year, Pitt appeared in Fight Club as Tyler Durden wearing a rusty red leather jacket over and over again during the film. The now-infamous jacket is almost as well-remembered as the shot of Pitt without his shirt on, and to this day hundreds of replicas are available online.

But Pitt himself was modeling these looks before the stampede that followed The Matrix and Fight Club, seemingly spending the entirety of 1997 in various forms of leather. Photographs of him from that year show him pairing a black leather trench coat with a black shirt and suit trousers, and again with a T-shirt, heavy-duty boots, and a baseball cap. One particularly experimental look shows him wearing leather trousers with boots, a black shirt, and sunglasses, an emblem of Matrix-style before its time.

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Getty Images.

Sure, the trousers might not stand the test of time quite as well as his iconic early jackets, but we appreciate a man that tries.


Pitt's penchant for leather made way for other fads: power suits; frosted tips; wild shirts; and a brief brush with a yeti beard. Still, his dalliance with leather proved two things: there's nothing more American than a leather jacket, and there's nobody better than Brad Pitt at pulling it off.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Olivia Ovenden
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