A Brief History of World Leaders in Leather Jackets

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Nothing gets my fashion wheels spinning like a great new photo of Kim Jong-Un. Once, he rode a horse, and I reeled. Last week he brought back his giant leather coat, and I’m reeling again.

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While announcing his intent to expand his country’s nuclear program with a spooky missile parade, the North Korean despot rocked a big grin and an even bigger fit: a hardcore leather trench coat. It’s not the first time we’ve seen him wear this particular garment. It first popped up back in 2019, and at the time spawned some speculation about what Kim wants to communicate to the world. The break from the Mao suits worn by his forefathers, experts suggested, might portend a break from North Korea’s past, and that his rule would be, at the very least, different. His famously chummy relationship with President Trump was nothing if not that. Since then, the leather trench has become something of a signature garment for him. But the leather jacket has such a rich history that it can be difficult to interpret politically. World leaders on the right and the left have sported leather for nearly a hundred years, each with a style of their own.

Whether we’re looking at WWII fascists or 21st century global leaders, leather builds out a political persona. No matter where they fall on the political spectrum, politicians usually wear leather jackets in the place of a suit as a way to declare themselves “men of the people” (most of those who came up were men). Here’s a round up of a few them: the nations they’ve led, and the leather they’ve worn to do so.

The 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, during a news conference with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at Camp David in Maryland, February 23, 2001.

BUSH AND BLAIR HAVE PRESS CONFERENCE

The 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, during a news conference with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at Camp David in Maryland, February 23, 2001.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Presidential Bombers

The official Air Force bomber: political grail, presidential staple. It has a seal! Plenty of Presidents have sported this iconic piece, but George W. Bush was particularly fond of it, and JFK’s was auctioned off for over half a million dollars last year. They’re casual enough to make leaders of the free world seem approachable, but the undeniable military undertones are fitting for a Commander in Chief

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, attends a biker show in Sevastopol, August 10, 2019.

Russia's President Putin visits Sevastopol, Crimea

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, attends a biker show in Sevastopol, August 10, 2019.
Alexei Druzhinin / Getty Images

Putin’s Motorcycle Machismo

Russian President Vladimir Putin is infamous for his public displays of virility, whether he’s fishing shirtless or entering judo competitions. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s been known to sport a leather jacket. Perhaps the most famous incident came in 2010, when he hung out with the Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle gang. That little episode inspired the English brand Matchless London to dedicate an entire capsule collection to Putin, calling the Russian leader, uh, “a modern superhero.” Make of that what you will.

Former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, meets former President of the People's Republic of China, Hu Jintao, in Beijing, January 09, 2006.

Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales (L)

Former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, meets former President of the People's Republic of China, Hu Jintao, in Beijing, January 09, 2006.
Adrian Bradshaw / Getty Images

Evo Morales, Leather, and a Sweater

The former socialist President of Bolivia made waves when he wore a black leather jacket to global political meetings back in 2006. Morales proves that dressing casual can be a serious flex.

Former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, addresses a crowd in Johannesburg, April 23, 2009.

South Africa's ruling party leader Jacob

Former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, addresses a crowd in Johannesburg, April 23, 2009.
Aexander Joe / Getty Images

South African Flop

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been subject of many ignominious controversies, from rape allegations to a resignation in 2018 over corruption. He’s currently refusing to appear before South African courts. Among his many disappointing qualities: a predilection for hideous brightly leather jackets. His party actually released a collection of neon leather jackets to celebrate his style, but they proved massively unpopular across the country.

The Worst People in Nice Jackets

There’s no getting around it: fascists love leather. Mussolini loved a motorcycle jacket. Nazis of all shapes and sizes wore leather coats, both during WWII and in racist subcultures in the years to come. This guy wore brown leather to storm the Capitol last week. Leather can work many wonders, but it cannot make fascism any less awful.

P.S. It’s really too easy to find photos of these historic assholes in leather, but I don’t have to help you. If you’re really curious, Google.

Former Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, arrives for a meeting with Britain's Finance Minister, George Osborne, in London, February 2, 2015.

George Osbourne - Yanis Varoufakis

Former Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, arrives for a meeting with Britain's Finance Minister, George Osborne, in London, February 2, 2015.
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

A Finance Minister….with EDGE

When Yanis Varoufakis served as Greece’s Finance Minister for a wild eight months in 2015, he had a big job on his hands that required an even bigger fit. Rarely does International Monetary Fund fashion cause a stir, but Varoufakis’s absolutely wild leather coat made waves. Did Greece pay back the IMF on time that year? No. Did their Finance Minister look like a badass? Undeniably yes.

The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, arrives for Game Two of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Raptors in Toronto, June 2, 2019.

2019 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Toronto Raptors

The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, arrives for Game Two of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Raptors in Toronto, June 2, 2019.
David Dow / Getty Images

Barack

Whether we’re talking statesmanship, book deals, or leather jackets, Obama stands apart. His post-office style is unparalleled in presidential history. In addition to his fan favorite ‘44 jacket, there’s this piece he wore to the 2019 NBA Finals. Unlike the classic Camp David bomber, this black jacket is slimmer—and, dare I say, classier. He owns one in brown, too.

Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, at a ground-breaking ceremony for Pyongyang General Hospital in North Korea, March 17, 2020.

Le dictateur nord-coréen Kim Jong-un

Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, at a ground-breaking ceremony for Pyongyang General Hospital in North Korea, March 17, 2020.
Getty Images


Dear Leader

The man himself in the coat that sent me down this deranged path. What diplomatic missive is hidden within this luxurious leather garm? Only Kim knows. In the meantime, we can only pray that the Dear Leader’s burgeoning sartorial taste is a sign of global rapprochement, and not, like a missile launch to welcome President Biden. After all, leather is a language spoken all over the world.

Originally Appeared on GQ