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Leather Jerkin – Characteristics of This Classic Clothing

I have seen these short leather jackets in medieval movies and television shows but never really knew what to call them.  Join me as I dive into the world of leather jerkins.

A leather jerkin is a close-fitting sleeveless outer garment that originated in 1600s Britain. It is one of the earliest forms of body armor worn initially by troops for protection from the elements. Leather jerkins are usually made of light-colored leather and can cost $18–$1,500.

Have you ever watched movies set in medieval times and wondered about that leather piece the men were wearing?  Do you ever think about how bodily protection has evolved? This article will examine leather jerkins’ history, style, and many more characteristics.

What Is a Leather Jerkin?

A leather jerkin is a sleeveless leather outer garment worn by men and was popular in the late 1600s in Britain.  Usually worn over a long-sleeved short jacket known as a doublet, leather jerkins served as protection for swashbuckling, hunting, and battle. 

Leather jerkins were designed to be form-fitting, decorated with punched-out details, and quite the fashion statement.  Now leather jerkins are worn in cosplay, costume parties, and medieval times recreations, although some will wear them just for show.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • The History of Leather Jerkins
  • Why You Might Like a Leather Jerkin
  • Leather Jerkin Overview Table
  • Popular Types and Styles of Leather Jerkins
  • Common Leather Jerkin Characteristics
  • Leather Jerkin Costs
  • Pros of a Leather Jerkin
  • Cons of a Leather Jerkin
  • Leather Jerkin Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
  • Experienced Tips for Choosing a Leather Jerkin
  • My Personal Research on the Cost of Leather Jerkins
  • Leather Jerkin Care and Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Leather Jerkins
  • Key Takeaways
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A Brown Leather Jerkin With Embellishments

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

It has been said that because leather jerkins were covered in holes and slashes that they would not provide much protection.  However, these holes and slashes were purposely placed to improve the fit, look, and flexibility of leather jerkins.  Common belief suggests the process of making a leather jerkin was wasteful when in actuality, many were finished with leather offcuts to reduce or eliminate waste.

The History of Leather Jerkins

According to author Elizabeth Currie, 16th-century Venetian soldiers wore linen doublets under their leather jerkins, a short cloak donned with gold braids and velvet hats.  The leather jerkin was inspired by the clothing worn on the battlefield and developed from the pourpoint, a quilted vest worn under chainmail armor in the 14th century. 

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Hence it was men’s apparel and grew in fashion to showcase their bodies.  This was considered a show of power, flamboyance, and masculinity.  The leather jerkin was commonly produced from sheepskin, oxhide, and horsehide and with faux leather in the 1950s.  Currently, leather jerkins that were once worn in wartime are collector’s items, and recreations are worn for cosplay and costumes.

Why You Might Like a Leather Jerkin

If you’re a fan of movies and television shows about medieval times, the World Wars, the British army, or 16th-century fashion, you might like a leather jerkin.  The leather jerkin has been featured in many popular movies and shows that depict epic battles, male power, and a different time in men’s fashion. 

While cut to flatter the male figure, women can don them, too, as they provide warmth and flexibility.  Sometimes, leather jerkin designs can be very intricate and are really something to see.  Leather jerkins were created to last, so the investment is worth it.

Leather Jerkin Overview Table

Leather Jerkin CharacteristicDetails
ItemLeather Jerkin
UsesProtection, warmth
Common MaterialsAll types of natural and synthetic leather, wool lining
Popular ColorsDark brown, black, white/off-white, tan
SizesXS–3XL, 36–48 (US and UK), 46–58 (EU), chest 36”–49”
Popular StylesVintage, medieval, Game of Thrones
Cost Range ($)$18–$1,500
How Long it Lasts (on average)20–30 years
Leather Jerkin Overview Table

Popular Types and Styles of Leather Jerkins

The leather jerkin only comes in a few basic styles, which are all very popular.  The first is the vintage style.  Many jerkins can be purchased already used, often with origins dating back to World War II.  These were basic in style but classy and full of character. 

Medieval is another popular style of leather jerkin, with slashes and cut-out patterns that create intricate designs and add a ton of character.  Another popular style is the Game of Thrones (GOT) style, which is similar to the medieval style but more extravagant to mimic the popular show many people love.

Common Leather Jerkin Characteristics

Materials

Leather jerkins are made from several different materials, including genuine leather from ox hide or cowhide and different variations of faux leather.  Many are lined with wool for warmth.

The leather for the jerkin is treated, tanned, and preserved through several processes to make it durable and give it color.

Sizes

Sizes for leather jerkins are measured by a man’s jacket size chart.  They range from XS–3XL in standard sizes, 36–48 for US and UK sizes, 46–58 in EU sizes, and 36”–49” chest sizes.

Variations

Original leather jerkins had ribbons to close in front, while today’s jerkins have hook-and-eye or button closures.  Some only reach the waist, while others can extend to the hips or upper thighs.  There are some leather jerkins without collars and some without cap sleeves.

Key Uses

Leather jerkins are most often used for warmth in cold weather.  They are also worn in cosplay or costume parties.

Leather Jerkin Costs

Leather jerkins can be found online with a quick internet search.  They can also be found in specialty clothing stores.  Many types of leather jerkins are available, from genuine to faux leather. 

AliExpress offers a leather jerkin for $18 plus delivery charges, while Inspire Uplift has Aragon’s Lord of the Rings Replica jerkin for $1,450 with free shipping.  There are many options in between, with plenty to choose from in terms of price range!

Pros of a Leather Jerkin

Leather jerkins are durable, age well, and easy to repair should damage occur.  Leather jerkins are also comfortable, keep you warm when the weather is cold, are easy to clean, and are resistant to stains and spills.  They’re also lightweight, form-fitting, and easy to layer with other pieces.

Cons of a Leather Jerkin

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Leather jerkins are sensitive to dramatic temperature fluctuations and excess moisture.  They start stiff when they’re brand new but relax and flex over time.  Because of the material and intricate designs, leather jerkins can be expensive.

Leather Jerkin Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made

The leather for the jerkin is treated, tanned, and preserved through several processes to make it durable and give it color.  It is then trimmed into a vest shape based on a man’s measurements.  The pieces are sewn together to be fitted by hand or with a sewing machine.  Sometimes, a wool lining is sewn in, and closures (typically buttons) are added.

Experienced Tips for Choosing a Leather Jerkin

Frequency of Use

When choosing a leather jerkin, decide how frequently you plan to use it.  If you live in a cold environment and want one for warmth, choose a leather jerkin made from genuine leather with high-quality wool lining.  Consider faux leather without a liner if it’s only for a costume party.

Environment/Conditions

A leather jerkin is great for use in cold climates.  They’re also perfect for cosplay, medieval battle reenactments, or a costume for a Game of Thrones party.

Cost

Consider how often you will use a leather jerkin when you decide on a price point.  If it will be frequently used, consider greater quality and a higher price tag, as it will be more durable over time.  However, infrequent use of a leather jerkin may call for lower quality and a lower price tag.

Trends

Look at what the fashion trends are when considering a leather jerkin.  From simple and modern to ornate and vintage, consider fashion websites for information when you want to be trendy.

Personal Preference

Personal preference should guide how you choose a leather jerkin.  If you want comfort and warmth, choose what fits you well and is comfortable.  If it’s the fashion you’re looking for, consider the medieval style or a leather jerkin with punched-out designs or fancy stitching and buttons.

My Personal Research on the Cost of Leather Jerkins

Leather Jerkin RetailerCost 
Medieval Collectables $88–$243
Andracor$119–$209
Pirate Fashion$150–$295
Museum Replicas $99
Kult of Athena$102–$249
Leather Jerkin Retailers and Prices

Leather Jerkin Care and Maintenance

How to Clean a Leather Jerkin

The best (and easiest) way to clean a leather jerkin is with a soft dry brush, a vacuum cleaner attachment with a soft brush, or a soft cloth with or without a leather conditioner.  Non-absorbent leather jerkins can be cleaned using a proper leather cleaner and a microfiber towel or old t-shirt to wash off spills or stains, being careful not to get the leather too damp. 

Then use a dry microfiber towel to wipe off any excess leather cleaner and air dry.  Condition the leather jerkin after cleaning.

How to Maintain a Leather Jerkin

Maintaining a leather jerkin is all about keeping the leather clean and conditioned.  Protect it from dust, spills, excess moisture, and temperature fluctuations.  Condition with leather conditioner after every cleaning to keep the leather soft and supple.

How to Store a Leather Jerkin

A leather jerkin should be stored in a cool, dry place covered with a garment bag when not in use.  Condition the leather every six months.

Check out this helpful video to better understand the difference between first and second World War British leather jerkins.

Helpful Insights on Leather Jerkins

What is the difference between a jerkin and a jacket?

There are two key differences between leather jerkins and leather jackets: jerkins are sleeveless vests that were traditionally only worn by men in medieval times for protection. Leather jackets are long-sleeved garments worn by both men and women over clothing for warmth and fashion.

What is a jerkin medieval?

A medieval jerkin is a sleeveless leather garment worn over a doublet for warmth and protection during the late 16th and 17th centuries.

What is worn under a jerkin?

A jerkin is worn over a doublet, which is a padded jacket that is form-fitting to the body.

What is another word for jerkin?

A jerkin also refers to jackets, waistcoats, vests, boleros, and more.

Who wore Jerkins?

Jerkins were worn by wealthy men and the British army in the late 16th and 17th centuries.  In the post-war era, The Belgian Army also wore vinyl jerkins.

Key Takeaways

  1. Leather jerkins proudly boast function as well as fashion.
  2. Leather jerkins are like many other leather products — higher quality means a higher price.
  3. Leather jerkins were traditionally geared toward men, but there is no reason why a woman couldn’t wear one today.

In Closing

Leather clothing is found all over the globe, in every continent, and in every nation in some form or fashion.  Leather jerkins have been around for a few centuries and, like many other leather pieces, haven’t gone out of style.  If you’re looking for a fashionable and functional clothing piece, look no further than the leather jerkin.

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