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Rebel Uniform: Leather Trousers

GQ editor Dylan Jones reveals how Jim Morrison's sartorial choices created a rock and roll blueprint for the bohemian outsider

Los Angeles has thrown up many rebels, but none with more of an enduring reputation and influence than Jim Morrison. Not only did he drink himself to death, not only did he front a band, the Doors, who were the antithesis of the Beatles, but he looked the part, too. Because no one wore a pair of leather trousers better than Jim Morrison.

Every now and then Hollywood likes to embrace a young, edgy idol. In the early Fifties this came in the form of Marlon Brando, who paraded around the 1953 film The Wild One dressed in black leather. He was swiftly followed by James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, hot leading men who were always being persuaded by publicists and photographers to wear blue jeans and black leather. And while Jim Morrison was a rock star rather than a movie star, he carried himself with the same panache, strolling through his relatively short life (he died in Paris in 1971 from what looks increasingly like an accidental heroin overdose) as though he was constantly being filmed.

Jim Morrison made leather trousers synonymous with rock music
Jim Morrison was the star who made leather trousers synonymous with rock music and rebellion.

Jim Morrison was the rock god of Hollywood. By day he would lead his band through intense recording sessions – penning such classics as Light My Fire, Hello, I Love You and Riders on the Storm along the way – and by night he would bounce between the bars of Hollywood and downtown LA, looking for girls, drugs and danger. And boy did he look the part, wearing his leather breeches as though they had been grafted onto his legs. Leather trousers are these days seen as the quintessential item of a rock star's wardrobe, yet it was Morrison who gave them a genuinely bohemian profile.

Suzi Quatro in leather trousers
Suzi Quatro wore leather trousers almost as well as she played bass guitar.

In the late Fifties, rockers such as Gene Vincent had used black leather as a way to semaphore their outsider status, yet it was always considered to be the preserve of the roughneck teen idol, not the choice of a genuine alt-God. When Jim Morrison – a man who was worshipped as much by hippies as he was by 16-year-old girls – started wearing leather trousers, he not only created a rock and roll blueprint (one that has been copied by everyone from Julian Cope and Depeche Mode to Justin Bieber and the Clash, from John Lydon and Robbie Williams to Bruno Mars and Lenny Kravitz, and by female rockers such as Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett), he invested them with a gravitas that took them out of the pool hall and put them into the fashion emporium. Very few people wanted to look like Gene Vincent, whereas everyone wanted to look like Jim Morrison.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ, the editor-in-chief of GQ Style and the Chairman of London Collections: Men. His new book Jim Morrison, Mr Mojo, is published by Bloomsbury in April

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