The Warriors: Leather Vest

The Warriors (1979) has transcended the label of ‘cult classic’ to now simply be regarded as ‘classic’. A barebones plot, but briskly directed by action maestro Walter Hill, this gang warfare movie was never so much about the fighting as the clothes.

During the memorable opening credits sequence for example, admire the matching yellow satin jackets, striped jersey sweaters and army coats worn by the gangs as they march the subways of NYC as if strutting the runways of Milan. Frankly, by today’s standards, it can all look faintly comical. Though in the late seventies, when downtown New York was something of a no-go area at night, even a man wearing denim dungerees and roller boots could be frightening.

The Warriors themselves are sartorially restrained compared to the other gangs. Light wash denim or twill and signature leather vest (apparently fake in real life) with either bare chest or singlet was the uniform. They referred to their leader as ‘War Chief’; so the western vibe was definitely cultivated as the gang’s mantra:

Tan leather vest (or ‘pleather’) with black and cream diamond braiding. Five button fastening to the front, ‘Warriors’ and Native American headdress and skull logo patches stitched on the back. Two outside braided pockets.

Clearly such custom made livery in real leather would have cost The Warriors a fortune. It is unlikely the gang could have afforded two or three of these vests, let alone the nine they actually needed. This is not the point though; they represent the group’s uniformity and loyalty to each other. That and the fear these ‘colours’ instil in anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.

Leather garments came of age in the 1970s. For women it was designer Roberto Cavalli who led the couture revolution, while men had been wearing leather as outerwear since the long, belted ‘motoring coats’ of the early 1900s. Hippies donned afghan-style fur-collared variations and helped filter the look into the mainstream by late 60s – early 70s.

However it’s Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1955) who made leather the tough guys’ look onscreen. And if by 1979, Brando and his biker chums had become something of a signifier for homosexuality, twenty years on this is exactly how the strictly heterosexual Warriors are in danger of looking too.

Tony Scott’s upcoming remake of The Warriors then will likely have baggier threads, a heavier soundtrack and no blow-dryed hair. Yet how will this all compare in twenty years time? Probably no better. By then we’ll all be back in shiny bakerboy hats. A remake is a good idea though, even if frenetic Tony is not necessarily the right man to do it. Ridley might have made more sense.


(Incidentally if you’d like a Warriors vest for swaggering down your local Maccy D’s, replica-versions do occasionally appear on eBay for $150-200. As do the Baseball Furies’ stripy knickerbockers – should you ever feel brave enough.)

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.