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FASHION : Leather Will Give a Little Lift to Your Wardrobe : The versatile clothing can add true grit to a guy's life. For a change, check out styles at your local biker shop.

March 24, 1994|KATHLEEN WILLIAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Consider, for a moment, your quality of life. Has the zest drained away? Do you blank out in front of the closet each morning, wishing that there were something-- anything --that could bring back the passion you once knew?

Do you shudder before racks of limp linen and wimpy wool? Of hopelessly mundane paisley and plaid?

And, once you've finally dressed, just what is your impact on the world? Over breakfast, does your spouse even look up from her Wall Street Journal to notice whether you are alive?

On your commute, do the eyes of other drivers take in your outfit, then glaze over? Do waiters focus on the air above your head?

When trapped in a cycle of rejection and hopelessness, many people turn to psychotherapy. But the real solution may be as close as the neighborhood mall. If you want respect, you've got to dress tough. Take a lesson from some of our assertive film idols: John Wayne, Marlon Brando, James Dean.

What did these stalwarts have in common? It's simple. They all wore leather--and you can too.

Leather says it all. It's got the look of power, the feel of the frontier, the attitude of grit. Wearing it is one of the few ways left to swashbuckle in the 20th Century. And, it's still largely politically correct--an authentic food byproduct that you can wear.

Also, it's versatile. If you think that leather clothing is limited to the basic vest and bomber jacket, you've been steered wrong. Outside of underwear, you can build an entire wardrobe of leather.

OK, there may not be a two-piece suit; but you can get a black leather blazer and slacks, put them together with a brushed suede shirt, and set off the look with a slim lambskin tie.

A single garment can transform your whole demeanor. Make it a cowboy duster--a long, black, nostalgic piece of Americana that real cowpokes still wear, according to Lynn Clark, manager of Wilson's Suede & Leather in Thousand Oaks.

Dusters have been big for several years, and fringe jackets are making a comeback, especially in men's styles, Clark said.

Some styles are even made for milder climates, such as the classic bomber jacket with a zip-out lining.

"At our corporate offices in Minnesota," Clark said, "they call it 'California cool.' "

For another level of cool, we recommend checking a location off the beaten track. We found it in an industrial park--Harley-Davidson of Ventura.

There's no mall rock playing in the showroom, just the roar of engines revving outside the door. And no carpet on the concrete floor. It gets you in the mood for the no-nonsense styles that cyclists wear.

Except for the wide-brimmed border hats--which don't really seem to go with the bikes.

Now, how about a leather bandanna to set you apart on the golf course, say? Or a black touring cap with a chain on the front, teamed with a rivet-encrusted vest--perfect for a vacation cruise. Some of the rivet designs spell out "H D," but that might be mistaken for a college logo, as in Harvard Divinity School.

And the bandannas are only $29, complete with rivets and embossed logo. So, don't let cost stop you from flaunting the look.

While in the Harley-Davidson store, think about a new look for work. A nice new suit in any decent fabric is going to cost some real bucks, so why not get a durable leather ensemble instead, one that will change your life?

We recommend teaming the Brando-style epaulet jacket with full chaps and engineer boots complete with double chains.

And the convertible trousers have a lot of flair. With these, you can lounge at your desk in walking shorts with what look like vulcanized cuffs. Then, when a client calls, you quickly roll down the cuffs and zip on leg extensions for a more formal look.

In casual wear, our personal favorite is the USA Vest. (Most of the fashions have names, many with a Western theme.) It features a stone-washed denim front and natural distressed leather back showing a massive tooled Harley-Davidson eagle.

The total look includes a black biker jacket worn under the vest--but we can picture it over anything. Pajamas, say, if your spouse keeps reading the Wall Street Journal late into the evening hours. This should pull her away from its pages.

It should make waiters jump, too--and at a fraction of the cost of counseling.

In short, to transform your life: Get leather. Who says you can't buy respect?

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