It’s a look that’s iconic to the point of parody: engineer boots, leather jackets, and tight blue jeans. But one that’s cartoonish for how pervasive it is as the ultimate in Americana, but ironically the movement itself is a complete rejection of everything American.
This guide is about the bikers and outsiders that failed to integrate into normal American society and how their look has been commodified and repackaged into an archetype.
The origins of the biker movement start some years before it rose to prominence in the 1950s. Some 16 million Americans served in World War Two from 1941 to 1945, of which 400,000 were killed, 670,000 injured, and 130,000 were prisoners of war. These were people who had grown up in the desperation of the Great Depression and now, their first time leaving the country was to experience the horrors of the largest war in history.
When they returned home to a peaceful country well on its way to becoming the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. This newfound wealth allowed for the new “nuclear family” and the splintering of multigenerational households, as people had the resources to move out on their own earlier in life.
Many more still were forced into the closet after having homosexual experiences abroad. Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male found that nearly a third of its interviewees had a homosexual experience and that nearly half of men experienced some attraction to both genders (obviously written with an outdated binary in mind).
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