Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>One Percenter
Subject: one percenter
Culture: outlaw biker gangs
Setting: North America

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Queen 2005 p23-24
"Outlaw biker gangs trace their origins to the years immediately after World War II.  Many returning veterans, seeking camaraderie and adventure and having difficulty adjusting to civilian life, formed clubs and  took to the highway on their Harley Davidsons and Indians.  They tended to ride hard, drink hard, and fight hard.
    "The term '1 percenter' was coined in the aftermath of a 1947 melee in Hollister, California, the 'motorcycle riot' that inspired the film The Wild One and sparked the first wave of anti-biker hysteria in the United States.  Following the unrest, the American Motorcycle Association denounced the small minority of bikers who were sullying the reputation of the '99 percent' of motorcycle enthusiasts who were law-abiding.  The outlaw biker groups quickly embraced their characterization as a public menace, and to this day, almost all don a 1%ER patch on their colors."

* Kenney/Finckenauer 1995 p292
"Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) came into being during the period following World War II.  'Groups of young men, many newly-returned soldiers, formed motorcycle clubs and rejected normal civilian lifestyles.  In the next several years their behavior became not so much boisterous as surly, less rebellious than openly criminal.'  The term outlaw motorcycle gangs seems to have first been used in 1946 after a motorcycle gang riot in Hollister, California.
    "A certain mythology developed during the 1950s and 1960s around motorcycle riders and motorcycle clubs promulgated by such films as The Wild OnesEasy Rider, and Angels on Wheels.  Marlon Brando and Peter Fonda personified a myth of rebellion, of freedom to do your own thing, of being antiestablishment.  However, this perception of motorcycle gangs has changed over the last two decades.  'Outlaw' motorcyclists have become much less romantic figures and are more likely to be viewed today as common criminals or worse."

* Serwer 1992-11-30 online
"Back in the 1950s, the American Motorcyclist Association, the voice of legitimate riders, pronounced that ''only 1%'' of all riders were troublemakers. The outlaws gleefully accepted the label, and many still call themselves one-percenters. (The actual percentage is much smaller -- counting the hangers-on police call associates, only about 0.2% of the estimated nine million motorcyclists in the U.S.)"

* Queen 2005 p21-22
"[C]ontemporary biker gangs aren't simply hard-charging, heavy-drinking 'wild-child' Americans, a version of the James Gang on iron horses. Today's biker organizations are sophisticated, calculating, extremely violent -- nothing less than the insidious new face of global organized crime.
    "With written constitutions, bylaws, monthly dues, and a hierarchy of national officers, OMGs are just as organized and dangerous as traditional Cosa Nostra families, and indeed more violent.  In fact, their membership now dwarfs that of the Mafia, and they are spreading around the globe, with chapters in far-flung countries like Sweden and New Zealand.  They form a closed, impenetrable society like the Italian-American Mob, but the fundamental distinction, from a law-enforcement perspective, is the brazen, in-your-face violence of today's biker organizations.  Where the Mafia seeks a pretense of respectability, cloaking its illegal activities in legitimacy, outlaw biker gangs proudly fly their 'colors,' identifying themselves as Hells Angels, Pagans, Outlaws, Bandidos, or Mongols."

* Serwer 1992-11-30 online
"Federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), say that outlaw bikers, with over 300 clubs, 5,000 members, and at least 10,000 regular hangers-on, are one of the nation's largest organized criminal networks, after the Mafia and Asian gangs. They are also a business. The feds believe the Hells Angels and the other large outlaw gangs earn up to $1 billion a year worldwide from drug dealing, prostitution, gunrunning, theft, extortion, and murder. That's far less than La Cosa Nostra, which takes in an estimated $50 billion annually in the U.S., but the outlaw bike gangs are more vibrant and growing faster. The Angels, the biggest and most sophisticated, with about 1,000 members in more than 70 chapters worldwide, have a tight management structure, sophisticated communications systems, and -- when they need it -- paramilitary discipline."


* Kenney/Finckenauer 1995 p292
"The structure of the gangs is hierarchical, with rules of conduct set forth in club charters and constitutions.  The symbol of membership in a gang is usually the gang 'colors.'  These are considered to be one of the proudest possessions of gang members.  Colors are 'usually a sleeveless denim or leather jacket with embroidered patches sewn on the back.  The patches display a gang logo, sometimes slogans or initials; there may also be 'rockers' that identify the name of the gang and the home city of the chapter.  The colors ... represent the foremost commitment of his life -- his commitment to the gang and its criminal lifestyle." [reference omitted]

* Polhemus 1994 p27
"Clustered in tightly knit gangs with names like 'The Booze Fighters (precursors of the 'Hells Angels'), these early postwar Bikers set out to challenge every aspect of the New American Way.  And they succeeded (thanks in part to Kramer and Brando).
    "Central to this success was their distinctive style.  Whereas, as we have seen, the classic sartorial response of working-class people is to dress up in rich styles in order to 'ape their betters', the Bikers defied stylistic as well as other conventions by proudly presenting themselves in rugged working-class garments.  Finery was not their way -- they preferred rough-and-ready, battered clothes which visually demonstrated their harsh experiences on the road.
    "Of course the war had served to elevate the status of certain garments -- most noticeably the black leather jacket.  Whereas in earlier wars the military elite had appeared in formal attire embellished with gold braid, the Second World War saw the likes of Patton and MacArthur wearing precisely the same black leather jackets that the Bikers now took as their uniform.  But, as the Bikers' appearance grew steadily more scruffy and frayed (Brando's costume was far too immaculate), this association with heroism was deliberately undermined."

* Veno ed. 2007 p355-356 (Steve Tretheway & Terry Katz, "Motorcycle gangs or motorcycle Mafia?" p354-360)
"Categorizing this counterculture is complicated because of the interrelationships and networking not only with other motorcycle gangs, but also with prison gangs, street gangs, racist groups, drug groups and traditional organized crime families. Adding layers of insulation to the network are the gang associates who do not wear a gang patch (set of denim or leather colors with the gang's logo or patch on the back). Estimates suggest that for every gang member, there are 10 associates doing work for the gang. They may obtain utility or criminal justice information, provide sophisticated weapons and other equipment through military connections, or offer their services as chemists, thieves, prostitutes and even contract hit men.
    "Unlike the traditional Mafia, motorcycle gang members flaunt their membership and proudly acknowledge an existence outside society's norms. Most are overt about their affiliation, advertising their identity by sporting gang colors, gang tattoos or T-shirts with the gang's insignia. To increase the shock value, gang colors, patches, tattoos and nicknames often incorporate Nazi symbols, devils' heads skulls, vulgar phrases and satanic types of symbolism."

* Queen 2005 p22
"To a biker, these [gang] colors -- denim or leather sleeveless vests decorated with coded patches that detail a member's sexual and criminal exploits -- are absolutely sacred, his most prized possession.  Colors are worth fighting for and, if need be, dying for.
    "A biker wears his colors (or 'cut') like a neon sign, announcing to the world precisely who he is.  And make no mistake: Outlaw bikers want you to know who they are.  They want to make you tremble when they hit the highways in convoys of a hundred or more deafening Harleys.  Bikers feed on the fear that they instill in the mainstream; it's this fear that allows them to control a vast, multibillion-dollar economy of illegal drugs, gun-running, and prostitution across the United, States, Canada, and Europe."

* Thompson 1966 p8 (quoting "The Hell's Angels Motorcycle Clubs," an Attorney General of California document)
"The emblem of the Hell's Angels, termed 'colors,' consists of an embroidered patch of a winged skull wearing a motorcycle helmet.  Just below the wing of the emblem are the letters 'MC.'  Over this is a band bearing the words 'Hell's Angels.'  Below the emblem is another patch bearing the local chapter name, which is usually an abbreviation for the city or locality.  These patches are sewn on the back of a usually sleeveless denim jacket.  In addition, members have been observed wearing various types of Luftwaffe insignia and reproductions of German Iron Crosses.  Many affect beards and their hair is usually long and unkempt.  Some wear a single earring in a pierced ear lobe.  Frequently they have been observed to wear belts made of a length of polished motorcycle drive chain which can be unhooked and used as a flexible bludgeon."

* Valentine 1995 p154
"It is difficult to mistake an outlaw biker if he is wearing his colors: dirty jeans, jack boots, and Levi's type denim jackets (sometimes sleeveless) or leather jackets with the club emblem splashed across the back.  One-percenter patches and Nazi emblems, such as the iron cross and swastika, are seen frequently."

* Leather jackets 1997 p29-30
"From the ghostly nightriders transporting Jean Cocteau's Orphee into a 20th century Underworld, through Marlon and Marvin's rival gangs in The Wild One to real-life smalltown terrorisers epitomised by California's Hells Angels, leather-jacketed motorcyclists have always spelt trouble.  
    "Despite Marianne Faithfull's soft-erotic movie Girl On A Motorcycle, it's always been a man's man's world where Angels hound the Hippies and Rockers maul the Mods, though androgynous motorbike molls have invariably followed the Leader of the Pack in indentikit [sic] leathers."


* Serwer 1992-11-30 online (describing Hells Angels)
"They love firepower, and the weapons and technologies they use would be a significant addition to almost any country's armory. Police have seized vast quantities of handguns, silencers, shotguns, M-16s, AK-47s, MAC-10s, and Uzis, as well as LAW rocket launchers, grenades, dynamite, bombs of all types, and C4 and other plastic explosives."

* Wethern/Colnett 1974 p29-30 (describing Hells Angels)
"We didn't lose many fights.  Since we often traveled with an assortment of goodies like chains, wrenches, razors, and knives, the advantage was ours from an equipment standpoint.  And the regiment of slugfests, all-night drinking, and grueling riding hardened us and gave us an experience edge.  Our psychological edge, the club patch, proved as effective as a cocked shotgun, threatening that every Angel within hailing distance would jump to the brother's assistance.  Anybody who thought that he was fighting an Angel one-to-one or that Marquis of Queensbury rules were in effect quickly discovered that 'win' was the only rule.  If a member was losing, we applied the latter half of the motto: 'One on all, all on one.'"


​* Fernandez 2008 online
"There is a history behind the old school biker or 'getback' whips. In the past and in the present, you may have seen bikers and motorcyclist[s] with biker whips attached to their motorcycles. The Biker Whips are attached to the motorcycle by way of the clutch or brake levers. The whips[,] usually made from leather, can be a decorative display, or display a biker[']s motorcycle club colors. A biker whip can be quickly released and used 'in case of emergency' as well. Presently many bikers still hang whips from their controls including a few of my brothers. Many mainstream bikers and motorcyclist[s] hang whips from their controls for decoration."


* Sims 2015 p013-015
"Bikers immediately saw the potential in the engineer boot.  The thick black leather could take being splashed with engine oil and other dirt from the road, the tall shaft protected the leg from flying debris or the heat of exhaust pipes, and the absence of laces meant there was nothing to get caught up in the machinery.  In 1940, Chippewa capitalized on this unexpected market by introducing a new version of its Engineer with bikers in mind: it was shorter, at 28 centimetres (11 inches) tall, which allowed easier pivoting of the ankle for gear changes, and it had a higher heel -- actually the heel used for the company's logger boots -- which allowed the foot to sit securely on a motorcycle's footrest.
    "Such was the success of the model that over the next decade the boot quickly became the definitive footwear for bikers.  In turn, it also became symbolic of rebellion against the conservative mores of the period, thanks in no small measure to the image of bikers as folk rebels, as cast by the media and the entertainment industry.  Marlon Brando wore engineer boots in The Wild One (1953), and Peter Fonda a suede version in Easy Rider 16 years later.  Bikers were already wearing black leather biker jackets -- often the classic Perfecto style originally designed by American clothing manufacturer Schott for a Harley-Davidson dealership.  The black boots only added to the menace of their appearance.
    "That, of course, made the style appeal to American youths of the 1950s too, whether they actually owned a motorcycle or not: it was the style that shod the bad-boy cast of Rebel Without A Cause (1955), for example.  Singer Billy Joel's evocation of teen life of the time, 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant', refers to 'those days hanging out at the village green, engineer boots, leather jackets, and tight blue jeans.'"