7 Days of Positive – Day 157: The Healing Power of PU



After about eight years of arsing about – am I too old? will I look tragic? I soooo want one… but I could look desperate – I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself a black leather biker jacket.

Except it isn’t leather (like the one in the pic above, which I wish was me, but it isn’t), it’s pleather. Plastic ‘leather’ which they now list as ‘PU’, hoping to dazzle us into thinking it’s some new kind of textile.

This is my jacket

This is my jacket

I totally was when I bought my first skirt with ‘PU’ on the label, about four years ago, until curiosity made me Google it and I found out that PU is short for polyurethane, a very well-known form of our good old friend plastic.

Although to be fair PU is a massive leap forward from the kind of boil-in-a-bag placcie my first forays into pleather clothing were made of.

I could lose a kilo in one night sweating in the tight and shiny plastic ‘crocodile skin’ pants I bought in a sex shop in Paris. They were fantastically groovy, but I’d go from being a one-woman sauna on the dance floor, to near hyperthermia on venturing out into cold night air.

Peeling them off at the end of the evening was always an interesting process.

PU doesn’t fuse to your skin like that, because it’s made of a layer of polyurethane fused onto the top of woven polyester fabric, so it has both structure and give.

But the great leap forward the clever textile scientists have made is to somehow make the surface of it so much like real leather people are genuinely fooled. I even feel quite fooled myself.

Because even though my £39 biker jacket from Zara is 100% PU it gives me exactly the hip cat swinger leather feeling I’ve so been longing to get back into my life.

I basically spent my entire youth in biker jackets. Pretty much from the moment I first heard the Sex Pistols in November 1976, I wasn’t without one.

1978 t shirt from Seditionaries, jacket from PX

1978 T shirt by Seditionairies, jacket by PX

Even when I moved on from that rebellious phase I still always had a black leather jacket of some kind until my mid-thirties when it suddenly felt wrong and muttony and it’s been sorely missing from my life ever since.

You have a different relationship with biker jackets than you do with other clothes. It’s more like that thing you have with a favourite hat. No matter where you’re going, it always feels right to put it on, like it’s part of you.

I felt like that from the moment I tried my Zara pleather on. I wore it out of the shop. And every day since.

It doesn’t matter what else I’ve got on, the minute I slid my arms into my pleather I feel like the best real me.

My jacket makes me feel like this woman looks

My jacket makes me feel like this woman looks

I spent the whole of yesterday in home clothes – ancient Juicy Couture velour trackies and a sweatshirt. When I popped out for a walk I threw my pleather on over the top and immediately felt groovy, like a had a look on.

I wore it to a cool friend’s bar party on Monday night with my thigh-gripping boot cut jeans (Gap), high wedges and a studded belt (same sex shop as previously mentioned plastic pants) and sashayed around thinking I was Marianne Faithful in 1971.

I may have looked more like Mrs Sloccombe rigged out as a punk rocker for the Grace Brothers fancy dress Christmas party, but I felt great.


So I’m enormously grateful to the inventors of PU, because a £39 jacket, which feels and behaves like leather (and makes you behave as though you are actually wearing leather…) was a low-price experiment to see if it still feels as good to wear a biker jacket in your 50s, as it did in your 20s.

Turns out it totally does – but I wasn’t game to put it to the test with a £600 real leather investment purchase.

Now I’ve joyfully discovered that my inner rock chick is a happy in a biker jacket as she was twenty five years ago, I’m wondering if I should now shell out for the real thing.

Saint Laurent £3040

Saint Laurent £3,040

There are some really gorgeous ones out there, but you know what – the whole concept of a ‘designer’ biker jacket really takes the roll and out of it for me.

I’m happy in my pleather. And it’s machine washable.


Sid knew how to wear his leather

  • Janice Mitchell
    September 4, 2015

    My lovely $99 Zara pu jacket fools a lot of people. I had quite a bit of angst about buying it, even leaving the labels attached for the first couple of wears whilst testing reactions (all positive) . I love it. It makes me feel a little bit edgy and the gold zips add a touch of glam. And I’m 65!
    Janice, Sydney

  • FF
    September 4, 2015

    I think you’ll look fab. x

  • QB
    September 5, 2015

    Huzzah! just brilliant isn’t it ?
    Mine is one of my best ever purchases.
    May it lift your spirits for years to come x

  • WattleFlatJane
    September 5, 2015

    Love the old photo of you in the Stockwell tube station. I love doing the ‘rock chick’ look but for me it’s more raddled old rock chick now. You have given me the courage to go back and buy a black jacket with pleather arms that I think looks amazing on but the ‘suitability’ of which I was agonizing over. A couple of weeks ago I bought a black and white print jacket with a pleather edged neckline and lapels (sounds heinous when I write that) – just nicely edgy. Rock on!

    • maggie2015
      September 5, 2015

      I think Marianne Faithful and Betty Catroux have paved the way for the rest of us mortals to age in rock chick mode.

      • WattleflatJane
        September 6, 2015

        Just googled Betty Catroux: excellent, I can do it. And I must admit I do occasionally squint into the mirror in the hope there is a little of Ms Faithfull lurking there. Carine Roitfeld, in my wildest…

  • Danya
    September 5, 2015

    Love the old pic. I was at that tube station just a few weeks back.
    I’ve had my old jacket tucked away for years, dithering over the eternal “Am I too old?” I think I might whip it out and have another look. Thanks Maggie x

    • maggie2015
      September 5, 2015

      I got my old Schott Perfecto out and it doesn’t look right at all. I needed a modern update. The pleather is so light and easy to wear, the Schott was a bit of number.

  • carol w
    September 5, 2015

    Maggie – never too old to unleash the inner rock chick – just ask Merryl Streep.
    One of the benefits of getting older is not giving a hoot and just going for it!

  • Ann
    September 5, 2015

    I had a real leather bikie jacket like this years ago, and it squeaked whenever I wore it. I tried rubbing Dubbin into the leather to soften it, but still squeaked, to the extent I got funny looks from people, especially if I wore it in the cinema. Sadly gave it to Vinnies some years ago.

    • maggie2015
      September 6, 2015

      Another reason why pleather is better… it’s so soft, it looks not just like leather, but the most expensive leather.

  • bonniecat
    September 6, 2015

    Dear Maggie – get over yourself! There is nothing wrong with a beautifully crafted PU/pleather garment – just think – no animals have been sacrificed etc. You have provided employment to someone in possibly a sweatshop enviroment(come in Zara, TopShop etc. Possibly time to relinquish fast cheap fashion & boycott them forever – oh dear – there goes the European fashion industry! Get back to basics & eschew disposable fashion – buy something of quality that will last 10-20 years, regardless of fashion cycles. Only buy boring staples & you WILL save so much!

  • Ros Harbison
    September 6, 2015

    I made mine from silk woven to resemble crocodile skin. No animal (not even poor little vinyls) had to die. It was only a short length, but I managed to get it all, even the wide bias collar.

  • Linda Mondy
    September 7, 2015

    Enjoyed your post. Not sure if this qualifies, but I recently made an impulse buy in Naples. It is a gorgeous, very soft, red leather biker style jacket. I’m back in Sydney now, and it made my airport attire (you know, loose jeans, loose top), look quite move starish (in my own head).

  • Amanda Towe
    September 7, 2015

    It looks cute but I’d need to know if it were biodegradable before buying it. Would it languish in a landfill for aeons? Does anyone know about neoprene in that regard?

    • maggie2015
      September 9, 2015

      No idea – it’s polyurethane, so give it a Google and let me know. I fear the worst…

  • lara
    September 8, 2015

    I bet you look gorgeous ! I am like that with denim jackets, having had several over the decades (remember stretch acid wash with padded shoulders …) but my faves have always been the ‘classic’ style. One favourite about 15 years ago was the one I ‘borrowed’ from my mum – it was worn and soft and Imloved it so, squawking like a toddler when she finally asked for it back !!

  • Judith
    September 8, 2015

    I live in Sydney (Australia) and was brought up in Staffordshire, just like you Maggie ( a couple of months’ difference in age). I went to London last week to visit family, was freezing my butt off (wonderful English Summer) and needed something that was not only warm but waterproof and cheap, but moreover stylish. (Aussie dollar was 0.44 to the pound- ouch!!) I found the most incredible PU Leather biker jacket (which I am normally appalled by – PU that is) for £14.00 in Primark on Oxford Street. I feel a million dollars in it. ‘Mouton habillé comme un agneau’ -mais…..peut-être!
    I have received so many compliments since returning to Sydney regarding said jacket and questions as to where I bought it and how much I paid for it. I think an awful lot of Sydney-siders will be on their way to to the UK sometime soon as a result. I love London and the UK for their choice, but unfortunately the weather overrides any of that – such a shame 🙁

    • maggie2015
      September 9, 2015

      Where in Staffs, Judith???!!! I have a complex relationship with Primark – when they get it right, as they clearly have in the case of your jacket, it’s just amazing, but I have to feel strong to go in there… it can be overwhelming, so much STUFF, so well done for picking out the gem.

      I miss Australia every day, but I do find the February humidity almost as hard to deal with as the crap British weather. xxx

      • Anonymous
        September 9, 2015

        Hi Maggie,
        Thanks so much for your reply – I hail from Bucknall in Stoke-on-Trent. I came across your column about 5 years ago whilst reading the SMH. I remarked to a colleague that I had soooooo much in common with you and felt like a bosom buddy, not knowing anything about your background or nationality; I assumed you were Australian. I almost choked when I found out about your upbringing; in fact I was as high as a kite. I bored my husband to tears about you (he is from London) and simply doesn’t understand Staffordshire at all – to be honest, I find it all a bit odd myself. I left the UK in 1977 and have not returned since, living mostly in mainland Europe, ending up in Australia in 2001. Australian politics as they currently are (I am so ashamed) we are thinking of moving back to Europe – probably the South of France or Southern Spain (cannot tolerate cold weather any more). I have all of your books (which make me howl) – I also give them as presents to those who are not as familiar with you as I am. I love your blog and cannot believe how similar we are. If you are coming to Australia in the next couple of years, PLEASE let me know as I would LOVE to meet you – coffee if you don’t have much time, or come over to our place for dinner (and LOTS of wine and laughs 🙂 and great conversation.
        Primark: I don’t know very much about it in all honesty – I thought it was a ‘poor mans ASDA’ – it was totally chaotic and not an experience I relish or would like to repeat, but I am so happy with my PU leather jacket that I don’t actually care 🙂
        Hope to hear from you Maggie.
        Best regards,

  • Kathy
    October 15, 2015

    Thank you Maggie so much for this article. I bought a red wine coloured pu jacket from Debenhams the day after I read it. Wearing heaps of navy blue at the moment and loving myself in it.

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