Skip to Content

What does Michael Jackson’s jacket look like?

Michael Jackson was known for his iconic and flashy sense of style. One of his most famous wardrobe pieces was his red and black leather jacket from the Thriller era in the early 1980s. This bold jacket became a staple of Jackson’s public image and helped solidify his status as the King of Pop.

The History of Michael Jackson’s Thriller Jacket

Michael Jackson first wore the red leather jacket in the music video for “Thriller” in 1983. The video was revolutionary for its creative storyline and use of special effects, and Jackson’s outfit made a lasting impression.

The jacket was designed by Deborah Landis, the costume designer on the “Thriller” video. She worked closely with Jackson to create a bold look that would suit his energetic dance moves in the video’s famous choreographed zombie scene.

After the massive success of “Thriller,” Jackson continued to wear the jacket for many public appearances throughout the 1980s. It became one of his signature looks, often paired with a single sequined glove and black pants.

Fans and impersonators endlessly replicated the Thriller jacket to pay tribute to Jackson’s iconic style. The jacket became synonymous with Jackson’s groundbreaking career at the peak of his fame.

The Construction and Design Details

The Thriller jacket was made from red leather and had black stripes running down each sleeve. Here are some key details about its construction and design:

  • The red leather base was crafted from lightweight lambskin, providing flexibility and ease of movement.
  • The stripes down the sleeves were made of black patent leather.
  • The jacket fastened asymmetrically with a single buckled strap at the waist.
  • It had a stand-up mandarin collar with a strap across the throat.
  • The shoulders were adorned with layered epaulettes and silver studs.
  • The cuffs were trimmed in black leather and had three buckled straps.
  • There were tailored darts at the back for shape through the torso.
  • The hemline had a downward pointing front tail in the style of a matador jacket.

The jacket was carefully crafted to be bold and edgy but also allow full mobility for dancing. Jackson and Landis worked meticulously on the details to create this iconic look.

Symbolism of the Thriller Jacket’s Design

Michael Jackson was very purposeful about the messaging and symbolism conveyed through his clothing. The Thriller jacket design contained symbolic elements reinforcing Jackson’s desired public image.

  • The red leather signified power and aggression.
  • The black stripes resembled a tiger’s stripes, emphasizing Jackson’s feline grace.
  • The asymmetrical closure gave the jacket a dangerous, rock-and-roll feel.
  • The mandarin collar framed Jackson’s face like royalty or military officers of the past.
  • The shoulder epaulettes resembled those on military uniforms, conveying leadership.
  • The matador style tail aligned Jackson with the showmanship of bullfighters.

Through the strong, daring, and commanding imagery of the jacket, Jackson crafted his persona as an untouchable King of Pop. The Thriller jacket amplified his groundbreaking music and choreography with symbolic visual flair.

Similarities to Military Styles

Michael Jackson had an affinity for military-inspired styles, which influenced elements of the Thriller jacket’s design. Some features that aligned with military and marching band styles included:

Thriller Jacket Feature Military Influence
Stand-up mandarin collar Resembled uniform dress coats
Shoulder epaulettes Mimicked decorated officers’ coats
Front tail Similar to a coatee tailcoat
Cuff straps Recalled military braiding
Bold red color Symbolized aggression like military red coats

Jackson often incorporated militaristic elements into his clothing, seen also in some of his sparkling gloves mimicking royal regalia. The Thriller jacket allowed him to add flair and showmanship to the rigid structure of military and marching band styles.

Michael Jackson’s Other Famous Outfits

While the Thriller jacket remains Jackson’s most iconic costume, he created other legendary looks throughout his career:

Outfit Description
Billie Jean look Black pants, silver socks, and black loafers with sequined tube socks from his Motown 25 performance.
White suit and fedora An all-white suit jacket and pants with a matching fedora hat.
Red leather “Beat It” jacket A cropped red leather moto jacket covered in metal buckles and studs.
Egyptian pharaoh attire Gold face paint and an ornate Egyptian-style collar and headdress.
Black wool trench coat A long black wool trench coat worn in his later years.

Jackson always understood the importance of visuals in the entertainment industry. He used his innovative outfits to capture the imagination and cement his status as one of the most memorable superstars of all time.

Influence on Fashion Trends

Michael Jackson’s boundary-pushing styles heavily influenced pop culture and fashion trends in the 1980s and beyond. The Thriller jacket in particular popularized several clothing elements:

  • Leather jackets with buckles, straps, and studs
  • Mandarin collars on jackets and shirts
  • Two-tone red and black clothing
  • Single sequined gloves
  • High water pants showing socks
  • Combining dress shoes with casual looks

Jackson’s avant-garde mix of edgy punk, sophisticated formalwear, and military aesthetics blurred gender, cultural, and style lines. His fearless fashion choices paved the way for generations of boundary-breaking artists.

Both runway designers and the mass market continue reinterpreting Jackson’s iconic looks to this day. His visual legacy forever changed the possibilities of fashion and costume in entertainment.

Rare Appearances of the Thriller Jacket Today

Given its elite status in pop culture history, sightings of Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket are extraordinarily rare today. The jacket maintains an aura of mystery and cool that cannot be replicated.

A small handful of Jackson’s original Thriller tour jackets exist in conservation at institutions like the Grammy Museum or in private archives. These prized artifacts only make brief appearances under tight security measures.

High-end auction houses like Julien’s Auctions have brokered occasional sales of Michael Jackson’s original performance wear. In 2011, one of Jackson’s custom Thriller jackets sold at Julien’s Auctions for $1.8 million dollars.

When an original Thriller jacket surfaces at auction, it generates tremendous global media attention due to nostalgia for Jackson’s seminal work and the mystique surrounding his outfits. Few artifacts encapsulate the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1980s like the Thriller jacket.

Tributes to the Thriller Jacket

Michael Jackson fans around the world have found creative ways to pay tribute to Jackson’s Thriller jacket:

  • Halloween costumes and cosplay outfits replicate the jacket each year.
  • Fashion designers create Thriller-inspired looks for celebrities like Beyonce.
  • DJs and artists wear Thriller jackets to pay homage during performances.
  • Visual artists work the jacket into silkscreen prints, graffiti art, and paintings.
  • Leather companies offer replicas for purchase to the public.
  • Impersonators wear painstaking reproductions during stage shows.

These tributes speak to the cultural significance and visual brilliance of Michael Jackson’s most famous outfit. The jacket is so iconic that it transcends from a costume to a piece of art instantly recognizable around the globe.


Michael Jackson’s red and black leather Thriller jacket has earned an exalted status in entertainment history thanks to its bold originality. The jacket’s symbolic design brilliantly complemented Jackson’s trailblazing music and dance. Its militaristic flourishes and rock-and-roll edge created a look worthy of the King of Pop.

Nearly four decades after he first donned it, the Thriller jacket remains globally influential as a pop culture symbol of Jackson’s immortal talent and innovative spirit. His unique fashion sense lives on through the jacket’s inspiration of stage costumes and designer looks worldwide. Michael Jackson transformed a single outfit into a timeless representation of his creative vision and enduring cultural impact.