Over the years I have noticed some readers disdain for the leather pants on the covers of urban fantasy. And yet, the cover models keep wearing them. Why is this? If leather pants are a cliche, one would expect publishers to find a new fashion. Some have, in the form of tattoos, but that’s a blog post for another day.
Let’s talk about why those leather pants covers are not cliche.
Leather has been worn as a clothing item going way back through history. The tough hide was valued for its protective quality as worn by cowboys as chaps, and then by aviators as jackets and helmets. But the usage we identify with on urban fantasy book covers is the progression of leather clothing worn by motorcycle riders and rock stars. Our collective pop culture conscienceness has assigned several prejudicial characteristics to leather pants enthusiasts: bad ass, rebel, mercenary.
So when we see leather on the cover of an urban fantasy, right away we know we’re dealing someone who is not wholly good. This is not a pretty Pollyanna. This is someone who is going to be a rebel, a fighter, and maybe a bad ass.
All of fantasy includes armor of some kind, and leather is typically the cheapest, lowest form of armor a fantasy character can get. Except in urban fantasy, where the characters are (usually) in a human world setting. In this case leather is the best form of armor for fitting in among humans. Dwarven plate mail isn’t going to get your urban fantasy hero down the street without more than a few complications. So a cover model in leather and carrying a gun easily suggests a modern fantasy setting.
It’s been suggested that leather pants would make fighting difficult for an urban fantasy character. Traditional protective leathers crafted for riding motorcyles are heavy and not very flexible. To me, this would suggest the urban fantasy character wearing the leathers is strong enough to move around comfortably, and therefore, she is probably not human. Strength is an important characteristic of urban fantasy hero/ine– not just physical, but emotional strength. So seeing leather on the cover tells me I will be reading about a strong character.
Fashion leathers are more flexible, but lack protection. They’re also more expensive than average clothing. Part of why I read urban fantasy is to escape the realities of life. I love it when there’s wealthy characters. Leather on the cover suggest a book I can escape into.
It’s also been suggested that leather wouldn’t allow for stealth because leather can be squeaky. Ah, but leather can be worn down and made pliable. (How to Make Leather Pants Not Squeak When Worn.)
What do you think of leather pants covers? Do you, like me, use them to help identify a book as urban fantasy? Or do you think its time for the publishing industry to find a new costume for urban fantasy covers?