A solid denim jacket is a wardrobe staple. Maybe you found yours in a vintage shop, or maybe it was handed down by a dad or older brother. Perhaps you went out and bought one brand new so you could wear it in yourself. Regardless, there’s one thing that can’t be denied: the jean jacket is timeless.
The story of the denim jacket starts with Levi Strauss about a decade after he found himself with a hit on his hands with his denim pants (and that original is still a hit — it seems like everyone has their preferred Levi’s number these days). Like the pants, the jacket was designed for men who work manual labor jobs in the mines, on the railroad, and in the cattleyard. Admittedly, jeans have had more staying power than the jean jacket, but there’s still an iconic, classic look to a properly worn denim jacket.
But first things first: “Jean jacket” or “denim jacket” was a name that came later. The original was called the Triple Pleat Blouse because it had three pleats on both sides of the front. Moving on.
The jean jacket has no boundaries or defined period. What is clear is that it started to shift from workwear to a fashion statement in the mid-1900s.
Americans, and later Brits, fell for the denim jacket around the time of World War II as a symbol of rebelliousness. John Wayne wore denim jackets in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley wore a dark denim jacket in the movie “Jailhouse Rock,” while hippies in the 1960s wore their jean jackets bedazzled with psychedelic designs and peace symbol patches. John Lennon was a regular jean jacket wearer in the 1970s. Bruce Springsteen wore his (along with denim pants) in the 1980s as he toured around the country singing “Born in the USA” to the masses. More recently, everyone from Kanye to Chance the Rapper to Ryan Gosling have been seen sporting a jean jacket.
Each decade its their own twist on how it’s worn. Today, it’s pretty versatile and can match whatever you’re looking for.
What to Wear With a Jean Jacket
Denim jackets generally give a masculine vibe with a cut that tapers from the shoulders to the waist. They kind of serve as a choose-your-own-adventure type of clothing. Wear it casual with a white T or layer it with a flannel or hoodie — it all works as long as you’re not trying to get too formal with it.
Sweaters, casual button-downs, flannels, henleys, hoodies, and T-shirts are the best denim jacket companions on top. The jackets go well with a wide variety of pants, but try and pair it with something on the opposite spectrum (dark denim jacket with light pants and vice versa). If you’re brave, wear it with jeans — just know it takes a certain type of confidence for that one.
In terms of fit, aim for one that fits the form of how many layers you plan to wear it with most. The length should hit at about your belt and the sleeves should be at the wrist.
What About the Canadian Tuxedo?
Turns out the Canadian tuxedo has nothing to do with being Canadian and everything to do with an American star who loved his denim.
In 1951, Bing Crosby couldn’t get into a Canadian hotel because he was wearing denim pants and a denim jacket. So, according to Levi’s own history, the company made a denim tuxedo that met formal dress codes. The original even had a jacket with a “Notice to All Hotel Men” that it was indeed formal attire.
While that was a much fancier version of the Canadian tuxedo than what gets mocked today, there’s a time and a place for everything. Even denim-on-denim.
Classic Men’s Denim Jackets
There’s a men’s denim jacket for every budget. Here are three to get you started.
Levi’s Trucker Jacket
It’s hard to go wrong with the brand that started it all. While no longer called the Triple Pleat Blouse (thankfully), Levi’s original Trucker Jacket is the modern starting point for all things jean jacket. Levi’s modern Trucker Jacket design dates back to 1967 and it’s still the one you know won’t go out of style whether you prefer to layer it over a sweater or keep it simple with a plain white shirt. The non-stretch, 100-percent cotton jacket has long sleeves to roll the cuffs up and patch breast pockets. It’s meant to be worn and worn again — in fact, the more wear, the better the patina, and the better the jacket.
Ralph Lauren Denim Trucker Jacket
Similar in style to the original Levi’sm Ralph Lauren’s version of the trucker jacket has a corduroy collar and just a bit more flair — and comes at a higher cost. If you’re looking for a certain type of fit, however, it may be worth it. Denim jackets are built to last, afterall.
Wrangler Cowboy Cut
Wrangler is another name in workwear that’s hard to ignore. And like the denim jackets before it, the brand’s Cowboy Cut is just as fit for a night on the town as it is for wrangling cattle. The “W” embroidered on the chest pockets let everyone know what you’re wearing, and the cuffs have a snap closure instead of buttons. This also comes in flannel-lined versions if you’re not planning on layering as much underneath.