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Few pieces of clothing can compete with the denim jacket. They’re the embodiment of classic American style with roots in the wild west, a rockstar history and unmatched effortless cool. Add cowboy ruggedness and it’s clear why every wardrobe deserves at least one great jean jacket.
Although denim jackets have become an icon of American style, they were first used on the other side of the world by Japanese firemen in the mid-18th-century. The American denim jacket was developed a couple decades later around 1880 by the one-and-only Levi Strauss himself. Mr. Strauss’s goal was to craft the ultimate workwear jacket for miners, cowboys and railroad workers, giving them protection and mobility. The resulting denim jacket was wildly successful.
Despite its early success in workwear, the denim jacket didn’t find a place in fashion history until Elvis donned head-to-toe denim for Jailhouse Rock in 1957. The jacket quickly became a sartorial superstar, finding lead roles in Sixties’ hippie uniforms, haute couture of the Eighties, and present-day streetwear.
Modern denim jackets can be spotted on everyone from Ryan Gosling to Kanye West to that stylish guy in your office (yes, it can be office-appropriate depending on where you work). These savvy dressers wear their denim jackets with chinos, tees, matching jeans and even under a bulky blazer with slacks. If you’re ready to honor your wardrobe with a new denim jacket, we’re here to help with the best options currently available online plus key design features to look for.
What Makes a Denim Jacket So Great?
Part of the denim jacket’s longevity has been its adaptability. Although the silhouette has remained largely the same (cropped, slim fit, with chest and hip pockets and a blue color) designers have made small tweaks to make denim jackets of their own. These modifications include distressing, bold logos, oversized fits and fresh colors. You’ll want to notice all these details when shopping for the perfect denim jacket.
Color: Navy blue is the classic denim jacket color, but it isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone’s look and lifestyle. Light blue provides a spring/summer vibe, white makes a statement and black works better for sleek nightlife outfits. In short, even though navy blue is a classic (for good reason), don’t limit yourself.
Material: Not all denim is made equal. Higher-end brands will source better materials, and some might even use special untreated raw denim that morphs to your body over time. The type of denim plays a large role in the fit, either drooping or staying stiff.
Lining: Some denim jackets utilize a lining for added warmth. Sherpa is the most common, offering cozy protection from the cold.
Fit: Classic denim jackets are on the slim side with a hem that sits right at the waist, if not slightly above. This fit is flattering and iconic, but many stylish dudes are now branching out with more relaxed fits or even oversized looks.
Accents: Many designers throw in some extra design accents. These can range from bold logos to parred-down styling for a modern, minimal look. Be sure to check out all images of a denim jacket for any hidden quirks before pulling the trigger.
What Are the Best Denim Jackets?
1. Levi’s Original Trucker Jacket
After 140 years and strong competition from the world’s best designers, Levi’s is still one of the best sources for a do-anything denim jacket. And with a very reasonable price tag, it’s easy to see why so many stylish dudes swear by the Levi’s Trucker Jacket.
The design is familiar: hip-length, slightly slim, button closure, and pockets at the hip and chest. But Levi’s has updated some of their trucker jackets since their original release, with a 2% elastane construction, providing a comfortable amount of stretch that doesn’t interfere with the denim look.
The jacket comes in a wide variety of colors, including white, black and printed, but this classic welter is probably your best bet. Wear it with chinos and a tee while you run errands, or slacks and hype sneakers to the bar. But however you rock it, be sure to beat it up a bit.
2. Wrangler Rugged Wear Denim Jacket
While Levi’s has become more well-known for everyday clothing, Wrangler is still a true cowboy brand. Their denim jacket reflects this commitment to western wear with a stiff, durable build and a comfortable classic fit that can be slung over sweaters if it gets chilly.
The durability of this jacket makes it usable for real work, whether you’re working in the yard or actually wrangling cattle (if you do that sort of thing). But the genuine rugged western look is what gets us most excited, as the jacket adds noticeable texture to any outfit. We recommend wearing it casually with chinos and a tee or button-up, or getting more adventurous with a full Canadian tuxedo.
3. Madewell Oversized Jean Jacket
Madewell is a relatively young brand (founded in 2006) with a focus on denim. They might not be as established as Levi’s or Wrangler, but they’re certainly worth considering.
One of Madewell’s best-sellers is this oversized jean jacket. We think they’ve done a great job of modernizing the old-school shape with a slightly roomier fit, aligning more with the current return of baggier clothing. The denim is high-quality, 100% cotton that’s not too stiff, allowing the jacket to hang nicely on nearly any body type. And because Madewell is a modern brand you get some modern upgrades such as deep interior pockets for your phone.
This oversized jacket looks best with more trendy outfits such as baggy chinos, modern sneakers and a logo tee. When it gets colder the jacket also makes a handy layering tool, say, over a hoodie.
4. Madewell Sherpa Jean Jacket
Another option to consider from Madewell is this sherpa-lined jean jacket. The cozy polyester fleece covers the torso and collar while quilting on the sleeves keeps your arms warm. Otherwise, the jacket is classic through-and-through with V front panels and pockets on the chest and hips.
Great sherpa jackets such as this one will become hard to take off in the cold months. They’re an easy warm layer that’s not puffy or restricting – ideal for throwing on over a shirt or sweater. If you’re up to it, you can even wear this sherpa jacket under an oversized trench coat.
5. Rag & Bone Definitive Denim Jacket
Since the ’80s, high-end brands have offered some premium denim jackets that are well worth the extra dough. One such upscale option is this jean jacket from Rag & Bone.
Rag & Bone’s jacket is one of the more casual, laid-back options on our list with a soft cotton-elastane denim that provides just a bit of stretch. The whole jacket is slightly faded, translating to lived-in comfort and relaxed style. This makes the jacket ideal for pairing with equally casual clothing such as chinos, jeans, tees and hoodies.
6. Norse Projects Tyge Denim Button-Up Shirt
Minimal denim jackets have become a low-key hit over the past few years, updating the old-school jean jacket to work with modern outfits. This Tyge jacket from Norse Projects nails the look, exemplifying Norse Projects’ ability to blend streetwear and workwear.
The Italian-made jacket switches things up a bit with almost zero detailing, save for three patch pockets on the chest and hips. The fit is slim throughout. It’s something you can wear like an old-school denim jacket with sneakers and chinos, but also holds its own with more adventurous outfits such as extra wide-leg jeans, chunky loafers and the like. In other words, the jacket helps make a statement.
7. A.P.C. Raw Denim Work Jacket
Raw denim is the Holy Grail of materials for denim enthusiasts (yes, they exist). It’s heavyweight, expensive, untreated and unwashed, which means that the denim is extremely stiff. But don’t worry: after wearing raw denim for a few weeks or months, the fabric will mold to your body for a seriously great fit.
If you’re looking for a raw denim jacket, we recommend this one from A.P.C. It showcases the unique color of raw denim and features the high-quality craftsmanship you’d expect from A.P.C. Design notes include sewn-pleated front panels, chest pockets and contrast stitching that adds vintage vibes. Rock this jacket with upscale basics such as clean white sneakers and designer jeans or chinos for best results.
8. John Elliott Denim Jacket
White denim jackets offer some attractive benefits in both fashion and function. They make a statement and look especially sharp with spring/summer outfits while being more wearable when the sun is out. Chances are you don’t have a white jacket in your closet, but good options like this one from John Elliott are easier to wear than you might think.
We like John Elliott’s jacket because it doesn’t change the iconic denim jacket look. A cropped waist, slim fit, chest pockets and V front panels make it a classic, while the white color subtly sets it apart from the pack. Because it comes from a designer, the fit is simply better. This jacket can be worn with basics, but really shines when paired with other statement pieces such as distressed jeans and colorful tees. Don’t worry about getting this one dirty either — it’s meant to be beat in.
9. Tom Ford Washed-Denim Trucker Jacket
Tom Ford is the undisputed king of ultra-high-quality menswear. And considering that Mr. Ford himself is a Texan, it’s no surprise that the American brand knows how to make an incredible denim jacket.
The jacket is near-perfect in terms of balancing the classic trucker look while introducing some subtle design notes that make it special. It showcases a classic blue rinse, orange stitching and chest pockets, but switches up the hip pockets with a slanted design. As with most Tom Ford pieces, the jacket pulls off the impossible feat of being wearable with almost any outfit while always making a statement.
10. Balenciaga Logo Denim Trucker Jacket
Few brands have been as successful as Balenciaga when it comes to designing modern streetstyle denim jackets. The key to this success, in our opinion, is well-placed, well-designed Balenciaga logos (which hold enormous weight right now). Case-in-point is this trucker jacket, sporting the Balenciaga logotype across the yoke and a trendy bleach color.
The Balenciaga jacket comes sanded and faded for a worn-in Eighties look that’s stylishly contrasted by the bright Balenciaga logo. The fit is cropped but slightly on the droopy, roomy side, further developing the hypebeast/street-style vibe. This jacket works best when paired with equally modern, trendy pieces such as retro sneakers and bold colors.