Yesterday I talked a bit about the different styles of denim jacket that are out there, and what makes a denim jacket great. Today I’m going to cover different ways to wear one. On one level, a denim jacket is pretty straightforward. It’s a light-ish jacket and, in most cases, indigo. What’s there to wonder about?
On the other hand, there are some big questions. Should you wear a denim jacket with jeans? It depends. A few years ago I may have said no, or not unless the washes significantly contrast. Now I’m more open to it, although I admit whenever I’m wearing jeans and reach for a denim jacket, I hesitate.
My first choices are always going to be a t-shirt, plaid shirt, or oxford shirt with khaki-colored pants. Maybe that’s J.-Crew-catalog-cliched, but pairing it up with other Americana-style items just works. This outfit, basic in every sense of the word, gives you some flexibility with footwear — retro sneakers, heavy boots, or newer, wilder sneaker designs.
Your other options are going to depend on your jacket’s fit.
A Lee 101J or Levis Type 3 (aka trucker) looks great worn slim, with one layer underneath, maybe just a t-shirt. In this case, the jacket should fit like a shirt, with shoulder seams at the edge of your actual shoulder, a chest you can button but without a lot of extra room, and the hem hitting at the waist or just below. (The waist buttons should be tight — the bottom two buttons of a modern denim jacket are rarely buttoned). That fit will also let you wear your denim jacket under other outerwear, and worn denim peeking out from a wool coat provides a nice contrast if you like mixing tailored with more casual items. (For what it’s worth, I consider wearing a tie with a denim jacket affected. Gotta draw the line somewhere.)
If you have a little room in your jacket, you can wear it a little looser, almost shrugged at the shoulders (some 1980s Levis models have this fit built-in). Or you can layer — a hoodie or crewneck sweatshirt is a natural fit here, or a sweater with some texture. This works with pretty much any model of jacket, sized right, but models styled after Levis type 1 and 2 will have more room inside.
- The world is awash in vintage Levis Type 3s. (Here’s that Heddels link again.) If you want to try out a denim jacket, it can’t hurt hitting your local thrift store or taking a shot on eBay. Fits differ a lot over the years — some are roomier, some slim, some shorter. I prefer older models with no hand pockets, but they cost a bit more (and may also subtly appeal to denim snobs). (New, basic Levis jackets are $90 and totally fine).
- For reproductions or slightly tweaked repros, Levis Vintage Clothing makes very nice versions of its own jackets. Some of their faux worn/ washed models I find to be a little much. The Real McCoys makes some very nice versions, as does Orslow.
- Brands that have a lot of jeans tend to have strong denim jackets. 3sixteen, Gustin, and Tellason all have well regarded models (I like Tellason’s sherpa). They’re at least a few design elements away from obsessively recreating vintage models, but not as interpretive or expensive as some “designer” offerings.
- There’s a lot of attention focused on Helmut Lang right now, as the brand is reissuing some of the denim the designer (who no longer works at his namesake brand) made circa 2000. Vintage Lang jackets sell for $100-$300 on eBay and Grailed with some exceptions for particular models. I have a leather sleeved Rick Owens model I like a lot, although I admit it’s a little edgy for me.