Workwear has long been one of fashion’s key sources of inspiration. The combination of durability and practicality carries over nicely into the everyday wardrobe, with timeless good looks simply a bonus.
Take the denim jacket, for instance: rugged, versatile and eternally stylish. It’s a piece of kit that no discerning gent should be without. Here we explore one of menswear’s most enduring garments, including why you need one and where to buy the very best.
Why You Need A Denim Jacket
Layering is one of the cornerstones of good dressing and a denim jacket is an excellent tool for the job.
Trim enough to be worn beneath an overcoat or parka, yet sturdy enough to be used as a standalone layer in the transitional months, this blue-collar staple is about as versatile as a garment can be. It should be considered an investment piece, purely due to how much use you will get from one – it’s something that can be worn daily and worked into an infinite number of outfits, year-round. Throw it on over a T-shirt on summer evenings, layer it over a flannel shirt in spring and autumn, and even slot it under a thick coat come winter.
Add to that the fact that it’s one of those rare items which actually gets better with age and it’s easy to see why a denim jacket is worthy of a place in your wardrobe.
In order to come away with a jacket that’s guaranteed to stand the test of time, both in terms of looks and longevity, there are a few key things to bear in mind. Here are the most important purchasing considerations.
We’ve said it before countless times but it’s always worth repeating: fit is everything. This above all else. It doesn’t matter whether it cost £100 or £1,000, if the cut’s not right for you it’s never going to look good.
Denim jackets come in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes. However, as a general rule of thumb, they’re cut much shorter than other outerwear styles. The hem will traditionally sit at, or just above, the hips. It should also offer enough room for knitwear or a sweater to be worn beneath without severely restricting movement.
Obviously, this particular garment should always be constructed from denim. Still, as any jean connoisseur will already know, that still leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Rigid, raw denim will be stiff and uncomfortable at first but over time will mould and fade into something truly unique that fits you like a glove. Meanwhile, denim that has been washed will be softer and worn in right off the hanger. Either way, weight tends to be indicative of quality – so, generally speaking, the heavier the better.
More often than not in menswear, you get what you pay for. Yes, it’s possible to secure a good-looking denim jacket for less than £100, but as to whether it’ll stand the test of time, that’s more difficult to say.
One thing we do know for sure is that – up to a point – a higher price tag often equates to better quality denim, and better quality denim will always outperform and outlast cheap denim. Ergo, the more you spend, the more likely you are to wind up with a jacket that will still be around long after you’ve gone.
So, how much should you be budgeting? Realistically, a few hundred pounds will secure you a top-notch design, crafted using premium, heavyweight denim from a renowned mill. Anything above £500 and you’re really just paying extra for the label.
The final element to consider is colour. Black, white, grey, indigo, stonewash… denim jackets are available in a huge range of colours, but some will benefit your wardrobe more than others.
Classic indigo is our shade of choice. Out of the full spectrum of washes, it’s the most traditional and the most versatile. In other words, it’s always going to look good and it’ll complement pretty much anything you choose to wear with it.
Key Types Of Denim Jacket
As fashion has evolved, so has the denim jacket. These days you can pick from a number of contemporary silhouettes, from lightweight shackets to workwear-appropriate chore coats. Below you will find the four types Ape recommends every man has in his wardrobe.
When you picture a denim jacket, this is most likely the style that springs to mind. It features a cropped length, button pockets to the chest, a collar, stitched detailing to the front and often button adjustments to the waist. It’s a great all-rounder – perfect for layering up in the winter, or as a light jacket in spring and summer.
Lightweight, relaxed and versatile, a denim overshirt sits somewhere between an all-out denim jacket and a casual shirt. It will usually feature chest pockets, a button closure and can be worn as a mid layer or with a T-shirt as a standalone piece of outerwear in warmer weather. A good option for summer evenings when a classic denim jacket may be too thick and heavy.
The chore coat is a long-established workwear classic that’s rugged, stylish and timeless. It’s most commonly constructed from heavy duck canvas, but denim is a common alternative. It typically features either three or four patch pockets to the front, a classic collar and a boxy cut.
At its core, the denim jacket is a transitional piece. As a standalone garment, it doesn’t provide much warmth, which is why a shearling-lined version is great for tackling cold conditions. The thick, woollen lining traps heat next to the body and spills out onto the collar providing visual contrast and texture.
Recommended Denim Jacket Brands
Here’s Ape’s select edit of the very best denim jacket producers across the globe today. Invest in one of these and you won’t be disappointed.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing
As the brand that invented the denim jacket, back in the 1880s, it stands to reason that Levi’s should make some of the best. Levi’s Vintage Clothing is an offshoot of the American heritage label that believes thinking forwards sometimes means looking backwards. The range takes inspiration from the company’s vast archives; vintage garments are reissued with a level of quality that often surpasses that of the main Levi’s line. The denim jacket is a staple piece in the brand’s seasonal collections and continues to be a hallmark of what Levi’s was – and still is – all about.
The Japanese are masters of many things, but where menswear is concerned, their premier export is definitely denim. Edwin is probably the best known Nippon jeans brand and its heavy, well-built products often serve as a sort of gateway drug for people to get hooked on heavyweight raw denim. If you want Japanese quality at affordable prices, this should be your first port of call.
Inspired by and designed in Northern California, Taylor Stitch is a San Francisco label whose simple, rugged garments are built with longevity in mind. The aptly named “Long Haul” jacket is one of the brand’s hero pieces, offering a slightly off-kilter take on the classic denim jacket by using quirky details like slanted chest pockets and side-entry pockets.
Having honed his design chops at in-house roles with the likes of Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren, Todd Snyder set up his eponymous clothing label in 2011. Since then, it’s established itself as one of the modern day’s go-to all-American brands, offering up high-quality staple garments like Oxford shirts, slick tailoring and, of course, denim jackets.
Everlane is another brand that knows how to do the basics well. From the fundamentals like sturdy T-shirts and quality shirting, to outerwear that’s built with durability in mind. There’s also a focus on ethical production, with Everlane going to great lengths to find the best factories around the world. So, if you’re looking for a denim jacket that’s built to last by workers that are well looked after, this is a good place to invest.
Parisian mainstay A.P.C. is known for doing the simple things really, really well. Whether it be a basic white tee or a gabardine overcoat, if it bears those three iconic letters, you can rest assured it’s a quality garment. One of the things for which the French label has become particularly known is denim. A.P.C.’s raw, selvedge denim jeans and jackets have a reputation as the best at their price point. In terms of fit, quality and value for money, it’s impossible to find better.
With a knack for clean lines, crisp cuts and minimalist styling, Acne Studios serves as a benchmark for all other Scandinavian labels to aspire to. The Swedes may not be known for their denim, but that’s something that Acne has been changing. The label’s jeans and denim jackets have long been revered by fashion insiders and with such sharp fits and high quality, it’s not difficult to see why.
When Bonobos first came onto the scene in 2007, there was only one thing in the inventory: pants. Well-made, reasonably priced pants. Today, there’s a lot more on offer than just legwear. In fact, the brand has evolved to stock a full selection of everything a man could possibly need in his wardrobe, and denim jackets are no exception. Expect the same attractive combination of affordability and quality, with simple styling throughout the range.
As mentioned further up, good denim tends to be expensive. However, as anyone who’s ever tried a pair of Uniqlo’s selvedge jeans will agree, it’s entirely possible to get a pretty good alternative for less than 50 quid. The Japanese brand’s denim may be cheap, but it’s certainly not bad. So, if money’s tight, Uniqlo has what you need to get the look without breaking the bank.
RRL by Ralph Lauren
Taking its name from the ranch of Mr Ralph Lauren, RRL (pronounced “double RL”) serves as a tribute to the USA’s pioneering spirit and rugged style. It draws inspiration from the country’s blue-collar traditions, offering up workwear staples with a Ralph Lauren twist. The denim jacket is one of the label’s signature styles.
Premier purveyor of preppy wardrobe essentials, J.Crew should always feature high on the list when shopping for a staple piece. Take the brand’s classic trucker jacket: timeless, well crafted from quality denim and at a price that won’t leave you out of pocket.
If there’s one jeans brand that can give Levi’s a run for its money in the heritage department, it’s Kansas’ very own Lee. Founded in 1889, the historic label has spent more than a century crafting tough-as-nails workwear with a focus on denim. Naturally, denim jackets are a big part of this and Lee’s are some of the best around. There are options to suit every budget, but it’s always worth spending a little more from premium, heavyweight denim in a raw finish.
Japan and high-end denim have gone hand in hand since the 1950s. Inspired by garments left by American soldiers after the Second World War, the Japanese began crafting their own high-grade jeans, which quickly became known as some of the best in the world. OrSlow is a Nippon-based label that embraces this tradition. Inspired by Levi’s archives, it creates top-tier denim using a loom from the 1930s and uses the fabric to create everything from selvedge jeans to some of the best denim jackets money can buy.
Rag & Bone
Combining British heritage with directional, modern design, New York-based Rag & Bone is famed for its premium casualwear. Denim is one of the label’s calling cards, offering excellent fit, form and build quality that is second to none. Styles are classic, but with a contemporary twist and washes range from raw to artfully faded.