Lightweight yet rugged and warm but breathable, the denim jacket is an icon of utility-wear. Invented by Levi Strauss & Co. in the early 1900s as a durable work shirt for Gold Rush miners and cowboys in the Wild West. It became popular with ranch workers, railroad workers and was immortalised by the Marlboro Man. Noted for it’s durability and universal appeal ever since, the original denim jacket has evolved into the denim trucker jacket we see today.

Image top: Paul Newman in the 1963 film Hud.

The Denim Jacket Timeline

The first style sketched out by Levi’s know as the 506 set the tone for all future iterations. Featuring stitched front pleats that could be unstitched for extra room to add layers beneath, a chest pocket and a rear buckle for figure-hugging form. Other brands followed suit, H.D. Lee with its 401 jacket and Wrangler with its 11MJ.

Levi's Denim Jacket Advert

An original Levi’s Type I denim jacket, note the single pocket

The most familiar style today, the aforementioned ‘Trucker’ style was born in 1962 when Levi’s released its preshrunk 557XX denim jacket. Featuring two flapped breast pockets and distinctive v-shape seams running from pockets to waistband. Popular with musicians from Springsteen to Cobain, partly because of the jacket’s style but also it’s counter-culture representation. They often teamed it with slim jeans and distressed boots. Their endorsement cemented the future of the denim jacket into sartorial necessity.

Rules and Regulations

While the denim jacket has never waned from style, there is some confusion over when it’s to be worn. And how. Certain style commentators suggest as a blazer alternative with smart-wear, we feel this is a step too far. Harking back to its workwear origins, Ape believe it’s better paired with casual-wear. Opt for one of three types; factory fresh, worn-in or destroyed. All are acceptable but pair them carefully colour-wise.

  • Contrast: a contrasting colour or wash works better. Darker jeans or chinos with a lighter denim jacket. And vice versa.
  • Colour: while matching double denim is acceptable, it’s not our preference. Opt for a classic medium to dark blue denim jacket with darker blue, black or for the more adventurous; white, jeans.
  • Bottom Half: darker denim, chinos in neutral shades and or wool trousers are recommended.
  • Fit: the denim jacket is inherently casual, therefore comfort is key. The fit should still be snug in the body and arms however. Baggy faded out of style in the 1980s. Try rolling up the sleeves, roughing the jacket up or washing a raw denim jacket to give it a little character.

Ape Recommended Reading: Ape’s Ten Commandments of Menswear.

Extra Layer

Wear your denim jacket underneath a soft-shoulder blazer or coat for an extra layer of warmth. In place of a cardigan, waistcoat or gilet. As an extra bonus, a denim jacket won’t crease like a blazer would underneath a coat. It’s a great way to add texture and contrast too.

Sandro Authentic Denim Jack in Blue Vintage, £209 >

Whistles Deconstructed Overcoat in Grey, £160 >

Sunspel Pima Cotton T-Shirt in White, £75 >

ARKET Slim Wool Hopsack Trousers in Dark Blue, £79 >

Loake Gable Shoe in Black, £199 >

Keep it Simple

Regular readers of Ape will be aware of simple style rules, and nothing is cleaner than a pair of denim jeans, worn with a white t-shirt and a denim jacket. As before – ideally your jeans would be darker than the jacket. A darker blue, black or even white jeans for a point of difference. Double denim is acceptable. As is matching colours or washes but it’s not our preference. If your fear of double denim is too much to conquer, then team the t-shirt and jacket with a contrasting pair of dark chinos.

 

Mr P. Selvedge Denim Jacket in Blue, £225 >

Sunspel Pima Cotton T-Shirt in White, £75 >

ARKET Slim Rinsed No-Fade Black Jeans, £59 >

Loake Gable Shoe in Black, £199 >

Urban Casual

A more relaxed, yet still commendably smart option is our Urban Casual look. Dark colours, slim trousers teamed with a crisp t-shirt and comfy sweater makes for an excellent off-duty style. Add sneakers for comfort.

Levi’s The Trucker Jacket in ‘Berkman’ black, £95 >

Sunspel Pima Cotton T-Shirt in White, £75 >

ARKET Merino Crew-Neck Jumper in Grey, £55 >

Sunspel Men’s Bedford Cord 5 Pocket Trouser in Charcoal, £145 >

Common Projects Original Achilles Full-Grain Leather Sneakers in Black, £260 >

Conclusion

Channel your inner-Trucker with this classic menswear piece. Born out of necessity for durable work-wear, invest in a good quality denim jacket at it’ll last for years. It’ll age well too, with your own unique patina, a trusty side kick. Smart, casual or off-duty – it’s a truly versatile jacket for whatever the weather or occasion.

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