The big advantage of a jean jacket — and much of the reason for its enduring popularity — is that it’s useful for most of the year.
Much like a pair of jeans, a denim jacket is light enough to wear on a warm spring day but warm enough to get you through the coolest parts of fall. About the only times you won’t want to wear one are the height of summer and the very coldest parts of winter.
Weights can vary, of course, and the addition of lining fabrics makes a jean jacket warmer but less versatile. (It can also add a visually interesting contrast — most lined jackets have a pattern on the inner surface.) But in general, denim jackets fall under the header of “three-season” wear, good for much of the year.
Beat ‘Em Up Coats
Denim’s big selling point has always been its low-maintenance toughness. You can beat it up in a way that you can’t treat more delicate fabrics.
Assuming your jacket is 100% cotton denim, you can wad a jean jacket up without worrying about wrinkles. It won’t rip easily, and if you’re buying from a manufacturer like Levi’s that reinforces stress points with rivets the lifespan gets even longer.
Heavier weights are obviously going to be tougher, and good fit with no too-tight straining spots ensures both comfort and durability. But in general, a denim coat is going to be as tough or tougher than similar coats made from a finer weave.
Denim has gotten dressier over the last few decades, but you’ll still always be casual in a jean jacket.
That’s part of the appeal — throwing on a denim jacket puts some distance between you and “the suits.” It’s an excellent casual substitute for a blazer or a sports jacket when you feel that either of those would seem a little too stuffy.
It’s also a good way to add a collar and some buttons to a plain T-shirt — in that case, it’s actually dressing the outfit up a little, and giving your face and figure a better frame than a shirt on its own.
Additionally, a well-fitted denim jacket has the same slimming effect of a good sports jacket. If you’ve got one with a little bit of taper to the waist, it gives you a more flattering silhouette than a big, boxy coat. Most manufacturers taper their men’s jackets, and you can seek out “slim fit” options if you want a more dramatic narrowing.
So yes, jean jackets have long been the symbol of cowboys, truckers, rock stars, and other informal, rough-and-tumble men — and that’s part of why it’s nice to wear one from time to time.
Even if you’re not a trucker or a rock star yourself, your fashion can still nod to that independent spirit.
How to Wear Your Denim – Jean Jacket Style
Some men don’t hold back from a jean jacket because they don’t like the style, or can’t think of a reason to wear one, but rather because they see it as a difficult piece to wear.
And it’s a valid concern — there are lots of ways to look really stupid in a jean jacket! Some men have achieved truly, spectacularly dumb looks in theirs.
But for the most part, if you dress with a little common sense, you can make a jean jacket work as easily as any other wardrobe piece:
Fit: Snug and Straight
The best way to look good in your jean jacket is to get one that fits well in the first place. A tailor can do minor adjustments to the length of the sleeves easily enough, but you don’t want to plan on having significant adjustments made once you get the jacket off the rack.
Instead, buy one that has a good, snug fit in the first place. You’re looking for nice straight lines throughout your figure — the jean jacket shouldn’t billow or sag in visible folds. The shoulders and sides should be clean planes, and the front and back should fall smooth and flat.
Length can vary a bit depending on styles, but most denim jackets are cut right around the waist. Too much longer than that and it starts to look more like an untucked work shirt; too much shorter and it’s getting girly. You won’t go wrong with a basic waist-length, or upper-thigh at the longest.
Most jean jackets are blue. That’s unsurprising, given that modern denim jackets started as a way to repurpose scraps from the manufacture of blue jeans!
Light blue is the color of “working jeans,” and the most casual option. This is getting into pretty serious cowboy and trucker wear. (It’s also a favorite for cropped, distressed, or otherwise-altered women’s jean jackets, so beware of short ones with ragged edges unless you’re actively trying to look like Britney Spears.)
Darker blues, on down to deep indigo, dress the jacket up a little. These are the most common option out there for men right now.
Non-blue colors are more fashion-forward. They make the jacket a little less versatile, but also help it stand out a little. If you’re feeling bold, there’s no law against wearing colored denim. Just use the same caution you would when wearing colored denim pants — to nightclubs and rock concerts, yes; to work on Casual Friday, no.
Matching the Denim Jacket
If you’ve never heard the phrase “Canadian tuxedo,” here’s all you need to know about it: it refers to wearing blue jeans and a matching denim jacket, and it’s not a compliment.
Your jacket and trousers should always have a bit of contrast if you’re not wearing a suit, but it’s especially critical with denim. Too much of it makes you look like a Hollywood caricature of a 1970s trucker.
In general, just wear pants that aren’t denim when you wear your jean jacket. Cords, chinos, khakis, and even some casual dress slacks can all look fine with a jean jacket, as long as there’s some color contrast. It takes the whole problem of matching denim out of the equation.
If you must wear denim pants and a denim jacket at the same time, make sure the colors are substantially different. Light gray jeans and a dark indigo jacket can work; a medium-blue jacket with light blue jeans will not. Really, your best solution here is “buy more pants,” so that you don’t have to pair denim with denim.