Both versatile and a good value, denim jackets are a workhorse garment. Born out of practicality and function, they’re ready for years of use, and they get better as the color fades and creases fray. As a light jacket, they can be thrown over a T-shirt or an Oxford button-down equally well, and in the cooler months, they can function as the perfect layer under your parka — especially if it's blanket- or fleece-lined.
Best Overall Trucker JacketLevi's Trucker Jacket Read More
Best Upgrade Denim JacketLee 101 Rider Jacket Read More
Best Affordable Denim JacketWrangler Denim Jacket wrangler Read More
Mango Vintage wash denim jacket Read More
RRL Leeland Denim Jacket Read More
What to Consider
Wash and Color
The designs of denim jackets are relatively similar, save for shape and pocket placement, but brands like to tweak theirs with unique washes and colors, putting out garments that range from worn and faded to incredibly saturated. Most weigh between 12 and 15 ounces, so take this range into account when picking yours. Anything over 15 is veering heavy — especially if it's 17 ounces, for example. Whether or not that's valuable, though, is up to the buyer. Some folks only wear denim jackets in late summer, fall and early spring, times that call for lighter outerwear.
Materials (Stretch, Selvedge, etc.)
Stretch denim hangs differently than those that are made from all cotton, and those with an appreciation for vintage clothing (especially denim) will notice a difference almost immediately. If you want something that flexes and gives for commutes or more active jobs, give stretch a try.
Otherwise, go all-natural. All-natural denim jackets last longer (and look better over time). They're made from classic cotton (sometimes with a dash of hemp), and they're designed to wear like they used to:
That said, if your flavor of denim jacket leans more workwear/denimhead, give selvedge or raw denim a go. It's heftier and stands up to constant. Plus, you'll create its fade and final patterns as you wear it, whether by rubbing on the edge of the table or repeatedly bending at the knees.
Raw vs. Washed
Most denim jackets come washed to avoid crocking, which is when one fabric adopts the color of another it rubs against. White T-shirts, for example, would turn blue where there's friction, when worn underneath a denim jacket. Washed jackets don't bleed, but they look lighter, turning hues some hate.
Consider the shape, too, because no two jackets are exactly the same. Some take cues from vintage styles, while others embrace a more modern fit. There are plenty of "eras" for denim jackets, and they're all spear-headed by Levi's designs: the Type-I, Type-II and Type-III, with Type I being the oldest and Type III the most modern.
Denim jackets are generally considered a middle layer. They can be heavier, if they're meant to be worn top, or lighter, if they're more of a shirt jacket than a true top layer.
How to Wear a Denim Jacket
There are a number of ways to wear a denim jacket. It's a lot more casual than a blazer, making it more like a chore coat than a sport coat. It's a versatile top layer I've worn over a sweater, an Oxford shirt (even with a tie, but only a knit one), a standard fare T-shirt and even a hoodie with chinos, textured dress pants or classic Army fatigues.
According to Japanese designer Eiichiro Homma, a simple staple like a denim jacket can still stand out — you just need to make it your own.
"My personal tip is 'small differences make a clear impact,'" he told us in 2022. "Of course, it is easy to make a difference by wearing a trendy item, big brand logos and decorative items. But I enjoy when people showcase their character by combining everyday common items in their own way."
How We Tested
Denim jackets have been a core part of my wardrobe, and the wardrobes of many other Gear Patrol staffers, since adolescence. The style hasn't changed much since its inception and most innovations have addressed material and comfortability, not aesthetics or other stylistic concerns.
As such, denim jackets are easy to wear (and understand). The quality ones are well-known, and we've included them, but we also tested a number of newer designs, which embrace the chore coat shape or shed weight in order to wear like a lighter top layer. We've worn them with chinos and shorts, beneath peacoats and overcoats and on their own over tank tops to determine which were worth calling out for our audience.
Levi's Trucker Jacket
The first iteration of Levi's classic Trucker Jacket came in 1905, when the Type I Levi's Blouse debuted. The Type III celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017, signaling the style's successes (and several evolutions).
Plenty of jackets on this list take cues from Levi's original cuts, but the original remains a must-buy — and, oftentimes, a bargain. It's also comfortable overtop a number of base layers, as proven through testing this jacket for much of my adolescence and adulthood.
Now, it's still a standout, despite the emergence of hundreds of thousands of alternatives since. It fits well, with enough room in the armpits and at the shoulders, a decent-sized collar and flattering shoulders. Where it does disappoint, though, is through the body, where it runs slightly slim, especially if you like to wear it buttoned all the way up. This depends on your body type, though, and which size you usually order. I went with a large, but I might even want an XL next time I re-up, which probably won't be for another 5-10 years.
Lee 101 Rider Jacket
The 101 Rider Jacket is to Lee what the Trucker Jacket is to Levi's. It's the brand's most popular style — and for good reason. Originally debuted in 1948, the style has changed a little since then, but this iteration mixes both new and old: zig-zag stitching across the front placket from the past and high-grade selvedge fabric from Japan's legendary Kurabo Mill from the present. It's more comfortable on and a better bet for longer term ownership.
For a cheaper alternative to Lee's original 101 Rider Jacket, try the brand's Heritage Boxy Trucker.
Wrangler Denim Jacket
Falling in line with others made from one part cotton and another part something else, Wrangler opts for polyester. It makes the jacket lighter, stretchier and more breathable. Truthfully, it feels no different on, except maybe lighter. You won't sweat through it, if that's a perk.
I found it fit well, perhaps even better than Levi's, but that might be because it gives, and I was just wearing the wrong size in Levi's. Like that brand, though, Wrangler's jean jacket comes in a number of washes, with varying degrees of distressing, to boot. I liked the collar better on this option, for what it's worth, because it's slightly longer and thus covers more of my neck when spread or popped.
Mango Vintage Wash Denim Jacket
Mango's Vintage Wash Denim Jacket is made from organic cotton processed using less water, which produces less waste. The result is an incredibly wearable jacket in a wash that pairs well with most outfits, new or old. Plus, it's only $90 bucks, which is on par with Levi's, and better than options from H&M and Zara.
RRL Leeland Denim Jacket
It's Ralph! More specifically, Ralph Lauren's RRL line, a Western-Americana referencing line the designer established in 1993. (It's named after his ranch in Colorado.)
This Indigo Denim Jacket is made from 12.75 oz Japanese denim, has been sanforized to minimize shrinkage and boasts double needle stitching at the seams. You'll see that up close when on, as well as the unique fade patterns. This option's a sizable upgrade over the options above from Levi's, Wrangler and Mango, but maybe not Lee. But it competes. It's slightly more comfortable, too, thanks to the way it was washed.
J.Crew Denim Jacket
Sure, you don't get a one-of-a-kind look with a jacket made by J.Crew, but there's nothing bad about the brand's denim. Plus, it's almost always on sale. It fits fairly true to size and is made from 100 percent cotton. No elastane here, and I can appreciate that. (Even Todd Snyder's adding elastane to his.) After many mall trips, I can confidently say this is the best one there — at least in a standalone store (outside of Levi's, of course).
It runs straight down the torso, has a decent-sized collar and comes with all the accoutrements: hip pockets, chest pockets and a locker loop.
Alex Mill Work Jacket
Alex Mill's light wash Work Jacket comes with four pockets, bar tacks for reinforcement, an internal pocket for your phone or wallet and polished hardware. The material itself is 100 percent non-stretch denim, which wears in and ages with wear. Again, I really like the chore coat shape more than I do a standard denim jacket, and this one fits the bill. For folks who feel similarly, this is an A+ pick.
Taylor Stitch The Long Haul Jacket
Taylor Stitch makes its popular The Long Haul Jacket from several different materials. There's suede, Sashiko and denim, which this one is cut from. To be specific, it's 13-oz, 100 percent organic cotton denim.
Rigid at first but designed to form to your body, it's finished with subtle details like a map of San Francisco printed on the interior pocket. I've tested Taylor Stitch jackets, each a little different than the last, but this one is one of the best. It's a little tight at the armholes, though, and slimmer through the torso, but if you've bought a Taylor Stitch product before and didn't face this problem, you're probably the right body type. I, for one, might be better off sizing up in some of their styles.
AG Kirin Chore Jacket
Some denim jackets, like Levi's category-defining iteration above, assume the shape of a trucker, which is shorter, has two chest and two hip pockets and feels a little more form-fitting. Chore coats, on the other hand, run longer, have four (or more) upright pockets and generally hang a little looser.
That's the case with AG's Kirin Chore Jacket, which I wear with chinos, overtop a hoodie (because there's enough room), or buttoned all the way up over a sweater, when the weather demands. There's more room in here, and the pockets are way more functional, especially for someone who wears glasses and likes storing a second pair in a pocket that won't get crushed.
Tecovas Denim Trucker Jacket
Yes, Tecovas makes boots, but they do Western wear at large: pants, hats, bags and, of course, denim jackets. This one is finished with a contrasting corduroy collar, antique brass buttons and adjustable back straps. Because of the collar, this option can be worn deeper into the colder months — with a sweater underneath, like I'd suggest.
Todd Snyder Selvedge Denim Jacket
Todd Snyder's Dylan Jacket is a staple in the designer's core collection. It's a trucker, kind of, but he nixed the hip pockets, made it even shorter and zhuzhed up the underside of its collar. Plus, he opted for 100 percent cotton selvedge denim, a deviation from earlier iterations which used a stretchy cotton-polyester blend.
Rogue Territory Supply Jacket
Reminiscent of a classic chore coat, Rogue Territory's Supply Jacket is cut from 15.25oz pure indigo proprietary Japanese selvedge denim from the Nihon Menpu Mills. Sized for a slim fit, the unique buttoning and side pockets give on this option give it a handmade feel. I wear duck canvas chore coats for most of the fall, but this denim option helped me switch it up.
Pangaia Unisex Nettle Denim Jacket
Pangaia made this unisex denim jacket from a cotton alternative called nettle. They combine it with classic cotton and treat the garment with peppermint oil for anti-odor properties. For $275, you're investing in the one of the foremost material innovators. And you're getting a hell of a jacket. I can attest that the nettle feels no different than cotton denim.
Read more about Pangaia's Nettle Denim Jacket Collection.
Companion Denim Cone Denim Type III Jacket
Constructed from 14.75oz. Selvedge denim made from the last few feet of legendary White Oak Cone Denim, Companion Denim's Cone Denim Type III Jacket, aka the Tribute Jacket, pays homage to the now-closed mill. Using some of the final fabric available from it, they made a stylish, slim-fitting top with distinct, contrast stitching and a cognac leather patch. I, like all menswear fans, miss the mill — but it lives on through historically significant designs like this.
One of These Days Trucker Jacket
Artist Matt McCormick's fast-growing clothing brand, One of These Days, quickly went from selling graphic T-shirts with his art on it to full-blown fashion items, like trucker jackets, quilted vest, work pants and more. This denim jacket is a true-blue trucker, with front chest pockets, a shorter fit and a decent-sized, corduroy-covered collar.
Ginew Thunderbird Jacket
The US' only Native-owned denim brand, Ginew makes jackets with true intent. This one features a base of Japanese Kurabo denim with custom stitching under the corduroy collar that mirrors Ginew's collaborative wool blanket with Dyani White Hawk, which was called “Facing East." The jacket starts off raw and stiff but the Thunderbird will emerge on your cuff as the color fades.
Loyal Stricklin Wayman Jacket
Part chore coat, part trucker, Loyal Stricklin's Wayman Jacket features two hidden internal pockets, two hand warmer pockets, and a flat-felled construction. Constructed from 140z Redline Indigo Selvedge Denim made by Vidalia Mills, this jacket furthers an American tradition.
Duer Stay Dry Denim Jacket
Duer's denim jacket is the only one on this list that offers waterproofing capabilities. You see, a downfall of a traditional jean jacket is that it offers no protection against the elements. When rain arrives, denim soaks it up, leaving you sopping wet inside.
Instead, this option, the aptly titled Stay Dry Denim Jacket, is treated with a DWR finish.
Tellason Coverall Jacket
Tellason's Coverall Jacket is one of the most interesting to look at on this list. A complex pocket arrangement and a defined front placket pull the eye add interest, while the 16.5 oz selvedge denim impresses with its subtlety — until creases appear with wear.