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 a 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 Denim JacketLevi's Trucker Jacket Read More
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Best Stretch Denim JacketTodd Snyder Stretch Denim Jacket Read More
What to Look for
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.
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.
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.
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 and classic Army fatigues.
Having a hard time putting together good-looking outfits? Start here.
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.