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.
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
- This is the jacket that defined the category
- Lots of washes and colors available
- Fair price and often on sale
- Quality has diminished over time
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.
Lee 101 Rider Jacket
- A serious upgrade
- References an iconic earlier shape too
- Mixes old and new
- Pricy compared to Levi’s
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.
Mango Medium Wash Denim Jacket
- Under $100
- A little long in the body, which makes it look less like a trucker
Mango’s Medium Wash Pocketed Denim Jacket is made from organic cotton with less water (and by producing less waste). The result is an incredibly wearable jacket in a wash that pairs well with most outfits. Most folks might miss the two slant hip pockets, but this iteration, which doesn’t have those, looks more streamlined. Plus, it’s only $70 bucks. I found it to be both more comfortable and nicer-feeling than other cheap jackets by fast fashion brands — like H&M or Zara.
Tecovas Denim Trucker Jacket
- Soft corduroy adds a Western/workwear touch
- Darker wash works with more outfits
- Cuffs are also lined with corduroy, which can make it hard to get your base layer on
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 me.
Todd Snyder Stretch Denim Jacket
- Stretch lets you move around easier
- The stretch is there but barely visible
- The lighter wash is less versatile
By now, Todd Snyder’s tackled almost every corner of men’s Americana style. As such, of course he did a denim jacket. His version is a washed, retro-tinged type made-in-the-US from selvedge denim spun on vintage Cone Mill looms. I rarely like stretch denim — it’s a texture thing — but I found Todd Snyder’s to be comfortable but not suffocating.
Rogue Territory Supply Jacket
- Angled pockets give you extra space
- Workwear silhouette flatters more body types
- Doesn’t layer as easily as a trucker
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
- Made from nettle, a regenerative weed
- Not as traditional-fitting
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.
Mister Freedom Cowboy Jacket “Okinawa 301”
- A faithful reproduction that gets better with time
- A serious investment, even if it lasts forever
LA-based brand Mister Freedom’s Cowboy Jacket cut from “Okinawa 301” is a denim top made from a mix of sugarcane fiber and 100-percent. The blend’s propriety to Toyo Enterprises, a Japanese company that resurrects classic American brands. Beyond making clothing of their own with their fabric, they outsource it, too. Made in the US, this option will only get better with age.
Companion Denim Cone Denim Type III Jacket
- Selvedge denim molds to the wearer’s unique frame
- Slimmer fitting than others on this list
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.
J.Crew Denim Jacket
Sure, you won’t get the one-of-a-kind look with a jacket made by J.Crew, but there’s nothing bad about the brand’s denim jacket. 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 its jeans.) 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).
Madewell Classic Jean Jacket
Madewell partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative to improve cotton farming conditions around the world, meaning their jackets are made from materials manufactured in safer, more equitable settings. That alone is enough to pick this one over a similar one, but the jacket itself is durable, classic and cut in a flattering way. Plus, it’s fairly affordable considering the quality.
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.
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 12.75oz 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.
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.
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.