For decades now, the denim jacket has been the symbol of style and rebellion that now resides in most people’s wardrobes. The history of the denim jacket is as old as denim itself and has seen multiple iterations and style changes much like its denim pant counterpart. It seems that every style icon from Elvis Presley to Brad Pitt has at some point donned this effortlessly cool piece only adding to its popularity.
When most people hear denim jacket, an image of the modern (type III) “trucker” jacket immediately comes to mind, but those of us in the raw and selvedge heritage denim community know that the original denim jacket didn’t always look like that.
In 1888, Levi Strauss released a blouse that complemented his newly popular denim work pant made from the same material; the Type I was born. This blouse consisted of a short and boxy fit block that was aimed towards giving workers free range of movement while still offering protection in harsh work environments. The jacket featured back pleats that contributed to range of movement along with a rear cinch that could be adjusted to the wearers size. The front of the jacket includes double knife pleats that are sewn down with a box stitch that in extreme cases, could be removed to give the wearer more room if the jacket became too snug. The last defining characteristic is the single patch pocket on the chest with copper rivet reinforcements. No real changes were made to the original type I until 1936 when a flap was added to the chest pocket to better secure cargo that the wearer might me carrying as well as the addition of the infamous red Levi’s tab.
As we exit WWII, in 1953 we see the next most drastic change to the beloved denim blouse as the Type II jacket hits the market. With a new generation of rebellious kids’ involvement in motorcycle clubs, the hotrod culture, and the greaser movement, workwear is no longer reserved only for working. T-shirts, denim jeans, denim jackets, and leather jackets are now at the forefront of modern fashion for the rebellious youth. With fashion now being a consideration, the silhouette of the type II is now longer and trimmer than its type I predecessor to better keep up with the times. A second pocket is added to the other side of the chest and the rear cinch has been removed, in its place is now two waist epaulettes; the adjustable tabs that can still be seen in modern denim jackets. Additionally, fewer rivets are used in the construction and instead are replaced with heavy bar tacks in high stress areas.
Entering the 60s, denim is more widely used in fashion than ever and there are countless brands capitalizing on the fabrics popularity. What was once seen as strictly a worker’s uniform fabric is now used for garments intended solely for cutting edge fashion pieces. The classic denim jacket sees its most drastic design change to date in 1967 with the introduction of the ever so famous Type III. The pattern of the jacket is completely redesigned to a modern slim and trim silhouette, the pleats are removed front and back and replaced with V shaped seams running the length of the body. The patch pockets are replaced with internally sewn pockets and are moved further up the chest. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the lower handwarmer pockets were added bringing the type III into the modern age and into its final most form.
When it comes to buying a denim jacket today, there are countless options for the modern consumer, but when it comes to those of us who are a little more particular about our denim, picking a jacket isn’t as simple as running to the local Old Navy or Gap. When it comes to the raw and selvedge denim community, here or some solid options that come at a high recommendation:
At the top of our list for a type one is The Flat Head type 1. With details remaining true to a post 1936 type I (including the flap on the single chest pocket), it is a solid option for someone looking for that perfect heritage ensemble. Paired with some high waisted selvedge denim with some large cuffs and a Wabash shirt, and you have (in my opinion) one of the best-looking heritage workwear fits in the game. Bonus points if you rock cinch back jeans that compliment the cinch on the back of the jacket.
For a type II jacket, there are many more options on the market. The Flat Head type II is going to be our top pick for the most traditional type II; with the classic silhouette paired with the beautiful Japanese denim, it’s easy to see how this has our hearts won. For a different approach to a type II, Iron Heart takes the cake with their slub denim that adds an extra pop to a tried-and-true piece. Another option that we swear by here at the shop are the offerings from Studio D’Artisan. Pair any of these with some engineer boots and straight leg jeans and you’ve got yourself a fit worthy of the king of cool himself, James Dean.
For an early style type III, once again The Flat Head is going to be our pick. If handwarmer pockets are a must, look no further than the many options from Iron Heart; with several weights of denim and fabric options, they will have it covered for someone who wants to stand out from the standard type III. Lastly, 3sixteen is the perfect fit for the wearer who wants the most modern variation of this staple.
Regardless of the brand or style you choose to wear, a denim jacket will always be an easy option that is sure to add some rebel flair to any outfit you choose to rock. Pick what you like and wear it with attitude.