To say that a denim jacket is a closet staple is an understatement. Not only does it dress any outfit down (or up, honestly), but it’s the perfect summer addition. Sure, denim isn’t the most breathable material, like most summertime clothing tends to be, but it’s the perfect fix for AC-blasted offices and long days when you stay out until the sun goes down. When there’s a bit of chill in the air but all of your cardigans are stashed away for the season, shrug on your trusty denim jacket.
I realized recently that I own and still wear a denim jacket from a store that’s literally filed bankruptcy since I bought it (Charlotte Russe, who are back in action as of late), and have been wearing it since high school. As I thought about it more, I couldn’t think of a single year between then and now that I hadn’t pulled it out to layer over dresses or top off an all-black ensemble for a night out. And men and women of every generation wear them! It’s truly the most transient trend.
It wasn’t always like that, of course, but allow me to prove that the denim jacket hasn’t been just worn, but has been in style since its creation.
Good ol’ Levi Strauss & Co. created the denim jacket for laborers. The “uniform” (jeans paired with the denim jacket, Justin Timberlake-style) was durable yet versatile, and so the jacket became the symbol of the working man. Remember the Marlboro Man? The cigarette company was trying to reach a specific male demographic, so they outfitted their mascot in denim.
1950s to 1960s
By mid-century, the big names of Hollywood were looking to make statements. Stars like James Dean and Steve McQueen enjoyed challenging the status quo, so they’d don the denim jackets to rebel against conformity and materialism. Obviously, this would drickle down to youth who looked up to people like this.
It fit into a narrative, that’s for sure. Tracey Panek, a historian at Levi Strauss & Co., told Glamour that denim was a symbol of rebellion for a time. “By the ‘50s, wearing denim was often associated with juvenile delinquency,” she said. “Jeans were even banned in some schools, and denim became the nonconformists' uniform of choice.”
So, even though it was testy, it was still trendy (as is the case with a lot of things, right?). It was no longer the laborer’s uniform; it was the look. Plus, there was Elvis in the “Jailhouse Rock” video (1957), in which the lip-curling crooner did wonders for the style.
The ‘70s brought John Lennon, the hippie movement and the fashion upheavals that came with it. Levi’s came out with a cheaper version of their denim jackets, and they were off. Now, you can’t dress up for a ‘70s theme party without wearing denim.
1980s to 1990s
Between designer brands getting in on the action and the great bands of the ‘80s cashing in on the trend, there was no stopping the denim jacket in this era. Think Calvin Klein, Diesel, Guess; think Sarah Jessica Parker and Bruce Springsteen. The denim jacket became cropped or oversized, black or white, and it became a sexy addition to your wardrobe in a way that it hadn’t before.
Now, you can’t walk down the street in a city or walk into the corner store in your hometown without seeing someone wearing a denim jacket. Designs and accompanying outfits may be expanding and changing, but there’s no doubt about it: This baby isn’t going anywhere.