How to wear a denim jacket

By: Peter Nguyen
Last Updated: April 30, 2021

The denim is the perfect casual jacket and an essential for every man’s wardrobe. Like the leather moto jacket, it’s a timeless style that evokes memories of badass cowboysa man, typically one on horseback, who herds and tends cattle, especially in the western US and as represented in westerns and novels. and rebels of Hollywood’s yesteryear. But you don’t need to be Clint Eastwood to pull one off. 

How to buy the perfect denim jacket

Denim jacket details to look for

The anatomy of my perfect denim jacket:

  • No rips, patches, or pins I’m all for customizing your clothes and adding your personality…as long as you’re doing it yourself. Avoid any denim jackets in stores with pre-sewn patches, distressing, or tears to make it look “worn-in”.
  • The perfect denim jacket should have pockets Whenever I slip on a denim jacket, I find myself wanting to shove my hands into some side pockets. Many denim jackets won’t be designed with side pockets. If possible, look for brands that offer them.
  • Two-chest pockets and button-closures This is the classic trucker style denim jacket. You’ll sometimes see denim jackets without chest pockets, or have a zipper closure. I’m not a big fan of these, unless you already have 1-2 truckers and want to mix things up. For your first jacket, stick to the classic trucker style denim jacket with flap pockets and metal button closures.

What color denim jacket should you get?

Different color washes of denim jackets
  • For your first jacket: Go for an ultra-versatile med-blue wash For my clients that want to keep an ultra minimalist wardrobe, I reach for the med blue wash first. Sometimes called “Mid-wash”, the medium blue isn’t too light for Fall, and isn’t too dark when the weather gets warm, making it the perfect year round shade. Med-blue washed denim jackets are often broken-in, so they’re extremely comfortable. 

    If you could only buy one denim jacket, this would be it.
  • For something classic: A dark indigo denim jacket is an excellent option. Most of these styles will be in a raw denim — a stiffer denim that will require you to break it in. What’s great about that is, as it ages, it’ll form to your body and create unique wear patterns (just like your favorite pair of jeans). There are brands, like Todd Snyder, that have broken-in dark indigo denim if you’re not a fan of raw denim. Dark indigo is a great “dressier” denim jacket color, but can sometimes feel too dark for Spring and Summer.
  • For a Spring/Summer Option: The light wash (bleached) blue
    This one is purely optional, especially if you have a mid-wash blue. But if you want to brighten up your look when the weather gets warmer, I love a good light wash/bleached denim jacket, especially when you pair it with white jeans or khaki chinos.
Men wearing white grey and black denim jackets
  • The wild cards: White, gray, and black denim jackets Like the light wash blue, these colorways are optional. You should only consider them once you’ve picked up the dark or mid-blue wash. White denim jackets are great for Spring/Summer to brighten up your look. Gray and black denim jackets are excellent if you’re looking for an edgier, monochromatic look.

How your denim jacket should fit

How a denim jacket should fit a man
  • Think fitted Your denim jacket should follow the classic rules to how a jacket should fit. The shoulder seams should line up roughly with the point of your shoulder bone. Not too tight where you can’t button it up. Slight taper along your sides for a trim look. 
  • Try it over what you plan to wear it with most often If you’re in a warm city and plan to wear it over just a tee, try on your jacket over a t-shirt. If you’re planning to wear it in the Fall when things can get chilly, try it on while wearing a sweater you’d normally wear.
  • It should hit at about the waist Denim jackets were originally designed as workwear for cowboys and rail workers. Hence, the shorter crop to make it more comfortable when you’re riding a horse or sitting. You want your denim jacket to hit at or slightly below your waist. If you’re on the shorter side, Peter Manning has a great classic denim jacket that retains these proportions. 
  • Sleeves end at your wrist It doesn’t have to be exact, but anything more than ½” longer or shorter will look off. It’d be best to look for another jacket, or get it tailored.

How to wear a denim jacket

Here are some of my favorite ways to style a denim jacket. Feel free to copy them as is, or use it as a jumping off point!

Denim jacket worn with a tshirt and white sneakers

The classic: White tee and sneakers

Does it get any more classic than this? When it comes to pant choice, a chino in khaki, grey, dark navy, or black are great options. For a military americana vibe, try olive. I love to default to a minimalist white sneaker for a clean, classic, casual look. But this outfit would work equally well with boots.

Denim jacket outfit with dress pants

My personal favorite: The dress pants

I’m a big fan of mixing casual and dressy pieces. If you want a simple way to upgrade the classic white tee and sneakers outfit, swap out your chino for tailored dress pants. When it comes to color, I prefer charcoal grey over navy or black. 

Denim jacket outfit worn with a button-down shirt

The elevated casual: button-down and loafers

I also love pairing a denim jacket with a button-down shirt. It’s unexpected, and is a great way of elevating the outfit. A solid white, pale blue, or grey button-down shirt are great choices. My personal favorites are fine striped poplin button-downs, which have a subtle pattern. If you want a break from wearing sneakers, a nice loafer worn in a casual way is a great option.

Denim jacket outfit for date night

Date night: Luxe sweater

The perfect example to show how versatile a denim jacket can be. With this look, stick to a darker denim jacket, such as the dark indigo or black. You don’t need to go full turtleneck like the example outfit, but opt for a nice fine gauge luxe sweater in something like cashmere or a silk blend. Keep the luxe vibe with a more polished, dressy boot like a chelsea.

Denim jacket outfit worn with shorts

The beach: Shorts

Denim jackets just scream summertime to me. They’re a great beach companion for those coastal breezes or night time hangs. Simply throw it over a lightweight tank, tee, or camp collar hawaiian shirt. Slip on some swim trunks, and you’re good to go. 

Canadian tuxedo outfit

The Canadian tuxedo: Denim on denim

Don’t fear the Canadian tuxedo. It’s a lot easier to pull off than you think. Done right, you’ll look extremely confident in your ability to rock it. Take a cue from producer Mark Ronson and mix your denim shades. If your jacket is light, go for a darker pair of jeans. If your jacket is a dark indigo, you can cheat a little and pair it with grey or black jeans.

I hope this opens your eyes to how versatile denim jackets can be. It’s one of my favorite jackets. If you thought you could never wear a denim jacket, I encourage you to add one (or two) to your closet and put it in rotation.

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