Defined and refined: The updated denim jacket is still a classic

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, April 3, 2014, 6:33 p.m.

The denim jacket is a timeless classic.

“It's simple, effortless and can be worn year-round,” says Adam Moon, J.C. Penney's fashion director. “It's a must-have for every wardrobe — regardless of season.”

This season sees the jacket updated with varying washes, rinses and distressing, all while maintaining the classic denim jacket ethos and detailing, Moon says.

“The denim jacket is part of the American fashion story,” says Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion director. “The denim jacket is eternal. What makes it different is how it is worn or interpreted, going from work wear to being worn over an evening gown.”

Levi Strauss & Co. created the first riveted denim jacket as early as the 1880s. As style and need evolved, so did the jacket. In 1962, the trucker style debuted, a departure from the pure work-wear style of the previous decades. It was a slimmer fit. Since that time, it also has been made in chambray, leather, suede and polyester, occasionally lined in wool or fleece.

“The denim jacket is the perfect combination of functionality and style: The denim protects you from the chill of wind and air conditioning but doesn't overheat you,” says Jill Guenza, global vice president of women's design for Levi's. “It's a casual piece that can give an otherwise dressy look instant street cred and has unlimited styling options.”

The white jean jacket is new and fresh this season, say Moon and Andrews. If white isn't your choice, try one in a pastel hue or a dark-washed color, Andrews says.

Distressed denim is also hot right now, experts say. Today's jean coat has a more feminine silhouette and comes in varying cuts — cropped, vest and oversized — Moon says.

You can layer them over almost anything. Pairing them with a floral dress or skirt gives the look an eclectic edge, a juxtaposition of feminine and something a little more rugged, Andrews says.

“A denim jacket allows a woman to create contrast in her wardrobe with unexpected mixes,” Andrews says.

The length can go from the hipbone to the waist, he says, and with slimmer arms and a tapered cut, they aren't as boxy as denim styles in past years.

“Denim jackets are the perfect layering piece to take you from cool spring mornings to warm and sunny afternoons,” Moon says. “Throw a denim jacket over a polished dress for a casual wear-to-work outfit, or try pairing a denim jacket with colored jeans or a flirty skirt for a relaxed weekend look.”

Denim also goes well with silks, satins and lace. Wearing it with softer fabrics creates an interesting look, Andrews says. A jean jacket can be worn to work in most businesses if styled properly, Andrews says.

“You won't wear it to the office the same way you would wear it on the weekend,” Andrews says. “Pair it with a pretty dress or skirt for work and a T-shirt and jeans for the weekend.”

Denim jackets are available at all price points.

“Denim jackets also travel well, better than most blazers or other coats,” Andrews says. “You can throw it in the overhead compartment on the airplane or pack it in your suitcase so it will be ready when you need it, and still look good.”

These aren't the jean jackets of the '70s and '80s, which were heavier and added bulk, he says. Today's denim jackets are more tailored and flattering.

The newest silhouette in the denim jacket is the over-sized boyfriend style, says Marissa Rubin, market editor for People Style Watch. It goes along with the popular boyfriend jean and other outerwear that's a little roomier in its shape.

Rubin also says denim jackets with contrasting sleeves are a new way to wear this trend. As for shades, go for a powdery blue, one with a little bit of distress, white or an engineer-stripe option. A cropped motorcycle style is also a chic way to wear this classic.

Rubin says to not wear denim head to toe. It's OK to pair it with jeans, but avoid also wearing the chambray shirt. The jacket itself makes a statement, so it doesn't need much bling.

“I am not seeing much embellishment on jean jackets this season,” Rubin says. “I have seen some with patches and lapel pins, but they look better in a cleaner silhouette.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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