Searching for tips on how to wear a denim jacket stylishly? We’ve got the in-depth style guide you need to avoid pitfalls and look your best.
While no one cares to admit it, people make snap judgements about your lifestyle and character based on the way you’re dressed. Luckily, fabrics like denim offer a common sartorial denominator. Every bit a symbol of the modern era as the Roman toga was to antiquity, you’ll find denim in jeans, jackets, shirts, bags, shoes, and countless accessories. (It’s even being used to liven up home decor!)
But that doesn’t mean there’s no wrong way to wear denim. In fact, in the wrong outfit it can make you look like an ass.
Fortunately for you, we’re shining our stylistic spotlight on the iconic denim jacket–showing you how to wear it properly, as well as what to avoid. Check out our style guide below, curated for men to look their best donning a denim jacket in 2021.
How Should a Denim Jacket Fit?
For every shape and size of man, there is a denim jacket to fit. But that doesn’t mean one size fits all–far from it. How the jacket fits your specific body is important.
For example, a slightly oversized jacket will make you look relaxed and casual. But for a sharper and more classical look, you need a jacket that outlines your manly silhouette and snuggles closer to your body. And since the jacket will layer over clothing beneath it, such as a shirt or t-shirt, your denim jacket should accommodate your thickest inner-wear.
Although your jacket has buttons, to create a relaxed profile the buttons are usually left mostly undone. However, should the need arise, you should be able to button up without looking strained and about to pop. The top and bottom buttons should pretty much always remain undone to avoid the Canadian Tuxedo look.
Another consideration is how well the jacket hangs on your frame. Men’s denim jackets shouldn’t hang lower than halfway down the fly; nor should it rise above the waistline. When the jacket is too short, it assumes a feminine look that undermines all but the most androgynous personal aesthetics.
The arms, too, need to fit. Make sure the sleeves reach the wrist and crease of the thumb. Otherwise, it’ll just look like you accidentally shrunk it in the washer and don’t know how to take care of denim!
Lastly, you should be able to either cross your arms and swing them comfortably. This is usually more comfortably done when the denim jacket has stretch fiber in the fabric, but in all cases the cut needs to work with your physiology to allow for unhindered mobility.
Coordinating Color Harmony
Denim jackets come in a variety of colors, with the standard indigo-dyed blue being the most widespread. Black denim jackets are also a fairly common color, followed by a host of other hues. To muddy the waters even more, blue denim comes in several shades–few of which are actually interchangeable.
Generally, though, the rule of thumb is that a dark top should go with a light bottom. However, this does not mean you have to write it in stone! You can rock an edgy all-black ensemble and use different-colored accessories and undershirts to break up the monotony.
So what color shirt to wear with a denim jacket? To be on the safe side, consider wearing your denim jacket with neutral white t-shirts. Or, spice things up a bit with a horizontal-striped t-shirt for a naval look.
Darker shades of denim fabric are perhaps more appropriate for winter, while the lighter shades suggest a more cavalier, unbuttoned summery feeling. For the more adventurous man, during sunnier months try pairing your denim jacket with floral and polka shirts.
If your budget and closet can accommodate it, having three different colored denim jackets will give you maximum flexibility. One should be a standard blue, the other a dark shade and the last, a light shade. Black will do for the dark shade, while white or a light grey will cover your back for the summer look. Of course, go ahead and experiment with other colors, such as beige and mustard, so long as you have the basics down already.
What to Wear with a Denim Jacket
The mighty denim jacket doesn’t stand on its own to create an overall look; you need to pair it thoughtfully with the right bottoms, undershirts, and accessories. Here’s the rundown on how to do that:
Your outfit starts from the ground up. Check out our tips on what pants to wear with a denim jacket that will make you look stylish.
How to Wear a Denim Jacket with Jeans
For a long time, the ultimate no-no when it comes to styling denim jackets has been pairing it with denim jeans. It creates a suit-like ensemble, which is generally too formal a profile for the relaxed denim fabric. After all, denim began as a fabric for manual workers in the California gold mines, with jackets hitting production lines about a decade after jean pants. Not exactly what you want to evoke to a formal gathering!
However, a pair of jeans will work with your denim jacket on the condition that you break color uniformity.
Dark jackets will work with light-colored pants. The same is true for the more light-colored denim jackets and darker jeans. Blue on blue is trickier to avoid the Canadian Tuxedo look, but it can be done with the right undershirt, boots, and attitude.
Coordinating with Chinos and Khakis
Denim jackets work quite well with chinos. The reason once again boils down to contrast, this time between the differing textures of the fabrics. That means you can rock your denim jacket with chinos as a no-brainer alternative to jeans.
What’s more, chinos come in a much wider variety than jeans, making achieving contrast that much easier. Even chinos with pleats and creases will work with your jacket for a more stylish and sharp image. This is a great look for impressing your date.
Rocking Corduroy with Denim
This fabric, with its grooves and ridges, is as casual as denim. It, therefore, makes a good match for your jacket.
Corduroy has an irresistible retro appeal and its unique touchable texture plays off denim’s smooth feel perfectly. It’s the contrasting-yet-complementary appearance that makes these two fabrics so cool to pair up.
As usual, the general rule of thumb is to match darker-colored corduroy trousers with a lighter-colored jacket. Just make sure to avoid color clashing with the undershirt and shoes.
Street Styling with Joggers and Other Sportswear
Sports clothing, in general, is regarded as casual wear. Being loosely fitting bottoms, your joggers can match well with an unbuttoned denim jacket for a cool and relaxed image. It is a winning combination for weekend streetwear–just make sure you’re wearing athletic pants on the slim side, or else it will look pretty badly thrown-together.
Going More Formal with Dress Pants
Many offices have one day of the week when the employees are expected to dress more casually than usual: Casual Friday. Though the expectations for the day vary from one company to another, the main idea is to be casual.
On such a day, you can pair your denim jacket with dress pants for a sophisticated casual look. How casual you look with this style will also depend on the level of formality of your footwear.
Since you’re not really buttoning up your denim jacket in most cases, you’ll want to pay special mind to what you wear underneath it. Here’s a style guide for how to layer a denim jacket with various undershirts:
How to Style Denim Jackets with T-Shirts
We all know that t-shirts are among the most casual of clothes. For this reason, they work well with the informal nature of denim jackets. The safest t-shirt colors to wear with your jacket are plain black or white. You can, however, spice things up by experimenting with various patterns and prints. More vibrant colors will also give a boost to your visual personality than sticking to the safe duo–but it requires the right attitude to sell the combo.
OCBD, Flannel, Plaid, and Other Buttoned Shirts
Thought there was a lot of variety in T-Shirts to sort out? The classic button-down blows the lid off, making it all the more important you get the pairing with your denim jacket right. Plain white/light blue OCBDs work for a smart casual look, while printed shirts make your outfit more casual.
But for best results, go for plaids and flannels. These types of men’s shirts reign supreme for casual wear, and will bring out what the denim jacket does best. Once again, though, avoid shirt colors which are too close to your denim.
Urban Styling with Hoodies and Sweaters
These urban favorites are also classic casual wear. They, therefore, complement denim jackets beautifully. As usual, color matching needs to be on point to nail the sophisticated urbanite look. This pairing is especially worthwhile when layering up in cold weather.
Sweaters will also layer well with your jacket, provided they are not too chunky. Excess layering could cause your denim jacket to lose its shape and, with it, your sense of style.
Staying Warm with an Overcoat
An overcoat can be worn over your denim jacket in cold weather. To wear the overcoat right, you should actually button up the denim jacket. The reason you can break the no-buttoning rule is that the denim jacket needs to have a snug fit, so it doesn’t bulk out the coat.
Moreover, its lapels should not compete with the ones on the overcoat. Keep them tucked under, laying flat along your collar and shoulders.
No outfit is immune to improvement via accessories, and denim jackets are no exception. Here’s how to complete your outfit now that you’ve gotten the shirt and bottoms sorted out:
Picking the Right Shoes to Match Denim
Your shoes have to match with your pants as well as the jacket. For example, Oxfords look ridiculous with joggers–for god’s sake, please don’t do it. So generally, it is wise to match your footwear’s informality to the other clothes you have worn together with your denim jacket.
Fashion purists will go so far as to say you never wear a denim jacket with dress shoes. But as with most things, this advice should be taken with a pinch of salt. In fact, an otherwise relaxed ensemble can quickly smarten up with a pair of brogues or Oxfords. But again, there shouldn’t be a gross mismatch between your shoes and your non-jacket items. If you wouldn’t wear the shoes, pants, and shirt together without the denim jacket, then adding it to the mix won’t really change the rules.
Sneakers make a hassle-free match for most of the clothes you would wear with your denim jacket because they, too, fall under casual wear. Boots can look especially great with an overcoat worn over the jacket–though avoid bulkier boots if you’re just wearing the denim jacket alone.
With chinos, stop worrying about it and grab your favorite loafers or sneakers; it’s basically foolproof.
Accessorizing with Scarves and Ties
If you’re wearing a formal shirt with your denim jacket, you can sharpen your image by wearing a narrow tie. This combination works well for a day at the office. The tie should not be so formal that it destroys the relaxed, casual look. During the cold season, a scarf will complete your look in a way that no amount of layering will do. That is if you get the length and color right. Darker scarves will combine well with lighter jackets. The converse is true for dark jackets.
Don’t Forget Hats and Other Headgears
A raw denim jacket coupled with a hard hat is a common sight at construction sites. It is also the image most people have of miners as they hack away at the earth’s bowels. However, many of today’s denim jackets have a softer look and feel because other materials have been incorporated into the traditional cotton fabric.
Modern denim jackets can match well with regular headwear that works well with casual clothing. A beanie will complement your jeans jacket well in cold weather. Other casual headgear that can work well include a flat cap as well as a baseball hat. For a sophisticated look, you could try a felt fedora–but it takes a certain swagger to pull this off well.
Occasions to Avoid Denim Jackets Altogether
A word of caution on wearing your denim jacket; it will not fit in environments that are super-formal.
In a business meeting where a sharp formal look or in some weddings (especially where you are the groom), a denim jacket will look totally out of place.
Even if your color coordination is on point, some spaces simply abhor a denim jacket. Sufficiently swanky hotels, piano bars, and receptions might even turn you away for straying too far beyond the dress code. And no, throwing on a tie wont get you in, either–though it’s a great look otherwise.
It’s clear that your denim jacket is not an isolated clothing item. Instead, it’s part of a package that will only look right if it gels with the rest of your clothing. It also needs to be worn in the right setting for it to make the correct fashion statement.
Luckily, once you’ve found the right denim jacket(s), they only get better with age. Thus, you can wear them year after year, as evergreen wardrobe staples that can evolve with the rest of your outfit without changing itself a bit. Denim jackets work for any season, though your local heat and humidity may limit its desirability in summer.
So what are your rules of the road for wearing denim jackets? Do you agree with our suggestions? What’s your favorite brand of denim? Leave us a shout below.