The History Of Denim Jackets, From The 1880s To Today

It’s a classic staple.

Originally Published: 
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There’s no piece of clothing quite as classic as a denim jacket (well, besides its cousin the jeans). Ahead, TZR does a deep dive into the evolution of the iconic outerwear, including how it went from a workwear staple to a high-style item.

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Levis Strauss invented jeans in the 1870s and after their instant success, he wanted a top to go with them. Thus, the denim jacket was born in 1888. The outerwear, which was adopted by cowboys and railroad engineers, was originally named the “Triple Pleat Blouse.”ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images


The denim jacket entered mainstream fashion in the ‘30s, largely thanks to Hollywood. In films, cowboys wore the topper and everyone took notice. The jacket was officially deemed cool, much like the charming cattlemen who sported them.Hulton Archive/Getty Images


During the ‘50s, denim jackets were still very much a part of the Hollywood film scene, but rather than cowboys wearing them, handsome yet rebellious leading actors embraced the style. (Think heartthrobs like James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen.) John Kobal Foundation/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Levis introduced the “ Type III” denim jacket. The new iteration became a favorite amongst counterculture youth, who wore the jacket against their parents’ wishes. People also bedazzled their denim outerwear with peace sign patches.H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images


Denim jackets, often worn in tandem with funky bell-bottom jeans, became a wardrobe must have in the ‘70s. During this decade, rock stars like John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen helped put the look on the map. Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Denim jackets boasting boxy silhouettes and exaggerated shoulders reigned supreme in the ‘80s. Here, 20-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker gave the oversized look her stamp of approval. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images


Throughout the ‘90s, hip-hop groups such as Salt-N-Pepa, pictured above, were loyal to the denim jacket. The sought-after look? Acid wash and distressed styles.Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


If you can believe it, jean jackets were a red carpet It piece during the early aughts, worn by A-listers like Gabrielle Union, Hilary Duff, and Justin Timberlake. Here, this iconic image of Timberlake and Britney Spears probably lives rent-free in your head.Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images


Throughout the 2010s, luxury designers like Isabel Marant and Sacai, just to name a few, gave denim jackets a high-style refresh. The former worked a two-tone iteration into its Fall/Winter 2011 collection (shown above), while the latter showcased a long belted style for Fall/Winter 2017. Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images


Nowadays, the outerwear is more fashion-forward than ever. Case in point: For Spring/Summer 2023, Burberry showcased a design with larger-than-life pockets while Givenchy opted for a roomy, light-wash style splattered with its instantly recognizable logo — exhibited below by Gigi Hadid. JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP/Getty Images

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