How to Style a Denim Jacket

Denim is a fashion staple, a symbol of American grit and ingenuity. It dates back to the late 1800s when Levi Strauss invented a sturdy blue fabric for the likes of  cowboys, railway workers and gold miners. Nowadays, denim is a material for the masses, used to create the jeans we all know and love, as well as the eternally stylish denim jacket. Denim jackets have been styled on models and celebrities since the 50s, adapting to trends while still remaining crucial to the modern capsule wardrobe. Whether you're going for a classic, timeless look, an edgy statement piece or a modern twist, there's a denim jacket that can be styled to suit many tastes, occasions and trends. 

Still, just as the cut, wash and embellishments on jeans can change with the times, so too does the denim jacket. With over a hundred years worth of variations, it can be hard to know which jacket suits you best. We've compiled a list of the most popular styles, as well as the many ways you can wear them to make the most of this versatile jacket and to seamlessly tie your outfits together!

Denim Jacket Styles

After years of being shaped and reshaped by designers, the denim jacket has taken on many iterations that are still being circulated and styled today. There's a reason why cowboys, hippies, rappers and rock stars can independently incorporate denim into their getup and still appear to have individualized and distinguished styles. Here are the many iterations of denim jacket styles available today. 

Classic Jean Jacket

A classic denim jacket is one that's a medium-dark wash, slightly fitted and ends at the waist. This is the classic jean jacket that can pull together many different looks. You can dress it up; you can dress it down. It's the jacket you can easily grab off the hook and throw over most any outfit in order to make it timeless. Pair it with dresses, trousers, skirts, athleisure, blouses or graphic tees. Some distressing is acceptable, but to get the most versatility out of your jacket, keep any holes, rips or embellishments to an absolute minimum. 

Colored Denim Jackets

You don't have to stop with blue. White, black and green denims can also diversify your wardrobe while still keeping the classic cut and style of the traditional jean jacket. Though a blue denim is fantastically versatile, white is a great spring and summer variation. Pair it with black pants and a black crop top for a sleek achromatic look, or go monochromatic with an all white ensemble. It's also a great alternative if you're uncertain about blue denim on blue denim, but still want the look of a jean jacket. 

Black denim can be used in the same way as white denim, but for the fall and winter months. A black denim jacket over a white shirt and blue jeans is a stylish take, as is black denim on black denim with a graphic tee or white crop top to distinguish between them. Black may be a more sophisticated alternative to white or blue denim when paired with leopard print or khaki. Being black, it can also pair nicely over blue jeans and turn a spring outfit into a fall one with the swap of a jacket! 

Denim can come in many other color variations, though army green seems to pop up the most often. Green can be a great way to throw some color onto dark fall and winter outfits when lighter washed jeans aren't as prevalent. Throw a green denim jacket over a white t-shirt and medium-dark blue jeans or make it stand out against a black on black top and bottom combination. 

Oversized Denim Jacket

Oversized clothing was big in the 80s and 90s. Sometimes called the "boyfriend" cut, these jeans, jackets, tops and other items have seen a resurgence in the last few years. There are lots of ways to style oversized denim jackets, including:

 

  • Layer it over sweaters or bulky items 
  • Roll the sleeves 
  • Belt it over a dress
  • Wear it long and loose over midi shorts
  • Keep it slouchy atop of fitted tops and pants
  • Try it off the shoulders

With oversized wear, it's all about playing with the proportions of the outfit. Typically, loose over fitted is a good balance, especially if you're trying to maintain a sense of shapeliness. Baggy clothes can underplay beautiful curves and figures, though some trendsetters like to play around with those proportions anyway. When choosing this type of jacket, seek the balance where the oversized element looks like a choice and not an oversight!

 

Distressed Denim Jacket

Distressed denim dates back to the 70s when British punk stars tore up their denim jackets and jeans as a means of protest against the establishment. British youth and American youth adopted this rebellious attitude and the distressed style movement as a countercultural punch at "the man." Nowadays, distressed denim isn't so much a political statement as it is a fashion statement. Contrast is a great tool, so pairing distressed items with neat and tailored tops or bottoms can enhance an outfit, appearing both relaxed and polished at the same time. A distressed denim jacket can be either lightly or heavily distressed depending on your preference, though a lightly distressed jacked will be more versatile than something with many rips and holes. 

Cropped Denim Jacket

Cropped or high-rise tops are trending these days, which makes a cropped denim jacket a modern twist on a classic piece. A cropped denim jacket pairs great with other cropped tops and does well to accentuate the waist and highlight a feminine figure. Pair your cropped jacket with a pair of high-waisted jeans and a form-fitting top. Make it really shine by choosing flared jeans with a flared bottom or with some eye-catching footwear to balance the look, top to bottom. Another great choice is to pair a cropped denim jacket with a patterned maxi dress. The jacket grounds the dress while also creating a waist.  

Sleeveless Denim Jacket

If it's too warm for a full-on jacket, a sleeveless one may do the trick! Otherwise known as a denim vest, these jackets can be used in the same ways as the full-sleeve counterparts, but especially in transitioning to or from warm weather. The vest goes well on top of maxi dresses and skirts, as well as over tank tops or plain tees. The sleeveless denim vest creates a street-savvy look that's adds a hipness to an otherwise mild outfit. You can also pair it with a long-sleeve shirt (try it over black-and-white stripes), on a white jumpsuit, a little black dress or layered over a hoodie.   

Jean Jacket Hoodie

A recent denim jacket trend has been the hoodie and denim hybrid. These jackets are designed to look like a denim vest over the hoodie's sleeves and hood, transforming a two-piece ensemble into one jacket. This allows you to have the same look without the added layers or heat, making it a cooler alternative to winter layering. Another variation is to add a cloth hood to a denim jacket, adding a feature otherwise absent from the standard jean jacket. This look has a youthful bend and can maximize a casual, relaxed aura. It creates contrast, much like the distressed jean jacket, so pair it with a black top and black pants or jeans, or try it over some grey sweatpants for a down-to-earth vibe.  

How to Wear a Denim Jacket

The type of denim jacket is a determining factor in an outfit, but there are several other ways to wear a jean jacket that can apply to several different cuts. Things like the wash, the season and the embellishments can all take your denim jacket up a notch and give some added flair to your next outfit. Let's break down some of the other factors that determine how to wear a denim jacket.  

Choose Your Wash

Aside from the cut, one of the biggest differentiators between denim jackets is the wash. Denim washes can go from palest blue to nearly black, with other stylistic options in between (acid wash, anyone?). The safest choice is a medium-blue wash, though trending toward the lighter side isn't a bad idea. Ultimately, you should choose a wash that contrasts well with your favorite jeans and compliments your other favorite pieces. 

Dress It Up

Jean jackets exude a laid-back vibe, but it's possible to dress them up! Wearing sleek, tailored skirts or dresses can boost the jean jacket look up a notch, as well as choosing a white, black or dark wash. Swap those canvas sneakers for some heels, pair a peplum dress with a cropped denim jacket and presto! You have a chic outfit! Another option is to drape your jean jacket over your shoulders for a sophisticated touch on a casual classic. 

Think Seasonally

One of the best things about a jean jacket is that it can have a place in your wardrobe year round! Go for the classic jean jacket in the spring and fall, or try white and black respectively. In the summer, go for the denim vest and cropped denim jacket over a maxi dress while layering your jean jacket over hoodies and sweaters in the winter months. Even if you settle for just one denim coat in your closet (we recommend going classic, in that case) you can find a way to style it all year round!   

Go for Layers

Obviously, a jacket is meant to be layered over other clothes, but take things a step further by layering with intention. Winter is a great month to try out layered styles for jean jackets, such as putting it over a hoodie or rolling up the sleeves. You can do that one of two ways — either roll up the jacket sleeves themselves to reveal the arms of your long-sleeved sweater or shirt underneath, or try rolling both of them together to create an interesting cuff. Wearing a jean jacket under another coat, such as a long coat, peacoat or even a cardigan, can add a pop of color and texture to your outfit.  

Try Embellishments and Detailing

One fun way to play up a jean jacket is to buy it with embellishments or add them yourself. Some classic choices are:

 

  • Patches
  • Embroidery
  • Beads
  • Fringe 
  • Buttons
  • Sherpa collars and lining
  • Leather or suede inlays 

These add-ons can give your jacket a vintage look and feel. It can also individualize it or create some added visual interest to your outfit. 

 

4 Additional Ways to Style a Denim Jacket

We've already covered ways to style the different types of jackets and ways you can wear them. If you're still looking for some ideas, or some more direct guidance, here are five ways to style a denim jacket. 

Jacket and Dresses

Perfect for the spring and summer months, pairing your favorite dress with a denim jacket is a great way to add some shape to your flowy dress or cover-up when the sun goes down and things turn cooler. It also can tone down the formality of some of your favorite pieces, allowing you to enjoy them outside of special occasions like weddings and parties. 

A classic jacket is a universal choice in this instance, whether your dress is maxi, midi or mini. It falls at the waist to create shape but can also be tied around the waist for an equally stylish look if you're too warm. Depending on your vibe, you may choose to pair canvas sneakers with a midi, sandals for your maxi or heels for your mini. For a handbag, try a Rattan bag or dainty crossbody to complete your ensemble. A cropped denim jacket can be an equally beautiful alternative for dresses as well! 

Jacket on Rompers and Jumpsuits

Another springtime and summer opportunity, throwing a denim jacket over top of your romper or jumpsuit can be the perfect way to tie your outfit together and create some visual interest. If your jumpsuit tapers at the waist, try a cropped denim jacket though you'll want to balance the bottom out with some great shoes. If it's more form-fitting, consider an oversized jacket, though you should be pretty safe with the classic cut and wash! Whether your romper is solid or patterned, a good denim jacket will be a great addition to your overall outfit. 

Denim on Denim

Denim on denim tends to walk a fine line between chic and cringeworthy (we're looking at you, Justin and Britney). The key to styling your jacket and jeans is to either play up the contrast or to create visual symmetry with similar washes. Like we recommended, one way to do this is to pick a jacket that already contrasts your favorite jeans accordingly. You can also play up the contrast. Try oversized over fitted or distressed over sleek. 

Lastly, using similar washes around some sort of visual interest can also be a great look. Choose brightly colored shirts, accessories and shoes to break up excessive cohesiveness. Try a jacket and jeans with the same wash, coupled with bright red shoes and lipstick. You'll create a cohesive silhouette with pops of color.   

Jacket with Non-denim Bottoms

There are plenty of great non-denim bottoms to choose from that go well with your denim jacket. Black bottoms of any sort shine brightest for a classic, fall look. Try a denim jacket over a white t-shirt, paired with black bottoms, brown booties and a set of aviators to create a capsule fall outfit! Khakis, linen shorts, white pants, athleisure, patterned leggings and leather pants are all options worth exploring too! Try a black denim jacket over some khaki flares, a light wash jacket over white pants, a jean jacket hoodie over your joggers and the classic cut over leggings or leather. 

Add a Denim Jacket to Your Wardrobe

With the versatility of denim, your next best wardrobe purchase may be a jean jacket. With the many silhouettes, washes and styles, it may be hard to stick to just one! Regardless of your final decision, a jean jacket can serve your style in a way that few other items can. This tried and true fashion staple can follow you through all the seasons and through countless trends. Like the American spirit, it's fresh, indomitable and lasting.  

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