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  • Writer's pictureFashion and Retail Association

The History of the Jean Jacket

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

by: Alex Germain

The jean jacket has been an American staple for over 100 years, symbolic of an idea of cool popularized by stars such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. However, the jean jacket stretches back farther, and has gone on to become a mainstay in the wardrobes of young people worldwide. With designers continuing to iterate on the jean jacket, it shows no sign of falling out of trend, and has become a powerful tool for expression. Here is a quick history of the jean jacket, and where it’s headed from here


The jean jacket was first invented around 1905, by well known denim pioneer Levi Strauss. The jacket was created as a garment for manual labor, with the denim allowing for movement while maintaining its strength. It was intended to be worn with denim pants, as a sort of uniform for workers. Strauss continued to iterate on this design, with the popular Type III releasing in 1967.


In the 1950s and 1960s, the jean jacket became associated with an idea of rebellion, with young stars such as James Dean wearing the jacket, popularizing it among young people in America. The jean jacket became to stand for nonconformity, as the 1950s featured very conservative fashion trends. Stars such as John Wayne even took it a step further, with John Wayne having Levi Strauss custom manufacture a jean suit jacket, dubbed “the Canadian tuxedo”.


Later in the 80s, pop culture figures continued to wear the jean jacket as a symbol of rebellion. Additionally, the jean jacket’s boxy silhouette lent itself to trends of the time, with an oversized jean jacket matching well with the boxy shoulders of the era. The jean jacket also lent itself to the punk movement, with punks tearing off the sleeves and adding patches to give the jean jackets an edge.


The jacket continued being a staple into the 90s and 2000s, as hip hop culture emerged as the dominant force in American pop culture. The jacket maintained it’s rebellious image, while being worn in new contexts by a new generation. Designers such as Calvin Klein and Guess helped maintain the popularity of the jean jacket, while giving the jacket a high fashion twist. Celebrities such as Madonna, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake continued to wear it, and take it in new directions, such as Britney and Justin wearing an all denim ensemble to the 2001 American Music Awards.


In the present day, the denim jacket has maintained its status as an iconic item, with designers continuing to put a new spin on the design. Brands such as Levi Strauss have continued to innovate with the jacket being redesigned to fit modern lifestyles. The distressed denim trend extended to jackets, with distressed jackets being seen on celebrities such as Rihanna. Additionally, designers such as Denim Tears have given the jean jacket a new message, with his design exploring the legacy of slavery in America.

The jean jacket has been used in a wide variety of outfits throughout history, however it’s spirit of rebellion has carried on. It’s continued popularity has proven the jean jacket to be a timeless design, and I only look forward to how designers will continue to

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