The Story Behind the Denim Jacket

Another staple piece in rock fashion.

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The Story Behind the Denim Jacket
We have already told the story of the ultimate rock garment - the black leather jacket. But there are still a few elements of the rock ’n’ roll aesthetic that we didn’t cover. So, let’s talk about the iconic denim jacket this time.

The story of the denim jacket goes even further back than the denim pants. It is fair to say it begins with indigo dye, which has been crucial in garment production for centuries. In Japan, the origins of the denim jacket were first seen with indigo-dyed garments in the 1800s. Back then, firefighters wore coats known as Hanten. These coats were woven out of wool, as finer fabrics were forbidden to the laboring classes. Naturally, these weren't the best materials to fight fire with, so they were constantly doused in water to prevent inflammation.

Denim first came into American fashion in the 19th century around the time of the civil war. Denim jeans were originally workwear for laborers on farms and down in the mines due to the hard wearing fabric and comfort. In the 1930s Vogue featured its first model in denim on the cover, claiming that jeans could be a fashion statement, and not just practical clothing for working men. In the early twentieth century, denim jacket has outfitted the US military through two world wars and dressed countless famous faces, from James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley.
The denim jacket became a fashion trend for rebel teens in the '50s, along with various types of jeans such as light washes, cuffed jeans, and black denim. The link between denim and rebellion led to denim being banned in some public schools in America.

American singer Bing Crosby was barred from entering a Canadian hotel for wearing denim from head to toe and not keeping up to the establishment's dress code. While the hotel immediately realized who Crosby was and let him in regardless, word of the incident made its way back to Levi's, who whipped up a tuxedo for Bing made completely out of denim.

Although Levi's premiered a women's jean jacket in the late '40s, a denim-wearing Marilyn Monroe made the piece fashionable for women, cementing the jacket as a unisex staple.
Back in 1960, John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to hit the docks of Liverpool to score the peg leg Levi’s, the rarest of goods from visiting sailors. George Harrison wore double denim instead of the tailored suits even on the cover of 'Abbey Road.'
The ‘60s saw denim travel into the wardrobes of the Middle Class, with protesting students showing their nonconformist attitude by wearing jeans.

As a way to cash in on the hippie movement of the '60s and '70s, Levi's introduced its Orange Tab line, which created the same garments the brand had created and pioneered for years but at a friendlier price.

Hippies of the ‘60s used tie dye and embroidery made denim more colorful while Denim waist coats and flares/bell bottoms created a chilled out vibe. By 1962, Levi's settled on the double-breast pocket featured on most modern jean jackets.
It’s no secret that Jim Morrison was one of the forefathers of classic rock star style. He enjoyed wearing denim so much, that once he showed up to the initial hearing in court dressed in a black denim jacket, emblazoned with the Doors logo on its back.

In the ‘70s the denim jacket started to look more extreme and dramatic and became a popular garment among the punks.
The punks called it a battle jacket, or cut-off. A battle jacket was traditionally a leather or denim jacket with the sleeves either completely removed or cut very short. They were usually decorated with patches, paint, stencilled graphics, or splashes of bleach. 

On to the ‘80s, the standard blue jeans was given an acid makeover, and pastel color jeans became popular. Rips, tears and general distress style jeans were also in. George Michael often wore stonewashed jeans, and Guns ‘N Roses favored the distressed style.


Bob Marley had always been the man the people, so it’s no surprise that his stage outfit consisted almost entirely of denim jackets and faded jeans.

Metallica’s dearly departed bass genius Cliff Burton was also known to rock his denim.

Some of the major designer labels of the ‘80s and ’90s such as Calvin Klein, Diesel, and Guess, began to take denim more seriously, so denim jackets started to appear on catwalks.

Distressed denim followed through to the nineties, with the growth of the grunge trend. Extremely torn jeans, sometimes with more flesh showing than actual denim, was a popular look. Head-to-toe denim was amongst the trendiest looks.

This Levi’s jacket was repurposed and designed for Elton John in 1994. It was one of the many entries in the 'Seventh on Sale' decorated denim event in San Francisco in 1994. The specially-made jackets were auctioned to benefits of AIDS charities and this piece signed by Elton John was acquired by the Archives.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Denim jackets and vests were also an important part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, especially with patches of band logos. Saxon also have an album and song called "Denim and Leather" from 1981.
    Ummm the double denim is clearly George not Ringo. Ringo is right behind John in a navy/black suit. Clue: Ringo is the shortest.
    Never liked denim. Blue jeans and denim jackets in women is a bit of a turn off. Wouldn't wear it myself.
    i agree on the jackets, but a woman who properly fills out a pair of jeans is a sight to behold.
    What about when Status Quo didn't have their flower-power clothes ready for Top of the Pops (I think) so went out in what they'd arrived in, which was their denim jeans and jackets and then people started wearing it more for rock music...
    I really enjoy these articles. Gotta call out that it is George Harrison that wore "double demin" on the Abbey Road cover.
    Sorry guys, my bad! I have no idea why i wrote Ringo, when it's clearly George :/
    I'm sure Ringo is cool with it. Probably only the third time since the sixties that he's been acknowledged over the others.
    Back in the 70s when a budging Aerosmith band was touring relentlessly and selling out arenas, they called their fans the Blue Army because they all wore denim jackets.