Reader Request: Styling a Denim Jacket

how to style a denim jacket

Reader Laurel sent this request to me via e-mail:

I was wondering if you would be willing to do a post about how to style jean jackets. With Spring finally starting to thaw, the season of lightweight jackets is upon us, and with ’90s fashion being a big trend right now, I’ve been looking at my jean jacket again, but really don’t know what to do with it. Mine is your kind of typical jean jacket – medium wash, hits at the waist, a little boxy – definitely not high fashion. Any suggestions?

I remember including a denim jacket on my own personal wardrobe must-have list a couple of years ago and having several readers laugh at me. But I’ve stuck to my denim-y guns! My jean jacket doesn’t get loads of wear, but I’ve had the same one for several years and I end up reaching for it at least a couple of times per season. Here are my tips for making a denim jacket look chic and contemporary.

Make sure it fits

So Laurel may curse me for saying this, but that standard-issue 90s denim jacket in all it’s glorious boxiness? It’ll be harder to style than an updated version. Denim is stiff and thick, so few jackets will truly hug your figure, but the ones on the racks now will be a bit more fitted than many vintage styles. Boxy jackets are big for spring, of course, and there are ways to make them work … but if your jean jacket really swamps your figure or totally masks your curves and you’d rather show your body’s form a bit more, springing for an updated one might help. Even thrifting a jacket that was made in the past two to three years may help.

Consider proportion

Since even denim jackets with spandex and princess seams will fit a little loose and boxy on most folks, heeding the proportions of your outfit is key. In most cases, this means making sure your bottom half is relatively well defined, either by a slim pair of pants or a skirt that shows a little leg. Depending on how it fits and how you’re built, your jacket may work beautifully with flowy bottoms, too, like maxi skirts and wide-legged pants. But if you find that you look a little square and curve-free up top, consider balancing the boxy with a figure-highlighting bottom.

Play with juxtaposition

Denim jackets are quintessentially rugged and casual, which means they work wonderfully paired with items that are a bit dressy, frilly, or otherwise not-rugged and casual. Try your denim jacket with a floaty sundress or a sequined tee and miniskirt. Do a fluid blouse and tuxedo pants or a diaphanous tiered maxi dress. Anything that’s traditionally feminine or sparkly or the antithesis of utilitarian Americana.

Go West

Since warm weather is on its way, my inner cowgirl is clawing to get out and I do love seeing denim jackets in Western mixes. Think Sundance Catalog, with long necklaces, dusty boots, and piles of bracelets. Or go for a weathered graphic tee, chino skirt, and fun sandals. Anything that draws in a little bit of rugged ranch life and a little bit of sleek urban chic.

Embrace the unexpected

Looking back over some of my own outfits, I found that I’ve tended to pair my denim jacket with my weird pants. Case in point: The outfit above. I love those pants, but they are definitely cargo sweats with a REALLY tall ankle cuff. Denim jackets are classic and ever so American, so they can work really well with arty, funky, sculptural pieces. So long as the proportions work, that is.

Would love your input, too, of course! How do you style your denim jacket? Is this a classic piece in your opinion, or one you can live without? Other tips for making jean jackets look contemporary?

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Originally posted 2014-04-14 06:23:48.

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10 Responses to “Reader Request: Styling a Denim Jacket”

  1. Laurel Underwood

    Thank you for answering my email! I think step one for me has been getting over the “poser” feeling I have whenever I used to put mine on. (Middle school flashback, I think.)

    I’ve been noticing jean jackets on more women lately, so between that and your suggestions, I think I should be able to work it.

  2. loubeelou

    I have always owned 2 or 3 denim jackets at a time, so for me they’re definitely a classic go-to. I have a gray one that’s pushing 10 years and it’s like an old friend – seriously I look back on pictures and it’s like the one constant in my life. Love that thing.

    If it’s a little stylized and fitted, I feel like it serves the same purpose as cardigans or blazers but it’s just a little edgier. I most often pair it with a dress or skirt. I would say though that the outfit you have on here is killer and right on target. I love the black and white and the pops of color. The denim somehow ties it all together. All your recommendations are perfect for styling.

    Lastly – THRIFT!! Every thrift store is bursting with denim jackets. Some of them are of the boxier style, but there are a lot to choose from – play around with them!

  3. StartCloseIn

    I loved those soft pants with the denim jacket! Very cute.

  4. Lisa Wong

    These are all great tips!

    I like pairing a denim jacket with non-denim items for interesting textural and colour contrasts. Although I like the Canadian tuxedo look with a chambray shirt and jeans, somehow wearing a denim jacket and jeans doesn’t feel as modern.

  5. SuESanders

    Depending on how it fits and how you’re built, your jacket may work beautifully with flowy bottoms, too, like maxi skirts and wide-legged pants. But if you find that you look a little square and curve-free up top, consider balancing the boxy with a figure-highlighting bottom. http://qr.net/stx3

  6. Anamarie

    I like to wear jean jackets with girly dresses and boots, or with a plain black fit and flare dress with heels and a statement necklace. My law office is pretty casual and everyone wears jeans on Fridays. I don’t find jeans very comfortable and prefer dresses. If I just wear a dress, I get asked, “why are you so dressed up?!” all day. If I wear a dress and jean jacket combo, I feel like I fit in more but true to my own style.

  7. wonkyone15

    My favorite jean jacket (I have 3) is one that is the traditional light/medium blue and it is cropped, so it works perfectly with my many empire waist dresses! I am looking forward to also wearing it with my palazzo pants. Sally, I think you should enable the “upload a picture” feature on your Discus comments (I know it is there on other sites at least), so your readers can share photos that apply to the topics we are commenting on! I think that could be really fun.

  8. Versatilestylebytracey

    great post! I have 3 jean jackets and love them all!