CLIQUE WEAR: The Denim Jacket
Never really in fashion, and never really out of it, it looks just as good old and knackered as it does brand new. Like a fine wine, it only gets better with age. A blank canvas ripe for customisation, it is worn by princes and beggars alike. It can be an insulating layer in winter, or a lightweight top-coat for the summer months. The denim jacket is the doyen of most people’s wardrobes. It is one of the rare clothing items that has stood the test of time – the last time it was consigned to the scrapheap, God himself was just a boy.
But it has never seen itself as God’s gift. Indeed, it owes its tenacity to its humble origins. Created by Levi Strauss for the cowboys and itinerant workers of the late 18th century, the denim jacket – to our eternal gratitude – earned widespread popularity thanks to the Westerns of the 1950s.
It was a time when kids didn’t take their fashion cues solely from the kings of pop. Cowboys, taciturn men who slept in their clothes, had an irresistible look.
On the silver screen, the denim jacket became the mandatory uniform for outlaws of all kinds, while on the street it was enthusiastically adopted by young people in search of rebellion, or simply style. It also lent vital credibility to one of the biggest advertising icons of all time: the Marlboro Man.
Few garments have had such universal appeal. Over the last two centuries, it has been found on the backs of a number major figures, all of whom wore it with the utmost grace.
And that is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of its success: the denim jacket is simultaneously majestic and of the people. It transcends fashion by suiting almost everyone. There are, nevertheless, two cardinal rules to follow:
1/ The only permissible models are the Lee Rider and Storm Rider, and the Levi’s Western and Sherpa, in denim or corduroy. No other model will do.
The Lee Storm Rider jacket was part of the last outfit Marilyn Monroe was seen wearing on screen, in John Huston’s The Misfits. The ultimate cowboy jacket, it was also sported by Paul Newman.
2/ A denim jacket should be close-fitting. Paul Weller, the King, John Lennon, Madonna and Justice all got it right: the style impeccable, the size perfect.
Those who fail to abide by this rule will pay the price immediately. Jay Z and Drake have both pulled off the impressive feat of making themselves look daft by donning poorly-chosen or over-baggy models.
As long as you keep these two rules etched firmly in your mind, you can wear your jacket as you wish. Lady Pink and these unknown b-boys, for instance, opted to adorn theirs with graffiti. They are Lee Riders and they fit to perfection – it’s a style that never gets old.
These days, the denim jacket has long been a fashion staple. It is worn to Legion of Honour award ceremonies and bar mitzvahs. It is suitable for any occasion. This has not always been the case, however.
In 1951, Bing Crosby was turned away from a Canadian hotel for his all-denim outfit. And although the hotel management made an exception once they had recognised him, the news soon reached Levi Strauss and Co., who responded to the incident with a touch of humour by designing a customised denim smoking jacket especially for Bing.
They added a label on the inside stipulating that the owner of the jacket should be admitted to any hotel in Canada.
If, per chance, you still don’t have a denim jacket, invest in the right model, in the most close-fitting size you can, and it will pay you back with interest. Fit for any occasion, from weddings to funerals, it will, like a good soldier, give you years of loyal, understated service.