Evolution of the The Denim Jacket; An American Icon of Rebellion

From Utilitarian to Rebellion; the Jean Jacket is an All American fashion staple. Levi Strauss began making denim jackets for workers who used the jean jacket as part of a versatile and comfortable uniform. Denim has traditionally been associated with the working class. Here is a look at some iconic looks of the denim jacket through the decades.

John Wayne in 1943 in a Levi's 506 Jean Jacket. He wore it fitted with jeans with a cowboy hat. Western Movies were popular in the 1940's as was the American hero and the freedom of the Old West captured the country's imagination during the WWII era. This is one of the first times we see the denim jacket on screen.


Elvis in A dark jean jacket in Jailhouse Rock in the iconic film in 1957. A rock and roll musical. Elvis really popularized the denim jacket. His role as an ex con give the look a rebellious spirit. The youth movement of the 1950's really started to drive fashion for the first time.


Marilyn Monroe wearing a jean Jacket in 1961. Off set she often wore denim and this is one look that showed her love of comfort and denim. Although men mostly wore denim previously; in the 1950's it became so popular with movies like Rebel Without A Cause, women began to wear jeans. To see such a feminine icon in a jean jacket showed that she was comfortable enough to show another side. Soon women everywhere would also wear jean jackets.


Bob Marley 1970's. The king of double denim. Bob sometimes wore a button up denim shirt or denim jacket with jeans. He wore it as a take on the pantsuit which was so popular in the 1970's. It didn't really matter what he wore, all you see is his smile and feel his joy during the often negative times of the 70's. His free spirit remains such a magnet. 


John Lennon 1970s. The economic downturn of the 70's with an unemployment explosion and inflation rate up to 20% meant embracing your working class roots regardless of your situation. Lennon also went through a double denim look in the 70's. Here is his iconic 1974 New York City photo. Although he started wearing a jean jacket during the Beatles recordings in the late 60's. 


1980's stonewash denim in many colors. The economy started booming and bright colors became all the rage. Teen girls really fell in love with the stone washed look in the 1980's. It was also the 80's when luxury denim brands started becoming a thing. Anything luxury was popular in the 80's. This is when jean jackets became main stream even preppy at times and left the rebellious vibe behind. Although in 1985's, The Breakfast Club, they did put the rebel in a jean jacket.


1990s Young Hollywood. Jeans and the anti fashion Gen X was really a thing. Luxury fatigue and sort of a backlash at elitism took root. Regardless of what look you were going for, jeans were probably part of your style. It suited both genders and jean jackets of any size were accepted but oversized was probably the most popular. Anything oversized was often preferred to sort of embrace the anti attitude and being above materialism. Women did not feel the need to show a lot of skin and it actually could be looked down upon. Thrifting and vintage became somewhat popular in the 90's. Still anything denim was mainstream and more casual than rebellious and denim jackets went well paired with anything.


Ryan Gosling 2020s. He has a thing for jean jackets going way back. He pulls them all off from super casual to paired with dressier pieces.  Not necessarily considered rebellious but he does seem to be someone who comes across with values which is rare and attractive.  He seems to be a family and relationship type of guy who does his own thing, keeping it simple.  The denim jacket shows he’s the down to earth type. I guess in Hollywood that is a bit of a rebel.


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