I saw the most gorgeous woman rocking a vintage denim jacket. She was in her 80s, had wavy, white hair and was enjoying lunch and a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe, alone.
Please God, let that be me someday.
And while she has 40 years of wisdom on me, there was one thing we shared that I can build on. A great denim jacket.
This piece knows no age boundaries. A toddler is adorable in one, a preteen is cool, a middle schooler looks positively maverick, a high schooler or college student can go vintage cool, and the rest of us can find that great denim jacket and wear it up to the last day of our lives.
And while there are times the denim jacket is hot, it never truly goes cold. It’s either in style, or really in style.
Your perfect denim jacket has the following elements:
Levis and Lee made the old school classics, and they are still cool. A vintage denim jacket from the 70s will fit cleanly to the waist, where there will be adjustable tabs on either side. Metal buttons, slender fitting sleeves, slash pockets and large breast pockets complete the original.
If this traditional look doesn’t work for you, don’t despair. (Not that you were on the verge of despair. This is just clothes…) So long as you keep it simple, any modern take will work. My mom had a dark green corduroy piece with jean jacket styling that she wore until it was literally in tatters. My friend Ann has an ultra-dark wash jacket with a few posh details that add a seriousness to the look that’s completely work appropriate. I’ve seen women in denim jackets tailored to flare at the waist, and jackets that hang from the shoulder, rather than being fitted. The trick is to keep the hardware solid metal, keep the stitching precise and simple, and avoid too many bells and whistles (and zippers.)
It fits you
A denim jacket should be roomy enough that you can wear a light sweater under it, but not so big that you can’t layer another jacket over it. It should button up easily and not pull anywhere. The classic denim jacket comes just to your waist.
A tailor can be a big help here. I took my favorite jacket in for a little 21st century streamlining (the arms where too roomy with a touch of bat wing leaking out to the sides) 24 hours and $20 later my jacket was ready to hop back in the mix.
I bought this jacket in Rome for 10 Euro from a street vendor during an unseasonably cold spring in the late 1990s. I wore it all over the Eternal City with a pair of bright red pants and black turtle neck. I wore it on my first day of teaching at South Eugene High School. I wore it in the chilly weeks after my daughter was born to take walks around the block. I wore it the night Sara and I showed up woefully under dressed at the Junior League Ball (what were we thinking?) The ball was ultimately crashed by a group of men from the Mounted Posse convention one ballroom over and Sara and I suddenly had more dance partners than we knew what to do with. Over the years I have bought trendier denim jackets, but always pushed them aside for this old friend.
How to wear it
Just as there is no age on this piece, there are no restrictions on how it can be worn. Here are a few fun ideas –
Buttoned up, with a pencil skirt
Buttoned up and belted, with blazer layered over the top
Over a white t-shirt, with turquoise jewelry
Over a white cotton oxford, with pearls
Buttoned up, with a pleated midi-skirt
Over a tailored sheath dress
Over any dress
Buttoned up, with a brightly colored puffer vest over the top
Recently I was browsing through shops in downtown Portland, wearing my old Italian jean jacket, wondering exactly how hip it was possible for the people around me to get. Seriously, the men’s facial hair alone in that city accounts for about 18% of total world hipness at any given moment. “Cool jacket!” I heard a young woman say to her friend. I turned around and the girls were looking at me and my old denim friend. “We really love your jacket,” the girl said earnestly. I smiled, realizing that to her, I was like the beautiful 80-year-old I’d seen in the cafe.
P.S. Do you have a favorite denim jacket? Email me a picture for the Inspiration page.
*But of course I never wear this jacket because every time I put it on I take it back off and put on my old jacket. I should probably follow my own advice and give it to someone who would actually wear it. Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner
OK, fine. Who wants this for their denim jacket? The first subscriber to email me and firstname.lastname@example.org gets the Burberry jacket.