The first denim jacket was created circa 1880 by denim legend and Levi’s founder Levi Strauss. Strauss is credited with designing the first-ever jeans in 1870 as a durable, breathable utility garment for cowboys, railroad engineers, and miners to wear during the gold rush out West. Soon after the runaway success of jeans, he gave the world a top to match and dubbed it the Triple Pleat Blouse.
We spoke with Tracey Panek, a historian at Levi Strauss & Co., who said that the denim jackets were ideal for laborers. “Our denim jacket was incredibly durable for various types of manual labor,” Panek said. “The horizontal seams holding down the pleats could be removed to give the wearer extra room.”
While the Levi’s denim jacket has evolved since then, the functionality and innate coolness of the piece has earned it the status as an all-American rebel’s outerwear of choice. “By the ’50s, wearing denim was often associated with juvenile delinquency,” Panek said. “Jeans were even banned in some schools, and denim became the nonconformists’ uniform of choice.” From James Dean’s iconic denim-jacket clad character in Rebel Without a Cause in the ’50s to Rihanna’s deconstructed versions today, jean jackets buck convention, express individuality, and epitomize anti-establishment cool.
Here’s a timeline of denim jackets that will inspire you to pull yours out right now.
Circa 1880: The original Levi’s Triple Pleat Blouse designed by Strauss. One unique feature of this jacket is the vertical grain of the fabric. Its name is derived from the three pleats that run on either side of the center front.
__1955:__James Dean captured the angst of American youth and style in Rebel Without a Cause.
__1961:__Marilyn Monroe is known for her glamorous red carpet gowns, but her off-duty looks—which included jackets and all sorts of denim— were just as compelling.
1962: Rock ‘n’ roll and denim went hand-in-hand starting in the ’60s, as epitomized by this street style shot in Zurich.
__1970:__It model of the decade Veruschka in a denim jacket and jeans.
__1971:__John Lennon wore lots of denim jackets in the ’70s with flares, T-shirts, and always a quirky touch, like this flower boutonniere. Here he is at the Cannes Film Festival.