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How to Choose Your Best Denim Jacket

Denim jackets never go out of style, but how they are worn changes each season. There are times when denim paired with denim is a major fashion faux pas and other times when it is wholeheartedly embraced. A couple of years back colored denim was THE way to wear it. Today, while it is still popular it isn’t as hot.

Keeping up can be tricky!

With each passing year denim gains ground. It is hard to imagine a place you can’t wear denim, especially dark wash or black denim. This season, however, denim jackets have skyrocketed into popularity. They are worn for ultra-casual events and thrown over party dresses and are seen as not only socially acceptable but on trend!

As a result, everyone is on the hunt for the perfect jean jacket, but the truth is that, as a fashion staple, a denim jacket is not one-size-fits-all. You either rock them or you feel overpowered, stiff, frumpy or like you are wearing a costume. People who practically live in their jean jacket can’t understand those who don’t.

The appeal of denim is universal and the idea that one jacket can fill so many wardrobe holes is beyond appealing. Who wouldn’t want that! But, while a denim jacket is fun, practical and popular, it still doesn’t work for everyone or you might have to tweak it to make it work.

Where do you fall on the denim jacket continuum? Do you have a wardrobe full of them, a couple of long time favorites or have you bought and returned ten or twenty varieties of denim jackets in your seemingly endless search for the perfect one?

So why does it sometimes feel so hard?

If you are someone who is natural, down-to-earth, sporty or funky a denim jacket will most likely be a staple in your wardrobe (and you are rolling your eyes that others find it so challenging or you thank your lucky stars that it works so well for you).

For those of you who lean more toward elegant, delicate or graceful, it will be harder. And, let me share that you could be both natural and delicate/elegant and it can work, it just means finding a denim jacket that embodies both of those ‘inner beauty’ parts of your personality. It’s not necessarily impossible, but it will often take more searching.

Perhaps something like this – that has a more refined approach to denim will feel softer to you:

Or one that feels more like a soft blazer:

See many more options here.

To make the selection process less daunting, here are 3 guidelines to consider as you shop around:

1. Color Matters

All of the same fashion tools you use when creating any outfit in your wardrobe apply when choosing a denim jacket and that includes color. Denim comes in many color and wash options, so you want to one that is flattering. The lighter, more faded denim will not look good on everyone, but thankfully there are varieties of washes and color saturation from which to choose.

It is always tricky to generalize too much about color, but here some basic guidelines to help:

  • If you have dark hair whether your skin is light or deep, you will most likely look best in a dark wash denim or a bright light wash (not faded and muted).
  • If you have blonde hair, it all depends. With lighter brows and eyelashes and light colored roots your best choice is generally a lighter or mid-tone wash. If you have blonde hair and dark eyebrows and deeper roots, you can choose a darker wash as well.
  • For redheads it depends. If your hair is more strawberry blonde then a light to mid-tone wash can work. If your hair is a brighter or deeper red then a deeper wash balances the deeper tones of your hair.

This is all SO general that it almost pains me to write it. I find color selections to be extremely individual so please use this only as a basic guide. Plus with denim you have to take into consideration the consistency of color – how ‘worn’ or faded it looks overall. Sometimes it can almost look dirty which adds some warmth to the color and that could be flattering on some people, but the fact that it looks dirty might not jive with their personality.

The hardware on it can also affect the look of the jacket. Is there a lot of it and is it obvious or subtle. Is it silver, gold or bronze…? What about the stitching? Is it gold, white or does it match the denim? Does the fabric look rough or soft? All of these things matter.

My main point is that some people see denim (sometimes even without distinguishing between the different blue washes) as a basic neutral that looks good on everyone. Not so. The wrong denim, especially near your face, can still wash you out or overpower you so choose carefully and with great attention to how you feel wearing it when you look in the mirror.

Here is an option that works:

Here is one that doesn’t:

Go here to find out why and see MANY more color combinations with explanations.

2. Make It Your Own

Sometimes the problem is not with the fact that it’s a denim jacket but more with the fit and balance of the jacket on your body. Many traditional jean jackets fall at the hipbone level. On many women this is not a place that balances their body. It can make your body seem out of proportion or you just get the feeling that something is off.

You hear me talk all the time about the benefits of the Fashion Fit Formula and this is one of those times! Knowing where to have your jackets end to balance your body is invaluable.

Perhaps you need one that is cropped like this one:

Or how about longer?

Like anything else a denim jacket can be altered! No, you do not necessarily have to wear it as is or leave it on the rack. Yes, if there are lots of buckles, buttons, zipper or pockets in the way it could prevent it from being tailored. But, a jacket like this, could be shortened:

Or, this one could have the sleeves shortened:

Or, perhaps you like the ruffle at the neckline (yes, I said ruffle!) on this jacket, but you don’t love it on the sleeves (or want it to be a smaller ruffle). Tailoring can make that happen!

See many more jacket options and my suggestions for who can wear them and even how to alter them here.

3. How to Complete an Outfit with a Denim Jacket

If you are wearing a foundational or outer layering piece that has some volume, length and/or float to it, then you will want to keep your pants or skirt slim.

If you are wearing one of the shorter, more fitted jackets I show above then you can wear an A-line skirt or a wider leg trouser.

Never, unless perhaps you are very tall and slim, wear volume on the top and bottom. It can bury you in fabric and will absolutely make you look wider than you are!

5. Think Outside the Box

Believe it or not, these days you CAN pair denim with denim! The way to make denim on denim work is very simple: Keep the washes and weights different.

For instance, you could

  • pair dark denim jeans with a lighter weight and lighter color denim shirt, or
  • wear a white denim jacket with any wash blue denim jeans.

Other ideas:

  • Do not overdo it: When wearing denim with denim skip the denim accessories and western themes or you run the risk of looking like you are wearing a costume.
  • Pair unlikely combinations: Denim looks great with animal print. Here’s one example:

Or, check out one of my favorite animal print/denim combinations on my pinterest page.

  • Add a pop of color: Use a colored denim jacket to add a pop of color to an otherwise neutral outfit. Or, wear a pair of colored denim pants paired with a blue jean jacket.
  • Wear a jean jacket with a long dress: If you have a bohemian flair to your personality, this can look amazing. See an example with this dress here:

Phew! This is a lot to take in. The major point here is that denim is great, but make sure you aren’t just following the crowd without considering how it actually looks on you. The right denim jacket can be a versatile addition to your wardrobe. Follow these guidelines and see where it takes you!

Please note: All garments pictured here (and in the catalogue) are vegan-friendly (made from fabrics that did not harm any animals).

Some of the affiliate links may generate commissions for Total Image Consultants which helps support the time spent creating these very specific recommendations.


6 Responses

  1. This is so helpful! I’m living in Japan and denim is in right now. I’ve never had a denim jacket and I want to try the look. I’m playing around with the three piece rule and I think a denim jacket makes a perfect third piece. Definitely going to use these pointers when I go shopping.

  2. I still am unsure on how to wear a denim jacket or if it’s even doable for me. I have a very small frame expect in the bust area (unfortunately) and I have almost given up entirely on wearing certain tops including denim jackets. Though they look so chic on most women; with me on the other hand it ends up looking all out of order. Either I wear a much larger size to accommodate my large bust which then ends up looking terrible because of the large size or I opt for one that is smaller and then am unable to fully close the jacket which also looks rather silly.

    1. With all the fashion magazines telling everyone that a denim jacket is a must for every wardrobe we sometimes think that we are odd if it doesn’t work for us. To be honest, not everyone can wear a denim jacket well. It partly has to do with body shape but also with personality. Denim jackets have a sporty, casual feel that doesn’t feel right on everyone. And, it is also tricky (for exactly the reasons you mentioned) for women like you who are larger busted. Denim jackets generally tend to be boxy which REALLY doesn’t work for someone with curves. You will want one that is curved in at the waist and probably a tad longer than the traditional denim jacket. Also, one that is in a soft denim might feel better, but that’s not definitely true. If you like the idea of wearing one, don’t give up. Keep looking and trying different ones on. Eventually you’ll find one you like or, even if you don’t, at least you won’t end up with one that just sits in your closet. Keep me posted!

  3. Hello there! I still can’t figure out what length jacket and whether loose or fitted, which would look great with both a knee length flowy dress or a pair of skinny jeans. I’m dusky, black haired, 5’3 and about 64 kg. Yes, I’m on the heavier side of the scale, and to top it all off, I am a pear! Please, I need help!!!

    1. A general rule of thumb is that if you are wearing loose on the bottom then you want fitted on the top and if fitted on the bottom (skinny jeans) you can wear something loose on top. But with a curvy body you want to be sure the top is not too boxy or you will feel overwhelmed by the style.

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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.