Buying Guide to Well-Made and Essential Raw Denim Jackets
Levi’s introduced its first denim jacket in 1880, and jeans and denim jackets have been joined at the hip ever since. The denim jacket is a rugged staple, and no denim collection is complete without at least one or two of them.
In a rush, just want the list?
If you still haven’t taken the plunge into the world of denim jackets, or if you’ve been pairing your top-shelf raw selvedge jeans with a flimsy denim jacket, this guide is for you.
Read on to find out why a well-made denim jacket is essential and how to spot a quality item. Below that, you’ll find eight raw denim jackets that will be at home in any discerning denimhead’s rotation.
What we cover in this guide:
- Why a well-made raw denim jacket is essential
- How to identify a well-made raw denim jacket
- Our list of well-made raw denim jacket that we recommend
If you want to know more about why we created these guides, please read our Manifesto. If you want to understand the criteria we apply for each item, read our definitions of ‘well-made’ and ‘essential’.
An honest disclosure: There are affiliate links in our guides. We earn a small commission when you click any of these links and buy something. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it helps us continue the important work we’re doing. Availability and price of the products we recommend are subject to change.
Why a Well-Made Raw Denim Jacket Is Essential
A well-made denim jacket isn’t essential simply because we say it is. It’s not even essential because everybody has one. Raw denim jackets (especially well-made ones) are essential because they are both timeless and adaptable.
A Raw Denim Jacket Is Timeless
Whether it is a Type II or III, a Storm Rider or a modern take on one of the classic forms, the denim jacket is the centrepiece in countless iconic and timeless workwear looks. The look is so iconic, so effortlessly cool, that everybody wants a piece of it. Nearly every brand that dabbles in denim has produced some version of the denim jacket—most of them falling significantly short of the mark.
Sure, you can get into a mass-produced denim jacket for about the same price you’d pay for a large pizza, but this is missing the point. Denimheads know these stonewashed knockoffs can’t hold a candle to the genuine, well-made article.
We may have to cough up a bundle for a well-made raw denim jacket, but we know that we’re paying for a timeless, iconic piece that will get more and more beautiful with each passing year. As an essential menswear piece, the denim jacket isn’t going anywhere.
A Raw Denim Jacket Is Adaptable
In terms of adaptability, the denim jacket once again trails just behind jeans. It lends itself exceptionally well to layered looks. Usually, it’s the cherry on top, the pièce de résistance, the exclamation point on a carefully considered workwear outfit.
It might not go with everything—it’s jarring when paired with dress slacks or crisp dress shirts—but there’s virtually nothing in the workwear category that won’t pair effortlessly with a well-made denim jacket.
How To Identify a Well-Made Raw Denim Jacket
From across the street, a well-made raw denim jacket might not stand out from its mass-market counterparts. Get up close and personal with one, though, and the details start to leap out at you. Want to know how to tell the difference between the pretenders and the genuine articles? Here’s what to look for.
What It’s Made Of
Like jeans, a well-made denim jacket only deserves the name when the care that has gone into making the garment extends all the way back to the fibres of which it’s made. You might not be able to tell whether you’re dealing with long-staple cotton at first glance, but you should be able to tell that the denim has character.
What do we mean by character? First, there should be some substance. Weight doesn’t necessarily translate to quality, but most makers in this space tip the scales in the direction of heavier denim. All of the jackets we’ve included on the list below have some heft to them. They don’t have to be superheavyweights to be well made, but there should be some there there, if you know what I mean.
There should also be some depth in the denim. Cheap denim is uniformly blue. The dye has penetrated to the core of the thin yarn. Look closely at a well-made denim garment and you’ll see a delicate balance between warp and weft fibres. This irregularity is the mark of character, and it’s what comes to the surface as the garment fades.
What to look for in a well-made raw denim jacket:
- Character (slightly uneven texture)
- Weight (12 oz.+)
- Rigid (if it’s not lined, it should not be comfortable off the rack)
- Leather patch
How It’s Made
Take a close look at the stitching at the stress points like the shoulders. If you tug on the sleeves, does the stitching give at all? Are all the stitches clean and tight? Is the hardware thin and flimsy, or does it feel sturdy? Do buttons feel loose (as though you could pull them out of the denim with one good tug), or does the jacket feel indestructible?
Most importantly, does the garment feel like a masterpiece of both design and construction? Are the stitches just there to hold the denim together, or can you see the artisan’s eye at work in every stitch? Has every detail of the jacket been designed, or has it simply been made?
Finally, how is the fit? A well-made denim jacket (in the right size) should sit on your belt line, or perhaps just below it. The point at which the sleeves and the body of the jacket meet should sit comfortably at the top of your shoulders.
If the denim is unsanforized, this fit will change dramatically the first time you introduce it to water (and keep changing with subsequent washes), but an ill-fitting jacket, unsanforized or not, won’t become a good-fitting one when you wash it.
Raw jacket construction details to look for:
- Tight and firm at the stress points (shoulders)
- Heavy-duty hardware
- Stitching that feels intentional
- Perfect fit
Why It’s Made
A well-made raw denim jacket is made to fade. It’s made to be a lasting piece that can stand up to as much abuse as you can throw at it. It’s not meant to be babied. It’s meant to be thrown into the world and, no matter how the world spins and turns, to come out the other side looking even better than the day you bought it.
This intention can be felt in the weight and the construction, but also in how the brand presents itself. Brands that specialise in sophisticated urban looks rarely set about making a jacket with this kind of intention. Workwear brands build their reputation on their ability to align the intention with which they make their garments and the reasons that their customers buy and wear them.
The brands that lead in this space put fades first. Every part of the design process considers how the garment will become more beautiful over time, and this is exactly what a well-made raw denim jacket will do.
8 Well-Made and Essential Raw Denim Jackets
Every denim lover needs a well-made denim jacket in their closet, but we’re spoiled for choice. We’re here to help you narrow down your options, so, when you’re ready to make that leap into a well-made denim jacket, you can do so knowing that you’ve made the right choice.
Here are eight well-made denim jackets that we’d stake our reputation on:
You’ll see Iron Heart items on quite a few of our essential guides, and, for those who’ve been around the well-made block a few times, it’s no mystery why.
Iron Heart’s version of the iconic Levi’s Type III jacket might be the best version of the denim jacket anywhere. The heavyweight 22 oz. denim is tough enough that it might outlast you. If you don’t pass it down to the next generation, you can always be buried in it.
- 22 oz. selvedge denim
- 100% made in Japan
- Brown weft (for “dirty” fades)
- Internal felled seams
- Sanforized and one-washed, little to no shrinkage to be expected
- No hand-warmer pockets, so don’t forget your gloves!
Iron Heart ship from the UK or the US. If they are sold out, or if you are looking for other places to buy Iron Heart, check out: Sonder Supplies (UK), Franklin & Poe (US), Brooklyn (Canada), Corlection (Australia), Brund (Denmark)
Close your eyes and picture a denim jacket. For most people, one of two images will appear to their mind’s eye: either the Type III or the Storm Rider.
Unlike the Type III, the Storm Rider was designed to work more like a jacket than an outer shell. With its trademark corduroy collar, zig-zag stitching and blanket lining, it’s been keeping cowboys and outdoorsmen simultaneously warm and stylish since 1949.
- 14 oz. selvedge denim
- Left-hand twill
- Japanese denim produced by Kaihara
- Corduroy collar
- Blanket lining in both body and sleeves
- Updated modern slim fit
- Gets great fades!
Other Lee models to consider: 101 Rider Jacket (unlined)
A favourite name among diehard denim enthusiasts, California-based Mister Freedom is the brainchild of French-born Christophe Loiron, who recalls America’s halcyon age with his designs.
He believes that denim should only be placed in the hands of consumers in its raw state, and his customers are with him all the way.
The Ranch Blouse quickly became an iconic item for denim enthusiasts looking for something that cuts a distinct path through the denim landscape. The trademark ‘M’ stitches will mark you as a denim enthusiast with an eye for difference.
- 16 oz. Midnight Denim
- Made in the USA
- Selvedge denim milled in Japan
- Dark indigo warp and black weft
- Vintage boxy cut
- Pleated front and buckle back
- Brass cast branded tack buttons
- Black tea-core leather patch
Clutch Café ship from the UK. If they are sold out, or you’re looking for other places to buy Mister Freedom, try: Mister Freedom (US), Franklin & Poe (US), Standard & Strange (US), Blue Works (Australia), Martime Antiques & (Denmark), Stuff (Germany)
Down to the smallest details, Real McCoy’s painstakingly recreates iconic workwear pieces. This goes far beyond recreating the look of vintage denim.
With painstaking research and development, with the aid of vintage looms, they’ve come as close as anybody can come to producing a Type II denim jacket that is in every way identical to the ones that Levi’s produced between 1953 and 1962.
If you can’t afford the genuine article (and few can), the Real McCoy’s version is as close as you can get.
- 14.5 oz. selvedge denim
- Made in Japan
- Denim produced on vintage looms
- Iron front fly buttons
- Copper rivets
- Horsehide leather patch
Clutch Café ship from the UK. If they are sold out, or if you’re looking for other places to buy Real McCoy’s, visit these retailers: Lost & Found (Canada), The Real McCoy’s international (UK), directly from Real McCoy’s (Japan), Standard & Strange (US)
The iconic stitching on one of the Levi’s-based classics or the Storm Rider isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. For those who long for clean lines and an almost unbroken denim surface, Freenote Cloth’s RJ2 Shearling jacket might be just the ticket.
Complete with a shearling lining and collar, it’s an understated Made-in-the-US classic perfect for northerners (or southerners who want to sweat off a kilo or two).
The combination of 20 oz. denim and the ultra-warm lining make this one of the heaviest contenders on this list—sure to outlast whatever you can throw at it.
- 20 oz. selvedge denim
- Constructed in the US
- Real shearling lining and collar
- Custom metal trims
- Red Wing Heritage leather patch
- Action back with elastic bands in the gussets
- Extra heavy Universal Zipper Japan
Freenote Cloth ship from the USA. If they are sold out, or if you’re looking for other places to buy the brand, start with these: Franklin & Poe (US), American Classics London (UK), Stuff (Germany), Populess (Canada)
This classic in the making is a stand-out piece from Ginew’s line of eye-catching Native-Americana. As the only Native American-owned denim line out there, the brand can stand tall on its principles—all of which are on full display with their Thunderbird Coat.
The liner was woven exclusively for the brand by Pendleton, and it contrasts beautifully with the 13.75 oz. Nihon Menpu selvedge denim. A hidden surprise is waiting for the patient wearer. Hidden in the left cuff is a chain-stitched thunderbird that will reveal itself as the jacket ages.
- 13.75 oz. Nihon Menpu selvedge denim
- 32 oz. Pendleton wool lining
- Hunted deer-skin rough out collar
- Silk quilted sleeve lining
- Thunderbird chain stitching on left cuff
- Constructed in US
Ginew ship from the US. from Other places to buy Ginew: Göteborg Manufaktur (Sweden)
The key point of difference between denim jackets has always been pocket placement. It’s hard to mistake Tellason’s Coverall Jacket for any of the other pieces out there because of the pockets.
There are, count ‘em, five pockets on the front of the jacket, plus an extra one on the inside of the jacket. As with most of Tellason’s productions, the combination of American craftsmanship and Japanese denim has produced a timeless winner. The fades that emerge along the diagonal chest pocket make this piece worthy of years of cool-weather wear.
- 14.75 oz. proprietary Kaihara selvedge denim
- Brown sherpa lining
- Quilted sleeves
- Reinforced newspaper pocket stress point
- Free pencil!
- Constructed in San Francisco, California
Before denim became synonymous with rock and roll music and motorcycles, it was the workaday fabric for America’s blue-collar workers.
Conner’s Sewing Factory produces immaculate reproductions of these early pieces, and their pieces feature prominently on the bucket lists of die-hard denim nuts.
You’ll pay a pretty penny to get into one of these, but if it’s sepia-toned vintage looks you’re shooting for, One Piece of Rock hits the target dead centre.
- 13.5 oz. selvedge denim
- Made in Japan
- Constructed by master craftsmen in Kojima
- Each piece is constructed by a single artisan (signed and dated by hand)
- Sewn on vintage sewing machines
- Laminated leather of authenticity
- Sleeves made from a single piece of denim
- Cowhide patch
Other One Piece of Rock jackets to consider: S406XXX M-WW2 San Francisco (Simplified wartime design)
The jacket will ship from Japan. Other places to buy One Piece of Rock: Clutch Cafe (UK)
Got the Jacket? Get the Jeans and Flannel!
No denim jacket is complete without a pair of well-made raw selvedge jeans. We’ve identified ten essential pairs that every denimhead should at least consider. If you’ve already got the jeans, check out our list of heavy-duty flannels to complete the look.