It can be light wash or dark wash, patched, worn or crisp. It’s the perfect jacket: light for spring and worn heavier with layers for fall. It’s one of those pieces that repeatedly comes back in style, without ever really going out. It’s the jean jacket and it’s beloved by celebrities, hipsters and rock ‘n rollers alike.
The jean jacket is an American classic. It began to steal the nation’s hearts in the early 1900s when denim became a popular textile for Western workers. The fabric was beloved for its versatility and easy-to-wear quality. Jean jackets gained a larger fan base when actors like John Wayne and Bing Crosby wore them. This was one of the first times celebrities turned a common uniform into a fashion piece.
In the 1950s and 60s, jean jackets came back into style after they were adopted by (more) movie stars, perhaps most notably by James Dean, who made jean jackets look so cool that it was inevitable they become a major part of the Greaser look. Similarly, actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Birkin feminized the jacket, making it an accessible piece for women, too. During a time of stifling social conformity, jean jackets were a form of retaliation, a rebellion against social norms. They were less formal than other popular looks of the 50s (the restrictive New Look fit and flare silhouette for women, as well as shirts, ties and suit jackets for men). And their association with sexy celebrities was irresistible during a more conservative decade.
The jacket was revived once again in the 1980s when punks adopted the look, giving it an even more rebellious look—the wardrobe version of an anti-establishment protest. In the 1990s, jean jackets were reinvented for the hip-hop/pop set. The jackets may have been baggier, but the rebellious message has always been the same.
Jean jackets may not currently be the counterculture piece now that they were in the past. But their storied history makes for an important reminder to express ourselves in the best way possible: through clothing.
– Tanisha Wallis
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Tags: Bing Crosby, denim, denim jacket, Greaser Look, Greasers, haute historian, Hip hop fashion, History of the Jean Jacket, James Dean, Jane Birkin, Jean Jacket, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, punk, Punk fashion, Rebel Fashion, Tanisha Wallis, The Jean Jacket, Western Workers