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The Three Tiers of Denim Jackets: Entry, Mid, and End Level

Introduced by Levi Strauss in the late nineteenth century as a piece of practical workwear, the denim jacket has become one of the most ubiquitous and applicable garments in the modern wardrobe. A clean and simple staple, you can wear a denim jacket over a t-shirt on a cool summer evening, or as part of a winter layering ensemble.

Much like raw denim jeans, it can be hard to identify the differences between the vast amount of denim jackets out there. How can you begin to justify the chasm between the price of a mainline Levi’s Trucker Jacket and a Samurai Type I Denim Jacket? Don’t worry, we’ve been there, and we’ve got you covered with our breakdown of the three tiers of denim jackets.

This article is not here to say that the more expensive options are necessarily better, just that they have certain details that are more specific and often time-intensive to manufacture. Whether that’s worth the money is entirely up to you!

Entry Level (Sub $100)

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Image-via-J.-Crew

Image via J. Crew

Denim jackets of this level are basic options that you can find on the high street from household names like Levi’s, Wrangler, and J. Crew. Jackets of this tier will typically be mass-produced in a different country than they intend to be sold using a lightweight, non-selvedge denim and basic construction techniques. This denim will usually be 100% cotton but some brands will opt for a small amount of stretch in the fabric for comfort.

While most denim jackets follow the blueprints laid out by Levi’s three archetypal denim jacket types or other iconic styles by Lee or Wrangler, the options at this level will not be as focused on meeting strict heritage hallmarks as their more expensive counterparts. In fact, denim jackets at this price-point will usually feature a modernized fit that will appeal to a wider audience.

Regardless, many denim jackets at this level will still tick all the boxes for an everyday basic. If you’ve never owned a denim jacket before and want to work one into your wardrobe, you should probably start here to test the waters.

Notable brands of this tier include:

Mid Level ($140-$290)

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Tellason-Jean-Jacket-via-BlackBlue

Tellason Jean Jacket via BlackBlue

At the middle tier, denim jackets become more of an investment that will demand prices of around $150-250. Here you will start to see a much wider variety of fabrics, including custom fabrics milled exclusively for the brand in question. Opting for a jacket in this tier will leave you with a solid product that will be with you for years to come and improve with each wear.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Naked-&-Famous-infamous-'Elephant-5'-denim,-a-heavy-and-irregular-fabric-weighing-in-at-20-oz.

Naked & Famous infamous ‘Elephant 5’ denim, a heavy and irregular fabric weighing in at 20 oz.

As well as utilizing more labor-intensive construction techniques like chain stitching and felled seams, these jackets will generally be made in the same region in which they are sold by experienced craftspeople who have the ability to operate vintage machines such as a Union Special 43200G. You can also expect a stronger emphasis on hardware with details like custom buttons and rivets.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Freenote-Cloth-Classic-Denim-Jacket-in-13-oz.-Broken-Twill-Selvedge-Denim

Freenote Cloth Classic Denim Jacket in 13 oz. Broken Twill Selvedge Denim, available for $280 from BlackBlue.

You can find mid-level denim jackets at specialized denim stockists like Self Edge, Tate + Yoko, and BlackBlue. In addition to artisanal denim fabrics that will drip character from the start, jackets of this tier will be more likely to pay a measured homage to iconic denim jackets from brands like Levi’s and Lee through the inclusion of specified hallmarks.

For example, the Freenote Cloth jacket pictured above features zig-zag stitching down the placket—a famous detail of the classic Lee 101 Rider Jacket—and the Sugar Cane Jacket pictured below is a reproduction of the Levi’s Type II denim jackets of the 1950s.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Sugar-Cane-Type-II-Denim-Jacket

Sugar Cane Type II Denim Jacket, available for $290 from Self Edge.

Notable brands of this tier include:

End Level ($250+)

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Warehouse-&-Co.-2002XX-Blanket-Lined-Denim-Jacket

Warehouse & Co. 2002XX Blanket Lined Denim Jacket, Available for $755 from Clutch Cafe.

This is where denim jackets reach new levels and brands pull out all the stops to create pieces that will satisfy the most seasoned denim heads and vintage lovers alike. Makers of end-level denim jackets are predominantly Japanese brands that focus on producing reproductions of vintage denim jackets from top-drawer Japanese selvedge denim.

Almost every single fabric used at this level is designed and produced exclusively for the company in question. Oni is known for their ‘Secret Denim’, Studio d’Artisan for their Suvin Gold range, and Iron Heart for their ultra-heavy denims that produce stark, contrasting fades.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket A Stevenson Overall Cinch Back Adjuster visa Corlection

A Stevenson Overall Cinch Back Adjuster visa Corlection

The jackets at this level aren’t so much objectively “better” than the ones at the mid-level, they just have details and designs that you can’t find anywhere else. It is in this tier that you will find the most accurate reproductions and period-correct details like cinch back adjusters, leather rivet backings, and exposed copper rivets.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Custom-silver-coated-copper-donut-buttons-from-Stevenson-Overall-Co.-via-Corlection

Custom silver-coated copper donut buttons from Stevenson Overall Co. via Corlection

A perfect example of an end-level denim jacket is the Samurai Type 1 Jacket pictured below. Built from a custom 17oz. raw selvedge denim that packed with wabi-sabi irregularities and subtle nep, this piece is based on the Levi’s Type 1 denim blouson. Samurai has honored the original Levi’s specifications with dual pleats running adjacent to the button placket, a singular open chest pocket with exposed rivets, and a cinch back adjuster.

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Samurai-17-oz.-Type-1-Denim-Jacket-back

The-Three-Tiers-of-Denim-Jacket-Samurai-17-oz.-Type-1-Denim-Jacket-front

Samurai 17 oz. Type 1 Denim Jacket, available for $339 USD from Corlection.

Notable brands of this tier include: