The Fascinating Evolution of the Trucker Jacket

The denim jacket dates back to at least 1905 – which version is your favorite? Plus 5 Getups!
the fascinating evolution of the denim trucker jacket

A modern Levi's Type III denim trucker, originally introduced in 1967

If you close your eyes and picture a denim jacket, you are likely picturing what the Levi’s website calls a “trucker jacket.” You know the one. The denim is either an inoffensive blue or a light wash meant to suggest actual wear and tear. The jacket has two breast pockets and two hand pockets near your waist. But most importantly it has that classic “v” stitching, running from the breast pockets to the seam of the garment.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the best way to stay ahead of menswear trends (I’ve found) is to bone up on your history. The best clothes, in many cases, have already been made. They won’t be found in outlet malls or at the start of the line coming from the Supreme store. Rather they’re hiding in attics and basements and now on places like Etsy and Ebay. The buyer in the know can sometimes find these jackets for a steal, but only if you stay a few steps ahead of the seller by learning the tell-tale signs of a valuable jacket and its history.

Today we’ll work our way back in time, from the most ubiquitous of denim jackets by Levi’s and its predecessors and then move on the other great denim brands of the 20th century: Lee and Wrangler.

levi's type iii trucker jacket

Levi’s Type III Jacket

The trucker jacket is really a bastardized version of the Levi’s Type III jacket, the third of three classic designs pioneered by Levi Strauss & Co. This jacket was originally created in 1967 and will certainly satisfy the lovers of the regular ol’ trucker.

The differences are subtle between a true vintage Type III or Levi’s Vintage Clothing reproduction from one of the newer models. They are built on the same foundation, but with minor changes. For one, the Type III is shorter than the later editions and fits slimmer, almost like a western shirt because it doesn’t have the hand pockets at the waist. Eliminating this excess bulk, no matter how insignificant, makes for a more authentic, vintage fit. In addition, vintage Type IIIs from before 1971 have a capital E on their red Levi’s tab. If you are in a vintage store and happen upon a Big E jacket for cheap, buy the damn thing!

The Levi’s Type III is a classic that fits ever so slightly better than its later editions thanks to the omission of pockets and a higher waist. While at its core, it is a trucker jacket, it has a subtle stylistic edge over what all the other dudes are wearing.

levi's type ii

Levi’s Type II Jacket

martin sheen badlands

Martin Sheen in his Type II from Badlands (1973)

Working our way backwards, we meet the Levi’s Type II jacket. Which is quite simply a gorgeous piece of clothing. The jacket is a totally different form of the trucker jacket. For one, it comes in a shorter, boxier fit and has pleats up the center seam on either side. It comes with two chest pockets and has adjuster tabs on the waist with which to tighten or loosen the jacket. Its actual designation is the 507xx, meaning that it was originally made from shrink-to-fit denim. (This having been somewhat phased out by the 1960s.) This model debuted in 1953 and is a strong callback to the styles of the 50s.

Elvis Jail House Rock Trucker denim jacket

Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock (1957)

The Type II is clearly a different jacket than the trucker, but it isn’t necessarily a risky choice. With its rather unique place in history, the Type II serves as a kind of bridge between the more niche, workwear roots of denim jackets and with a sleeker, more modern style.

levi's type 1 trucker jacket

Levi’s Type I Jacket

robert mitchum trucker denim jacket

Robert Mitchum in Till the End of Time (1946)

The Levi’s Type I jacket is the grand-daddy of the previous two jackets and is a bolder choice than the other two. Even boxier than the Type II, the Type I is a functional cowboy’s jacket made from a lighter, but still shrink-to-fit denim.

You’ll know the Type I (506xx) by its single chest pocket and the back cinch that allows the jacket to be made slimmer. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see that the Type I has those same strange pleats at the front that the Type II had. By the 1950s this was maybe just a quaint detail, but in 1905 at the time of this jacket’s first release, these pleats served a very real purpose, they could be cut open to further increase the size of the garment!

The Type I, with its asymmetrical pocket and vintage detailing is a classic piece of cowboy work-clothing without the kitsch. Beware, however; the Type I’s price! It is nearly impossible to find a vintage Type I for a reasonable price, so your best bet is usually to find a good reproduction if you really want to snag one of what is undoubtedly the boldest looks on this list.

Lee Storm Rider Jacket

Paul Newman trucker jacket

Paul Newman (right) in his Lee Storm Rider from Hud (1963). See more of Paul Newman's classic style in Icon's Closet

Brownie points automatically go to the denim jacket hunter who is already looking into the other two great denim brands: Lee and Wrangler. After all, it’s not just about Levi’s. Lee’s perhaps greatest contribution to the world of denim came in 1913 with the introduction of the Lee Storm Rider.

Marilyn monroe lee trucker

Marilyn Monroe in her Storm Rider on the set of The Misfits (1961)

Based on the standard Lee 101J, which was the first slim-cut denim jacket ever made, the Storm Rider has a couple of things that set it apart. First of all, it has a corduroy collar, which may seem a small detail, but does quite a bit to make the garment stand out. And while corduroy collars are a dime a dozen these days, Lee’s contrasting collar was the first. The second detail worth mentioning is that this jacket is blanket-lined, meaning it has a thick wool lining. This jacket is more than just a layering piece, it was, after all, designed to help cowboys ride out a storm.

A vintage Lee Storm Rider currently available on eBay for $49

The absolute best place to hunt down a Storm Rider is eBay, where there are many actually affordable options. And it is an absolute must-have, even Steve Mcqueen had one.

wrangler 124mj

Wrangler 124MJ

Last, but not least on our list comes the Wrangler 124MJ. It has earned its place on our list not just because it has been worn by countless style icons over the years, but because it has a personality unlike the other jackets so far discussed.

The Wrangler 124MJ is the spiritual successor of the 11MJ, the first denim jacket made by Wrangler in 1948, a year after the company’s founding. The only difference between the two jackets is that the 124MJ is free of pleats. This jacket has been made since the 1960s and is still offered on the Wrangler website. But there’s just something very charming about this jacket, something earnest.

It may be that there’s a hole in the left breast pocket for you to keep a pen. It’s a very pragmatic detail, but gives a sort of poindexter feeling to the jacket. With its four visible pockets, it’s kind of like a shortened, slimmed down chore-coat. The branding too, is unabashed, with the trademark Ws on the chest pockets and a tiny Wrangler label stitched not far from the pen-hole.

It doesn’t pretend to be so badass as the trucker and it’s not as Western as a Type I, it’s something in and of itself and easily found in vintage stores and on eBay and is available on Amazon.

John Lennon trucker jacket

John Lennon in a modified 124MJ

A denim jacket is an essential item of clothing and the options are bountiful. Before you pick up your laptop and credit card and sit down to make your next purchase, simply consider the many options before you. While people you may meet on the street might not know the difference between Type Is and IIs, they will notice the subtle ways your new jacket differs from that same-old, same-old trucker they picture in their mind’s eye.

Denim Trucker Jacket Outfits

denim jacket outfit men

Live Action Getup: How to Wear Work Clothes and Casual Clothes Together

Click here to check out the modern trucker jacket on Amazon for $69

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The Evolution of the Denim Trucker Jacket

Albert is a writer and actor from Los Angeles, educated in Poughkeepsie, and currently teaching English in France. He is a recent graduate of Vassar College and a lover of good clothes. He posts pictures of himself and his current favorite jeans on Instagram @albmuzquiz.

  • Michael G

    What I like most about your website is the history you provide when educating us about men’s style. The vintage photos of our cultural icons add that, what we like to call in Louisiana “lagniappe” that little something special. Great article!

  • Zac Silk

    Really loved this article and the history of the garments really sets it apart, in particular the smaller details that deferentiate each jacket. That’s something I look for when out clothes shopping, as for me the small details make a huge difference.

    Personally I learn towards the first getup but usually switch out dress pants for grey chinos to get a similar look.

    Either that or the last getup where I usually wear a hoodie under the jacket. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2be1f3f32a7ad61183f7da0506c56443144a2db655a4aa6aa875300ce2c726df.jpg

  • Joseph Padilla

    There ain’t no thing like a trucker jacket! It’d be interesting to have that Wrangler (Tom Ford models his jackets like this) or the Lee (that cord collar!) silhouette.