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 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 Jacket
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.
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 I Jacket
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.