Buying a New Denim Jacket? This is How it Should Fit

Make sure you get this right.

Spring is here, and I have one item at the top of my shopping list: a new denim jacket. I already have a black one, so I’m looking for one in a regular blue color.

As with any new purchase, the most important thing to get right is the fit. Here is what I look out for when buying a denim jacket.

How Should a Denim Jacket Fit?

Before we start, I’ll make it clear that we’re talking about the standard type of regular jacket as typified by the Levi’s Trucker. This type of jacket has a relatively slim fit and is cut close to the body.

Of course, there are plenty of other styles out there, with oversized jackets being especially popular at the moment. These typically form a completely different silhouette, so many of the guidelines below won’t be relevant, although I have tried to address some points where relevant.

Step One: Get the Shoulders Right

Denim jacket fit shoulder

The shoulders are the most important part to get right. But they’re also easy to get right. All you have to do is ensure the seam lands on the edge of your shoulder.

If the size is right, the sleeve material below the seam will drop vertically when your arms are at your side, and all material above the seam will travel horizontally to your neck.

If the jacket is too big, the seam will stretch beyond your shoulder line and if it’s too small it will land before the end.

When checking your shoulders, make sure to do so with the buttons done up. Sometimes the seam will feel ok when unbuttoned but become too tight when the jacket is fastened.

Some oversized denim jackets will intentionally have a lower shoulder seam that drops further down the arm. If this is intentional, it’s ok.

Step Two: Sleeve Length

Denim jacket fit sleeves

Getting sleeve length right is another simple check—and it’s the same as with any other jacket. Just stand with your arms at your side and ensure that the jacket lands at the top of your wrists.

If it stretches onto your hands it’s too big. If it doesn’t go far enough, too small.

This tip covers pretty much all denim jackets. Even oversized jackets should fit well at the sleeves.

Step Three: Hem

Denim jacket fit hem

The hem is the bottom of the jacket near the waist. Denim jackets are often shorter than other types of jackets. You typically want the jacket to fall anywhere from level with your belt when standing up straight to an inch or two lower.

Some jackets will be intentionally shorter or longer though. There’s a really cool Diesel jacket in our list of the best black denim jackets that sits just at the top of the beltline. Then there are plenty of oversized jackets that fit below the beltline.

Step Four: Torso

Denim jacket fit torso

The classic denim jacket is typically cut relatively close to the torso. For the fit to be right, you need to button up the jacket and then look for two things.

The first is that there is no excess room or material on the jacket. You want around a couple of extra inches of space when you grab the jacket. Second is that no part of the jacket stretches when done up. An easy way to see if the jacket is stretching is to look at the buttons. If they fall in a straight line down your body, then the fit is good. If they aren’t straight, it means part of your jacket is stretching.

Finding the balance between these points can be tough, and you may have to try on a couple of different fits are styles. You’ll also have to consider what you plan to wear the jacket with. If you want to wear it with a sweater or hoody, then you’ll have to remember how that will affect sizing.

How to Make a Denim Jacket Fit Better

All these tips are useful if you’re buying a fresh denim jacket. But how about if you already own one and you’ve realized that it no longer fits as well as it once did.

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to get the fit to a passable level.

The first is to simply leave the jacket undone. Wearing your jacket undone is far more forgiving than wearing it buttoned, especially if your problem is that the jacket is too small. You won’t notice issues with fit around the torso and the shoulders will be more forgiving too.

If the sleeves don’t fit, consider rolling them up. This works when the jacket sleeves are both too short and too long. By intentionally making the sleeves shorter, no one will know that it is actually too short. Another option is to undo the button at the sleeves so it’s open and then wear a sweater or shirt underneath that does actually fit.

denim jacket rolled-up sleeves

Another tip is to change what you wear underneath. Wearing a sweater will help will out jackets that are too big, while choosing thin pieces like t-shirts will remove space for jackets that are too small.

A waistline that’s too short is a tough problem to solve, but even that isn’t beyond saving. For example, you could wear a pair of pants or jeans with a higher pants rise so the belt-line is higher than it would be otherwise. Here’s a great example of that in action.

Common Denim Jacket Fit Questions

Should You Size Up or Size Down When Buying a Denim Jacket?

Honestly, this question is far too general as there are so many different styles of jacket. The key is to buy a size that fits based on the points above. Personally, I have two denim jackets from Zara and Levi’s, and they are both my regular size.

Should a Denim Jacket be Tight?

Trucker-style denim jackets tend to cut quite close to the body. But, the material shouldn’t be so tight that it stretches when you wear it.

Do Denim Jackets Loosen Up?

A little. Like jeans, denim jackets will soften a little as you wear them. This won’t have a big impact on the fit, though, so you shouldn’t buy a small jacket assuming that it will become larger.

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Duncan Elder

Duncan is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Boardwalk. He's a menswear writer who has spent the last 15 years developing his own sense of style, which lies at the cross-section of mid-noughties indie and Uniqlo-inspired minimalism.

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