In Defense of the Canadian Tuxedo: The Right Way to Wear Denim on Denim

You’ve got the bottom half of your outfit set. Your best raws: perfect fades, perfect fit.  Your beloved boots: freshly brushed, only the real ones know. 

You’re happy. 

So happy that you forget.

A voice inside says “Hey …It’s Saturday! Go ahead make it a day. Wear all of your favorite stuff.”

So you grab more of the material you know and love for your top half and walk outside to face the world with your denim doubled. Jeans and Jean Jacket – at the same time.

The first few minutes are fine… better than fine. That’s because what you love about your leg jeans, you also love about your torso arm jeans. You can move well, the fabric cuts the wind but still breathes. You feel good. You look good

But then you hear it… two sharp words from a friend pop your bubble of textile bliss. 

“Canadian Tuxedo.”

And it all floods painfully back. Like some kind of Heritage wear Icarus, you flew too close to the sun on denim wings.

denim jacket history
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Hello, reader. Your old friend The Honest Brakeman here. 

I am writing in response to Stridewise’s article, “Just how denim jackets got so popular.” In this article, the author discussed the origin story of denim itself (de Nimes) and used her advanced vocabulary to walk us through the jacket’s colorful history. 

Thank you. It was insightful.

But I humbly suggest you may have missed the most important question. 

Why Isn’t the Denim Jacket More Popular?

You said it yourself in the article: The jean jacket (Not sure how I feel about them being called a jean blouse, as was once the norm) is almost as old as the jeans themselves. And while they are popular in their own right, they are no where near as popular as they could or should be, considering how universally beloved leg jeans are.   

As you know well, the heritage wear community is one of the more accepting fashion communities — the “rules” are loosely defined.

Materials matter (the more natural the better) and there are some other general guidelines including a focus on function, durability, craftsmanship, and history. Sometimes, fit comes in to the conversation (How hard are we tapering these days?) but for the most part there is a huge range of what is acceptable.

So why is double denim still such an issue? Why in 2020 is it still so okay to call someone out for wearing the Canadian Tuxedo? 

I have 3 leading theories and am open to your response:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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1. Britney Spears and the Shared Pain of Early Heart Break

I think we all remember this classic 2001 shot from the American Music Awards that rocked the jean community to it’s core. 

Justin and Britney literally head to toe in denim.

It was true love and jean everything. It was perfect but too good to be true. Shortly after this picture was taken, allegations of Britney’s cheating surfaced and the def acto champions of denim split. 

The two were the height of celebrity at the time and the fracture of their fairy tale romance caused a shockwave through the world of pop culture. The magnitude of the betrayal and the pain of the breakup and was too great for many to overcome. It wasn’t just our perspective on relationships that took a hit, it was our view of people wearing all denim. From this point forward people would have to choose… top or bottom… but never again both. 

2. Anti-Canadian Propaganda and a Guy named Bing Crosby

As a Canadian myself, I found theory number 2 the most difficult to accept. My national pride balanced on one hand and the deeply rooted (and feared) understanding that Canada just isn’t that cool.

A Google search for “Why do they call it a Canadian Tuxedo” reveals a few articles that reference a story about a hotel in Canada denying Bing Crosby access, due to his normal denim being deemed too causal. Legend has it that Levi’s designed a custom denim tuxedo piece for Bing that would let him wear his favorite jacket to even the most formal settings.  

So, almost 70 years ago (and exactly 50 years before Justin and Britney’s moment – suspicious) Bing Crosby wore a tuxedo cut denim Jacket in Canada.  The first Canadian Tuxedo. 

Honest question time: How many people reading this can name a single Bing Crosby song?

That questions isn’t meant to downplay his fame or cultural impact at the time, I’m sure he was huge, but he was no timeless style icon. I’ve never heard someone say, “Man, that jean jacket gives you a really good Bing Crosby kind of vibe.” When the celebrity champion of your style falls generations off the radar and the style is named after a Ccountry better known for hockey and being polite, it doesn’t really spark the rebel without a cause image. 

men in denim jackets and jeans

3.   People want to double down but don’t know how

While the first two theories can be blamed on the cult of celebrity, the third is on us. Over the years, we have seen the denim jacket attempted more ways than one can count. 

There is a clear desire to keep this classic alive but there is no clear cut, culturally accepted method of wearing a jean jacket with jeans. 

  • Do we match our pants or mismatch?
  • Can you wear black and blue together?
  • Sleeves rolled or sleeves long?
  • Baggy or fitted?
  • Raw/washed?

The questions have paralyzed us and as a result we play it safe. We choose the saddest option, we pick a half and we limits ourselves to a maximum 50% denim utility.

So which is it?

Why do people refuse to pair two of the most comfortable, popular, stylish articles of clothing that exist?

denim jacket guy with girlfriend

A fear of reliving the pain of Justin and Britney’s breakup?

A hesitation to style yourself after a guy named Bing?

Anti Canadian propaganda?

Or just general lack of how-to knowledge?

Maybe your answer is some twisted combination of the above.

Or maybe it’s time to admit all of the theories are ridiculous.

There have been countless opportunities over the decades for the style to die (and many other styles have) but the jean jacket jean combo lives on because at some level we know it works for us. We know it feels right. 

There may be reasons why the anti double denim sentiment has persisted. But those reasons are not strong enough to stop us from wearing what we logically should enjoy.

It’s time to put the stigma to sleep. But how?It’s easier to type the words than to break a multi generational trend.

Rather than attempt to draft up some kind of strategic plan for shifting cultural perspective I am suggesting we start small: I will outline a game plan for how to integrate this timeless classic in to your wardrobe in a way that will make even the most skeptical denim critic stand down.  

denim jacket and jeans

5 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Canadian Tuxedo

It isn’t hard! Follow these simple steps to bring the joy of the Canadian Tuxedo to your life.

Step 1. Own Jeans

Most of us already own jeans… If you don’t own jeans this might be a mountain too high to climb. You have to play in little league before you win the world series.

[Want to get into raw denim? Here are 7 reasons why Japanese jeans are the best]

Step 2. Choosing the Right Jean Jacket

The decision on which jean jacket to buy is an intimidating one for some. Like everything in the fashion world there are hundreds of varieties, representing the full range of quality, style, and price points. If this is your first jean jacket, I suggest you start by thinking about the following in order of most important to least:

Style

There are many styles to choose from but the classic Type 3 jacket, also called the Trucker Jacket, is an easy first step in to the world of jean jacket. When you think of jean jackets, this is likely the image that pops in to your head. There is some distinction between a type 1 type 2 and type 3 jacket, but it’s a pretty fine line that probably doesn’t really make a difference unless your are deeper into you denim jacket collection.

Alternatives: The denim chore coat can be a great option, with a longer body and boxier shape.

Fit

Fit is absolutely critical for a jean jacket.

You want the jacket to hug the shape of your body, but it’s important to know a denim jacket is not a forgiving one. Too loose and you are facing a very unflattering, stiff shape that will take some time to break in. Too tight and you literally have a straight jacket.

The big secret to fit on a jean jacket (outside of trying it on and paying close attention to size guidelines) is to consider what you want to wear beneath it. Is this a jack-shirt type look where you will be wearing it over a t-shirt? Or is this a layering jacket that you will want to wear over a hoodie? Remember jean (cotton) jacket’s aren’t as naturally warm as a many other types of jacket so leave room for warmer layers if that matters to you.

[Related: The 7 best hoodies for men you can buy]

samurai denim closeup
A close look at Samurai denim

Material

This is more of a quality check than anything else. When it comes to selecting the materials for a denim jacket, you are making the same decisions as you are in selecting denim pants.

For me, natural fibers are important, so 100% cotton is my default. If you prefer some stretch in your denim you can add something synthetic like elastane or lycra, but please stay away from the 50/50 type blend materials. These jackets don’t breathe well, they don’t last as long, and just generally miss the point. It’s almost always a fast fashion knockoff version of the classic.

Don’t let cost be an argument against 100% natural fiber. You can get a 100% cotton Levi’s jacket for next to nothing on sale, just don’t get the one with the fake sheepskin lining. I know Jughead Jones is a classic, but I would take a wool sweater over that fire trap any day of the week, even in Riverdale.

Color

When choosing a color for your jacket, remember our questions from above: Do we match our pants or mismatch? Can you wear black and blue together?  The answers are Mismatch and Yes. You can wear blue and blue together, but back sure the denims are a different wash that the contrast is deep enough to easily distinguish the top and bottom half.

The easier play is to buy a black jean jacket for blue jeans and to wear a blue jean jacket with black jeans. An alternative jacket color to consider is green. Green pairs well with either black or blue jeans and also works very well with brown leather (in case you are a boot person or something).

contrasting color denim
Not so bad when it’s different colored denim, right?

Brand (Price)

There is no getting around the fact that the popularity of denim has put a lot of upward pressure on the price of all things jean. When it comes to jean jackets this is no exemption. But that doesn’t mean you have to play the “who bought the most advanced sick fadeable denim” game to enjoy the Canadian Tuxedo. Instead of brand focus on the factors above and you will come out ahead every time.

The classic and original jean jacket is actually one of the cheapest option available. The Levi’s Trucker Jacket can be found here. Sales come up often so keep an eye out and target a deep blue or light wash for a retro look.

There are some higher end jackets I love including The Rogue Territory Supply Jacket and the 3Sixteen Type 3 Shadow Selvedge Jacket. Both of these jackets retail for $200+ but both have incredible stylistic details and a slim athletic fit that is tough to match.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Wear At the Same Time

You’re ready. It’s time. Welcome to the big leagues.

It may still take a brave soul to face commonplace double denim shaming, but it’s 2020. A golden age of social reform. I have faith we can turn this corner.

Seventy years after the invention of the Canadian Tux and twenty years to get over the heartbreak of Justin and Britney’s split — it’s time to accept the fact that jean jackets and jeans were literally made for each other. It’s time to wear our double denim with pride and to accept the fact that anything worth doing is worth double doing.  

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The Honest Brakeman

Hello! Very nice to meet you.My name is Bobby, aka the Honest Brakeman.Like many of you, I ended up here having heard and followed the sweet siren song of high end footwear, but I am a fan of all things well made and well loved. If it's made of leather, denim, wool, or wood… I probably like it much more than I should.I am a proud Canadian (having lived/worked in Alberta, BC, Ontario, and Quebec) so forgive my obvious bias toward Canadian companies.I have had many jobs over the years,  some in the field and some at a desk, so consider me someone who understands where aesthetic, utility, and durability meet to create value.That said, there is still much to learn which is what makes this fun.Today, I work in business strategy (desk) but also dabble in amateur leatherwork, something I am becoming increasingly enamored with. My goal here is to discuss our shared passion, ideally from a more playful less technical perspective — because it's supposed to be a hobby not a chore!You can drop me a line at: [email protected]

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