The denim shirt: one of menswear’s true unsung heroes. This wardrobe workhorse lives in the shadow of so-called essentials like the OCBD and the flannel shirt, but it’s every bit as versatile, easy to wear and functional. We’d argue, even more so in some ways.
What we have here is a genuine workwear staple; a garment that’s been there from the very beginning and remained steadfast throughout. From the workshops of 19th century America to the runway, the denim shirt has risen through the ranks, unfaltering along the way. Today, it’s status as a must-have garment for the modern man is cemented and if you don’t already count one among your shirt selection, well, what are you waiting for?
Here we take a look at some key considerations to make when shopping for your new denim shirt, along with some foolproof styling tips and our hand-picked list of the brands that do it best.
Denim Shirt Buying Considerations
There are a few things to think about in order to find the denim shirt that’s best for you. From how it fits to where it’s made, these are the key buying considerations every shopper should make before parting with their cash.
Fit matters. In fact, it’s probably the single most important thing about any given article of clothing. It doesn’t matter how expensive or well made a garment is, if it doesn’t fit, you’ll still look badly dressed.
It can be a subjective thing, though. For example, you may be deliberately looking for a slouchy, oversized fit, which is fine. However, to play it safe and keep things classic, you should always be aiming for seams that sit neatly on the shoulders, a hem that falls a few inches south of your beltline and a body that is slim without being in any way tight or restrictive.
There are many different denim shirts out there, but most of them can be lumped into one of two distinct categories: western and classic button-down. Western shirts tend to feature accentuated, pointed yokes and dual chest pockets with snap openings. They sometimes (although less commonly) feature embellishments such as embroidery or fringes too.
The classic button-down style of denim shirt, on the other hand, is much like a simple OCBD, the key difference being that it’s made of denim as opposed to Oxford cloth.
Denim shirts come in a fairly limited palette. Outside of black and various shades of grey and blue, there’s really not a lot of choice. Which colour you eventually end up with will obviously be largely down to personal preference, but we’d suggest sticking to a mid- to light-wash blue for a combination of classic looks and versatility. A darker, unwashed indigo can work well too – particularly for smart-casual looks.
How To Wear A Denim Shirt
One of the great things about a denim shirt is that it’s easy to get right. Still, there are a few key styling hacks that can help ensure you nail it every time.
The denim shirt often gets lumped into the ‘casual’ category, but it can be used for smart looks too. Wearing a denim shirt with formal pieces is a great way to bring a rugged edge to your tailored looks.
To get it right, make sure there’s a good contrast between the shirt and the jacket/trousers. Light coloured tailoring works particularly well here – think shades of cream and beige, or even a stone grey. Another option is to use tonal hues, but whichever way you decide to go, make sure you pick the right colour shoes to match your suit.
The OCBD has a monopoly on smart casual, but the denim shirt provides a great way to shake things up a bit. Team one up with chinos, casual shoes and a blazer or overshirt for a smart-casual look that’s simple but effective.
At its core, the denim shirt is a casual garment. This means that it works well as part of casual looks – particularly those that have a bit of a workwear influence to them. Try wearing a light denim shirt with raw denim jeans and some sturdy leather work boots. Top it off with a gilet, a chore coat or a parka depending on the temperature and you’re good to go.
The Best Denim Shirt Brands
Convinced that you need to add a denim shirt to your capsule wardrobe? These are the labels producing the best versions on the market, from affordable to luxury, workwear to preppy.
Crafted from a premium and robust cloth from the renowned Albini mill in Italy, Luca Foaloni’s refined taske on the denim shirt will slot perfectly into any 9-5 rotation. An elegant choice, it comes available in two shades and features the brand’s signature ‘Paramontura’ collar, mother of pearl buttons and no added pockets for a steamlined appearance.
Shop now at Luca Faloni
Californian denim mainstay Levi’s is famous for inventing jeans, but it’s not just legwear the brand does well. Put simply, if it’s made from denim, Levi’s will be doing some of the best options out there, and shirts are certainly no exception.
Shop now at Farfetch
Danish brand Norse Projects is renowned for its well-built clothing that is designed to stand up to the harsh Scandinavian elements – with the ‘Anton’ denim shirt forming a key part of its seasonal collections. Cut from Italian cotton and featuring a classic fit and mother of pearl buttons, it comes in a variety of rich shades that will develop their own unique patina through regular wear.
Shop now at Norse Projects
ASKET isn’t the type of brand to mess around with vast, cluttered collections full of trend-led filler. Instead, it makes only the essentials, including its own take on the classic button-down denim shirt. It’s currently available in two versatile shades – stone wash and stone bleach – and three different length options to ensure a perfect fit.
Shop now at ASKET
Drake’s has long been a go-to for Ivy League-inspired staples, and the denim shirt fits right into that remit. The British brand’s designs lean slightly smarter as a result, offering a fine selection of classic and spread collars, along with lightweight chambray options for those who want to maintain the look when temperatures rise.
Shop now at Drake’s
Swedish denim brand Nudie has a longstanding reputation for making high-quality denim garments. The label has a range of denim shirts in various cuts and styles, and there are even selvedge options for those who are fans of the signature neat white edges.
Buy now at END.
Unrecorded offer a ‘permanent range’ that doesn’t change with the whims of the industry or seasons. This translates into wardrobe essentials made to the highest standard, in a sustainable manner. The brand’s take on the denim shirt is crafted from 100% organic cotton denim and cut for a straight fit that allows it to be worn solo or layered over the top of a T-shirt. Strong and durable but soft to the touch, this shirt is built for the long haul.
Shop now at Unrecorded
Specialising in rugged American staples, Buck Mason is a great option when it comes to buying a denim shirt. The brand is direct to consumer, which means you’ll be getting more shirt for your money and there are plenty of different washes and styles to pick from.
Shop now at Buck Mason
Parisian label A.P.C. is well known for putting its own clean-cut, minimalist spin on the everyday wardrobe essentials – something which extends to denim shirts too. Styles on offer here vary from season to season but will always be simple, well made and without much in the way of visible branding.
Shop now at SSENSE
Japanese label orSlow takes inspiration from vintage workwear and military garments, reimagining them with a distinctly Eastern edge. The brand often works in denim and although pricey, its denim shirts are some of the best you’ll find anywhere.
Shop now at END.
Lee has been crafting tough-as-nails workwear for almost 150 years, with a particular focus on denim. The label’s denim shirts are on par with Levi’s in terms of quality, heritage and price, making them a great alternative mid-range option. For something more premium, check out Lee’s 101 collection, which features Japanese fabrics and mid-century inspired designs.
Shop now at Lee