If the inhabitants of mountain towns had an official uniform, the flannel shirt would certainly be one of them. Walk through nearly any outdoor venue, from Aspen to Asheville, and you’ll lose count of the number of men and women wearing plaid wool or cotton. I love a good flannel as much as the next bearded mountaineer, but sometimes you just need a change. Enter: denim shirts.
That’s not to say denim shirts are new. Rather, it’s one of the original tech shirts, which became a ranch staple in the early 1900s only to be quickly co-opted by Hollywood as a symbol of the Wild West. John Wayne basically lived in a denim shirt on screen. John Travolta wore a fancy one for Urban cowboy. Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley have all worn the denim shirt. Even Rosie the Riveter did it. It’s just that we’ve been wearing flannel shirts for so long that we’ve forgotten how awesome denim is. They’re tough yet comfortable, one of those magical fabrics that just get better with age.
Recently, outerwear brands have rediscovered the denim shirt, giving us their unique take on classic workwear essentials, from performance-focused options to cuts reminiscent of the 60s counterculture. Below, we’ve selected four different versions of the men’s denim shirt from four very different brands. Denim is back, baby.
Kitsbow Icon Denim Shirt ($249)
Kitsbow’s Icon Shirt, a multicolored wool flannel, has become a cult favorite among flannel lovers over the past few years for its durability, slim fit and technical chops. But this summer, the brand introduced a denim version of the Icon that has the same athletic fit and performance capabilities. The iconic jeans uses a three-way blend of cotton, nylon and lycra to give the denim fabric more stretch and mobility than a typical work shirt. Vented gussets promote mobility and breathability, while a mesh lining on the upper back helps manage moisture. The snaps give a nod to the shirt’s Western roots, but this top has a clean cut and feel that means you can dress it up for a date as well as wear it on a stroll by mountain bike. Like all Kitsbow clothing, it’s made to order at their North Carolina-based factory.
Outerknown Westerly Denim ($248)
The Westerly has more in common with the denim shirts of the 60s counterculture than with the original Western ranch shirt: photo Jack Nicholson in Flight over a cuckoo’s nest. It comes straight out of its soft and cozy wrapper and looks like you inherited it from your favorite uncle. Outerknown nails the fit – it feels roomy, but doesn’t feel baggy – and I’m confident the 7.25 ounce organic cotton shirt will look even better after a solid year of wear.
Orvis Lined Teton Denim Shirt ($129)
Orvis has a few versions of the denim shirt, including the Pure cotton wrinkle-resistant denim shirt, a dressy version to tuck in and wear with a blazer. But my favorite is Lined nipple, which combines a distressed denim exterior with a warm fleece lining. You might be tempted to call it a jacket, but the denim is softer than a traditional denim jacket, and I’m more inclined to wear this without a t-shirt on chilly days when I want to feel that fleece against my skin. The Teton has a looser fit than the other shirts on this list, so consider downsizing if you like a slimmer fit.
Tecovas Denim Pearl Snaps ($88)
Tecovas, based in Austin, Texas, distills the classic western denim down to its essence, with a detailed shoulder yoke, pearlescent front snaps and two chest pockets with pointed flaps. More importantly, they nailed the versatility of the denim shirt; you can wear it while chopping wood or fixing fences during the day, then take it off and hit the town at night. It’s thinner than the other shirts on this list, which I appreciate since I live in a warmer climate. I also like the small pen pocket hidden behind the left chest pocket. And Tecovas doesn’t just relegate you to the color blue either; options range from tan to crisp white, the latter being the natural color of undyed denim.