WITH its classic, understated style, a denim shirt is hard to beat.
Having originated on the west coast of America at the turn of the century (along with that other staple, five-pocket jeans) the denim shirt is easy to wear, comfortable and made from an incredibly sturdy fabric.
Designed to take a beating, traditional denim shirts typically come with a couple of chest pockets and reinforced shoulders for added ruggedness, but contemporary styles have pared things back with minimal, more thoughtful designs.
These tend to have slimmer fits, soft collars and smart shirt plackets, working well as part of a smart-casual look. Whether you’re after a workwear-inspired western shirt or something a little sharper, we’ve got everything you need to know right here.
What to consider when buying a men's denim shirt
Denim vs chambray
Denim shirts are all about the fabric. A hard-wearing cotton that’s designed to be as durable as possible, denim traditionally comes with a blue warp threaded with a white weft. This gives it its distinctive look and texture, with the indigo of the blue fibres fading with time, ensuring each shirt takes on a distinct appearance.
There are different weights of denim, with heavier weaves better suited to the cooler months, and lighter ones more appropriate for spring and summer.
There is also chambray. While not strictly denim, chambray is essentially a lightweight version of denim that’s more breathable and more prone to creasing thanks to its thinner weave. You might see chambray shirts being described as denim, so keep an eye out.
That said, chambray shirts are great for the warmer weather, if you want to keep the look of proper denim without any of the heft.
There are plenty of denim shirt variations out there, but they can broadly be broken down into two categories.
The first is the traditional Western style, with its chest pockets, regular fit and workwear-inspired detailing. This is an inherently casual silhouette and is what most people think of when they picture a classic denim shirt.
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Worn by rangers, cowboys and blue-collar workers over the years, this style has a rugged look and feel, and works well with jeans, chinos and leather boots.
For a smarter look, consider a more minimal denim shirt. Plenty of brands have made use of denim fabric with their shirts, doing away with the chest pockets, the snap button closure and any reinforced stitching or panelling.
These shirts usually come with a slimmer fit and a soft collar, and work especially well with smart casual looks consisting of tailored trousers and leather derbies.
The best men's denim shirts, at a glance
- Best black denim shirt: Duke London
- Best value denim shirt: Joe Browns
- Best minimalistic denim shirt: London Denim
- Best luxury denim shirt: Levi's
- Best smart denim shirt: Abercrombie & Fitch
- Joe Browns Mens Vintage Denim Shirt,
£45£40 from Amazon – buy here
Simple in design, this denim shirt boasts all the hallmarks that made the style such a classic in the first place.
Made by Joe Browns, it comes in a vintage wash denim that’s taken on an aged look, and features two chest pockets, a snap button front and a shoulder yoke with the trademark ‘umbrella’ back.
The fit is regular so you can throw it on over a T-shirt, and the cuffs have a single button for a refined finish. Try it untucked over a darker pair of jeans, a white tee and brown leather boots for a timeless Americana-inspired look.
- London Denim Mens Classic Western Denim Shirt,
£38£36 from Amazon – buy here
This London Denim-made shirt has all the details you’ll no doubt be familiar with, except everything is toned down a notch.
There is more minimal styling, with no contrast stitching, a pared-down profile and dark blue denim material, which gives it a slightly sharper look.
This is the kind of shirt you could wear with jeans and trainers, but you could also dress it up with tapered trousers and derbies.
Adaptable and stylish, it might just be the only denim shirt you’ll ever need.
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- Barstow Standard Fit Western Shirt, £75 from Levi's – buy here
It’s difficult to discuss denim without mentioning Levi’s. The US brand first made jeans in 1853, making it the longest-running denim brand in existence.
Its heritage is unmatched, as is the design of its Barstow shirt, which comes with twin chest pockets, a rear yoke, and a playful vintage light wash.
- Duke London Kingsize Western Long Sleeve Denim Shirt, £20.50 from Amazon – buy here
A sharp, classic approach to the Western shirt, this Duke London design comes with chest pockets, a hardy black denim fabric and a classic fit that suits a wide array of body types.
An ideal casual layering piece, try it on its own over khaki chinos or underneath an overcoat when the weather goes south.
- Regular Western Shirt, £70 from Lee – buy here
Another one of the original denim heavyweight brands, Lee has been working with the blue stuff since 1889.
It’s more than likely the brand knows its way around a traditional Western shirt then, as proven by this take,
Finished in a light wash, it comes with a regular fit that ensures it’ll form the backbone of your casualwear rotation.
Abercrombie & Fitch
- Signature Icon Denim Button-Up Shirt, £52 from Abercrombie and Fitch – buy here
An example of the denim shirt in its smarter state, this one features a button-down collar, a regular fit and a lack of extraneous detailing, removing the chest pockets and back yoke.
Try this over navy chinos and complete the look with a pair of desert boots.
- Denim Shirt, £32 from M&S – buy here
For this denim shirt, M&S has gone with a super dark wash, giving it an almost black look.
The deep navy tone makes it incredibly versatile and smart, while the button-down collar and single chest patch pocket reference classic Oxford shirts for a refined look.
- Cutaway Collar Denim Shirt,
£59.95£29.95 from Charles Tyrwhitt – buy here
Charles Tyrwhitt shirts are impressive for a number of reasons, but most of all because of their fit.
Sharp and refined, the brand’s shirts are tailored to perfection, and this denim take is no different.
Made with light wash cotton, the shirt boasts a cutaway collar, the choice of a classic or slim fit, and rounded cuffs that makes it ideal for tucking into smart trousers.
- Chambray Shirt in Untucked Fit, £45 from Gap – buy here
While not strictly a denim shirt, this chambray version offers the look and texture of denim, without the weight.
Far lighter and softer than denim ever could be, this light wash, this regular cut shirt would look great over darker denim jeans and canvas high tops.
- Regular Fit Denim Shirt, £49 from John Lewis – buy here
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John Lewis is offering plenty of impressive menswear deals at the moment and this denim shirt is no different.
It comes with a generous button-down collar, a single chest pocket, a relaxed fit and a rear box pleat for improved comfort.
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