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How the Cut-Off Denim Jacket Became a Fashion Icon

The Cut-Off Denim Jacket Was Originally Reserved For the Real Bad Boys. So How Did It Become A Fashion Item?

With cut-off, or sleeveless, denim jackets getting some love again in recent years, we dusted off the history books to find out how this iconic garment made its way from the backs of bikers into street fashion.

Like many of the garments we cherish, it all started with a small group of anti-society opinion-leaders who turned a workwear item into an anti-fashion statement which, ironically, only made the item more appealing to the world of fashion. But, before we get to the ‘how,’ let’s look at the ‘what’ – the starting point of any original cut-off denim jacket.

The Only Original Cut-Off Denim Jacket

The common starting point for a cut-off denim jacket is the Type III. Introduced in the early 1960s as the 557XX, the Type III was Levi’s’ first real departure from workwear-oriented jackets.

Gone were the pleated front and the boxy fit in favour of a slimmer, figure-hugging cut, large pointed flap pockets, V-seam construction and a hefty 14 oz. pre-shrunk Cone Mills denim. Before the Type III, Levi’s jackets (such as the Type I and the Type II) were made of slightly lighter unsanforized Cone denim and sold as “working blouses.”

Type III denim jacket cut-off front and back
Type III denim jacket cut-off Big E red tab and buttonhole
Type III denim jacket cut-off patches

The details of the classic 1969 Levi’s cut-off denim jacket featured above:

  • Smaller rectangular leather like patch – introduced in 1969
  • Chest pockets reinforced with black bar tags
  • Larger ‘LEVIS STRAUSS & CO – SF CAL’ letters on the buttons
  • Buttons with flattened centre domes
  • Single row stitching next to the buttonhole
  • 14 oz. pre-shrunk Cone Mills denim
  • Double-sided Big E red tab
  • Yellow stitching on pocket
  • 525 button stamp code

RELATED READING: How To Determine Production Date Of Vintage Levi’s Denim Jackets

With a more than generous nod to the slim styling of the ground-breaking Lee 101J, the Type III was a hit with American youths. However, it also became a favourite among counterculture icons, musicians, screen legends and working class heroes.

How the Cut-Off Denim Jacket Went From “Rebelwear” To Highstreet Fashion

Starting in the mid-60s, the biker gangs of California began adopting the Type III and making it their own. They cut off its sleeves, and sometimes its collar, sewed club and area patches on to the back and customised it with various other patches.

They would wear it all day every day and never wash it; apparently, the grime on their denim was their badge of honour. When busted, the American cops would often wash the bikers’ cut-offs to wind them up, which eventually led to the move towards leather cut-offs.

The working class, anti-society, outlaw gang ethic was picked up by the street fighting gangs of New York like the Savage Skulls, Latin Spades and Ghetto Brothers who adopted the cut-off for themselves along with the back patches or colours as a identification of their club.

In the alte-70s, it was picked up by heavy metal fans and punks who wore it with studs, safety pins and DIY painted logos.

Make Your Own Cut-Off Denim Jacket Today

Lately, the cut-off denim jacket has been revived with new school biker gangs, cool doom metal bands like Electric Wizard, high street fashion and even high-end fashion all swearing to it.

If you’re planning on getting a cut-off, you could buy one ready-made. But, if you want to do it old school, we recommend you look for an original Type III and cut off the sleeves yourself, sew on your own patches and wear it as much as possible!

The jacket featured in this article was purchased from Rob at the vintage denim store H-Town Rags & Wax in Hitchin, England. 

Photography by Rupert Boddington.


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Rachid Vaitements August 29, 2015 at 14:45


Kevin Anderson September 28, 2015 at 05:44

There are many Type II and even Type I cut-offs in the old pics!

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