Which denim shirt is best?

Nothing’s more American than apple pie — well, maybe except for denim. Denim shirts are a perennial classic, and every wardrobe should have this casual yet structured top. After all, how many fashion items can you point to that either dress up or dress down an outfit, depending on how you wear it? 

From workwear to high fashion, there’s a denim shirt cut from the same cloth out there for everyone. Whatever the occasion, you can’t go wrong with Levi’s Men’s Classic Clean Standard-Fit Denim Western Shirt.

What to know before you buy a denim shirt

Denim in casual wear

There isn’t a day of the week that isn’t suited for denim. And when it comes to casual, the denim shirt is as iconic as it gets. Throw it on as a layer over a white T-shirt and slim dark jeans for that clean yet carefree weekend outfit. Or tuck in a loose-fit, long-sleeve denim shirt for a country look fit for a backyard barbecue or day out in the wilderness. 

Dressing up denim

Dress codes exclude denim as a casual line you do not cross for formal attire. But just because you shouldn’t wear denim to a black-tie event doesn’t mean you can’t dress the blue stuff up.

For example, denim button-downs are underrated in the office. They’re a crisp, structured and comfortable alternative to the usual stuffy suspects: slacks and starched cotton. Throw an unstructured jacket on top and you’ve got a snazzy take on business casual.

Denim shirt vs. denim jacket

There’s no doubt denim shirts are great for layering, but where’s the threshold between a denim jacket and shirt for this look? The primary benefit of denim shirts is that they provide a second layer that can stack beneath your outerwear. Denim jackets, on the other hand, are meant to be styled as outerwear. If you want the denim look inside, a jacket is too stiff and uncomfortable. 

Need something a little warmer? Try a denim shirt jacket. It’s the warm best of both worlds, so you can rock the Americana aesthetic without sacrificing comfort indoors or outdoors. 

What to look for in a quality denim shirt

Wash

During production, washing gives denim its strength and color. Just like your jeans, a denim shirt can come in all sorts of colors or washes for a whole range of styles. 

  • Indigo: Indigo is the classic deep-blue wash found in everything from workwear to modern denim.  
  • Light-wash: If you’re looking for a denim shirt to pair with dark pants, a light-wash denim shirt has that weathered look that won’t make you feel like you’re wearing a Canadian tuxedo.
  • Dark-wash: Saturated to the point that it’s almost black, dark washes thrive with bright colors that bring out the blue.
  • Black: From faded gray to pitch black, this wash is always in style. It’s the perfect combination of thick cotton texture with the slimming properties of black. 

Long-sleeve vs. short-sleeve

Long-sleeve button-down denim shirts are the standard. They layer, you can roll up the sleeves and they transition well from casual to workwear. But if you’re after that preppy look, a good short-sleeve denim shirt is what you need. These offer a little more structure, but can still layer. Button them up for a form-fitting look you can wear for a night out on the town.

Fit

What fit you choose will come down to the level of formality you want, and your style. Oversized denim shirts are a mainstay in casual wear. They’re easy to layer over T-shirts, or you can wear them loosely tucked in for a billowy, carefree look. Slim fits, on the other hand, flatter the torso and look fresh and dressed up untucked. Lastly, for a trendy boho look, opt for a long cut that falls below the waist or a frayed and ruffled design. 

Style

  • Classic button-down: This is the standard denim shirt. The material is usually on the thinner side, and if it has pockets, they’re sewn on without ornamentation for something that looks a little closer to business casual. 
  • Work: Rugged and thick, a work shirt takes inspiration from chore coats and trucker jackets. Work shirts usually have multiple pockets, reinforced plackets and tough buttons. This can also be called an over shirt or shirt jacket. 
  • Western: If you’re feeling like a cowboy, this style should be right up your alley. These shirts take cues from Western culture, featuring decorative yokes and hems, embroidery or even fringe.

How much you can expect to spend on a denim shirt

Denim shirts made from a cotton blend are about $20-$50. A premium-quality shirt is typically $60-$120.

Denim shirt FAQ

What material are denim shirts made out of?

A. Denim is made from cotton and uses a particularly tough weave to make a rigid and sturdy fabric. Premium denim shirts are made entirely from cotton. This can be a little stiff, however, so if you’re styling on a budget, or need some room to maneuver, opt for a polyester or Spandex blend.

How do I wash my denim shirt?

A. Denim shirts are machine-washable. To preserve the dye, turn the shirt inside out and wash on cold with a small amount of detergent. Don’t put the shirt in the dryer. Hang dry it instead. 

What’s the best denim shirt to buy?

Top denim shirt

Levi's Men's Classic Clean Standard-Fit Denim Western Shirt

Levi’s Men’s Classic Clean Standard-Fit Denim Western Shirt

What you need to know: It may have that Western flair, but this classic cut from one of the top names in denim is as versatile as it is stylish. 

What you’ll love: You’ll feel a little rock ’n’ roll in this shirt. It’s perfect for wearing buttoned up and untucked. Entirely cotton, you have your choice of dark or light wash. Dress it up with some brown boots and tuck the curved hem into some chinos, or go a little more casual with a layered, open look over a striped tee with some white sneakers. 

What you should consider: Some felt the slim fit made this difficult to size, so if you have particularly large or broad shoulders, size up. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top denim shirt for the money

Levi's Women's Jicama Tunic Shirt

Levi’s Women’s Jicama Tunic Shirt 

What you need to know: This is also from a well-respected brand in denim.

What you’ll love: Woven from sustainable cotton, this top is loose-fitting and a medium weight. The lighter wash lends itself well to double-denim outfits, and you could even wear it as a bathing suit cover-up.

What you should consider: It might be a bit too long for some. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Lauren Ralph Lauren Paint-Splatter Denim Shirt

Lauren Ralph Lauren Paint-Splatter Denim Shirt

What you need to know: Ralph Lauren splatters paint on this workwear staple to create something a little avant-garde. 

What you’ll love: From streetwear to country-chic, this paint-splatter top is perfect for layering. Designed as more of an over shirt, it’s pocket-free. The long sleeve plackets make rolling up to your elbows easy, and the structured collar pops nicely for a touch of swagger that pairs nicely with the slouchy dropped shoulders and relaxed fit. This is a great statement piece for a night out.

What you should consider: Paint splatters can be a bit much if you’re going for a more conservative look. 

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Karl Daum writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
 

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.