A Full Accounting of the Denim On Denim Trend
Monotone and Mono-texture looks are very much in fashion right now. Whether it’s a matching joggers and hoodie set or one of Kim Kardashian’s latex Balenciaga outfits, the trend is inescapable. Monotone may be a fleeting trend right now but there is one variation of the look that has stuck around for the past half-century: the Canadian Tuxedo.
The denim-on-denim pairing emblematic of the great white north has remained timeless because denim itself is timeless. The various shades of blue cut with white undertones that make up denim’s unique weave not only provide the fabric’s durability and elasticity but its aesthetic charm as well. Denim just goes with everything and that, my friends, is how it went from a utilitarian garment to one of the most prevalent fabrics in the history of fashion.
So it stands to reason that doubling down on a fabric that goes with everything will create an outfit that goes with everything, right? The answer is yes, but only when done properly.
A Canadian Tuxedo can be a powerful weapon in your sartorial arsenal because it can be the ultimate no-brainer, go-to look when wielded properly. Just keep in mind that the term Canadian Tuxedo is commonly used as an insult for an unappealing denim-on-denim outfit and that the look can easily go wrong.
History is full of very bad Canadian Tuxedos – the term instantly conjures images of Brittany Spears and Justin Timberlake from the 2001 American Music Awards – but it is also full of great denim-on-denim looks worn to perfection by some of the most stylish men to ever walk the Earth.
This breakdown will help you differentiate the two and, if you’re not already a fan, hopefully sell you on the merits of double denim as an effortless, all purpose outfit.
What is a Canadian Tuxedo?
The irony of the term Canadian Tuxedo is that blue jeans, denim jackets, and denim shirts are all American inventions. The pairing of these garments became popular in American workwear and western wear throughout the early twentieth century before spreading into American popular fashion in the back half of the twentieth century.
So how did our neighbors to the north get credit? According to a 2017 article in Vogue,
“Lore has it that the very term Canadian tuxedo comes from a Bing Crosby episode at a Canadian hotel in 1951. Crosby and a friend were reportedly denied entry to the hotel because they were wearing jeans, which inspired Levi’s to design a denim tuxedo for Crosby so that he could have a formal denim option. He wore the Levi’s suit several times in the ’50s, birthing the term—and the trend—in the process.”
While the term may have started with an actual denim tuxedo and a publicity stunt, it colloquially refers to any combination of jeans with a denim shirt or jacket. The top is usually a denim trucker jacket, a pearl snap western shirt, or a double pocket work shirt. A slightly more elevated look is achieved with a chambray oxford shirt.
There is no rule about matching the color and texture of the denim. For a full monotone look, you should match your pants and top as best you can. Though you can go for a contrast which would provide a more traditional look. Any pairing of denim top and bottom is classified as a Canadian Tuxedo.
When Was the Canadian Tuxedo Popular?
Head to toe denim began as a utilitarian outfit for workers in American industry and on farms and ranches. The crossover into popular fashion began in the 1950s. Around the same time that kids who grew up in the shadow of WWII were rebelling against the system with leather jackets and rock’n’roll, they started wearing bluejeans and denim jackets as fashion.
The pearl snap western shirt and denim workshirt, paired with jeans, became a fashionable look among mid-century country music singers because it was the uniform of the American working class that they sought to represent. Early rock stars took the look from them and helped popularize it to the rest of the world.
This transition is exemplified by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash starting to dress the same in the early 1960s after the two became friends. By the decade’s end, we saw George Harrison wearing a Canadian Tuxedo on the cover of Abbey Road.
It was in the 1970s though, that full-denim look took root in the Fashion Industry thanks primarily to Ralph Lauren. The Godfather of American Fashion started his empire by making ties but his signature look in the seventies became a denim western shirt with jeans and a herringbone tweed blazer, often with cowboy boots. He cross pollinated the American Southwestern culture he loved so much with preppy Americana he grew up with in Long Island. The two have remained intertwined in popular fashion ever since.
The 1980s saw denim explode into a vast array of shapes and shades, many of which are best left in the 1980s. Acid washed jeans and matching jackets became the definitive denim trend of the decade, often paired together. One of the most iconic film characters of the decade, Marty McFly of Back to the Future, rocked an acid washed Canadian Tuxedo with an orange puffer vest.
The form of denim outfits continued to change in the 1990s, ballooning in size along with suiting and most other styles. The rise of streetwear though hip-hop culture incorporated oversized Canadian Tuxedos.
Two major cultural revolutions of the 2000s brought the look of denim back to its late 1960s and early 1970s roots. The rock’n’roll renaissance, spearheaded by The Strokes in 2001, not only called back the sounds of classic rock but its fashions as well. Frontman Julian Casablancas wore beat up old jeans and denim jackets both on stage and in publicity shoots while the entire band leaned heavily on denim in their wardrobes.
Several years later, a similar renaissance occurred in menswear when the entire aesthetic was torn down and replaced by influences from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Denim workwear tops paired with jeans became a signature look of the time.
The Canadian Tuxedo Today
Popularity waned a bit in the following decade but the Canadian Tuxedo has come back strong in the past couple years thanks to a few notable celebrity endorsements. Aaron Rodgers, arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation, made several public appearances in head-to-toe denim during the 2018 and 2019 NFL seasons. These may have appeared as satirical outfits to some football fans, but the attention to detail in these fits reveals that Rodgers was making a legitimate fashion statement.
Then in January 2022, long time denim enthusiast Kanye West made the ultimate Canadian Tuxedo appearance with then girlfriend Julia Fox at the Paris Fashion Week. Ye and Julia’s matching denim fits were a bit more than any mere mortal should ever attempt but the legitimizing effect was clear. Love it or hate it, Ye has enormous power over the fashion world and he put the Canadian Tuxedo firmly back on the map.
So, in short, the Canadian Tuxedo isn’t making a comeback, it has been popular in one capacity or another for the past half century.
9 Tips for Rocking a Canadian Tuxedo
1. Stick to a two piece suit. You can find almost any garment made out of denim but when you’re going for the Canadian Tuxedo, stick to two items. Jeans and a jacket or jeans and a shirt.
2. Keep it simple. You can find practically any type of garment imaginable made out of denim but when pairing denim together, keep it simple with five pocket jeans, denim trucker jackets, and denim workshirts and western shirts. Leave the actual denim tuxedos to millionaire athletes.
3. Chambray counts. Essentially, chambray is a standard cotton weave dyed to look like denim. It is lighter weight than denim so it is better for warm weather and layering. Matching chambray shirts with denim can be considered a Canadian Light.
4. When matching color and texture, you either want your top and bottom to be almost the same or a clear contrast. If the two are close but not matching then avoid pairing them.
5. Brown leather is better than black leather. When it comes to leather accessories like shoes, jackets and belts, stick to brown. Black is less complimentary to most shades of denim. The bold exception is a black leather motorcycle jacket.
6. Class it up with a blazer. Tweed looks great with denim so a tweed blazer will add some class to your Canadian Tuxedo. Navy or charcoal pinstripes work well too. And ditto for a gun club check jacket.
7. Accessorize at will. Head to toe denim provides a wonderful blank canvas on which to place your favorite accessories like bandanas, scarves, jewelry, and watches.
8. The shoes are important. A full denim fit should always be complemented with a great pair of shoes. They can be all white leather sneakers or paisley velvet slippers but they have to be something you want people to notice, they can’t be boring. As noted above, eyes will be drawn to your feet.
Famous Canadian Tuxedo Wearers
Bottom Line: Should You Wear it?
The Canadian Tuxedo is not for everyone but the look has become so fundamental and timeless that just about anyone can pull it off. If you are comfortable in jeans then it is not a leap to pair your jeans with a denim jacket. It is a look that you can ease into, get comfortable with, then experiment with.
Once you get familiar with seeing yourself in denim on the bottom and the top then you can explore a wider range of denim garment pairings. Alternatively, you can settle into a combination you like and make it a signature outfit in your repertoire.
Levi’s and Wrangler are the oldest and best known names in denim and they are the best place to start when first approaching denim pairings. Their jeans, jackets, and shirts are affordable and readily available. Both brands make excellent pearl button western shirts, which is an ideal place to start your Canadian Tuxedo journey.
From there, the denim rabbit hole goes as deep as you want to travel. Check out American startups like RGT, Freenote, and Gustin, and Japanese aficionados like Chimala, Sugar Cane, and Real McCoy.
If denim pairing is something you’ve toyed with before then stick with it. Don’t think of Canadian Tuxedo as a pejorative term. It has been around for far too long and looked good on far too many people to be dismissed by any haters. You don’t have to be a blue collar worker or a farm hand for the look to make sense. Ralph Lauren has spent his entire career ensuring it will always be fashionable and in style.
If you do decide to take on the Canadian Tuxedo and own it with confidence, it will become a reliable fallback that you will always have waiting in your closet. Going for a casual night out or running some weekend errands and you don’t want to think about what to wear? Throw on a denim shirt and jeans over your favorite old tee with some low top sneakers and you are set.