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How to dress like James Dean

Updated on June 10, 2011

James Dean was a true fashion icon

James Dean defined casual teen style in the 1950's. His fashion sense broke away from the mold of the time, which was very conservative and proper and had everyone tucking in their button down dress shirts and wearing pocket protectors to school. Dean was really the first young celebrity of that era who wasn't what people would later call a "square". Just watch any movie from the 1950's starring teenagers and you'll think "wow, those people are so corny and lame". Not so with James Dean. He was different, and he didn't care. Let's take a look at some James Dean wardrobe staples:

The leather jacket

I think it's easiest to start out with the most recognizable part of the rebel wardrobe: the leather jacket. Dean didn't always wear it, but he did wear it a lot. It's important to learn about what makes a quality leather jacket before buying one.

There's sort of a dead price range for leather jackets where you'll almost certainly be paying too much money for a jacket that's crap. That price range goes from about $70 to around $300. Anything below $70 and you're probably not buying real leather, and anything less than $300 and you're probably buying very cheap and thin leather that won't last a long time.

I suggest avoiding the leather goods stores in the mall and instead relying on what motorcyclists recommend. If a leather jacket in a bike shop gets good reviews, chances are it's really good. Those guys know good leather and they buy it to last, not to make a fashion statement for one season. If it's not good enough to prevent road rash, it isn't good enough for you.

The harrington jacket

In Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean wore a red harrington jacket. For an authentic look, go with the original maker of the harrington jacket, a company named Baracuta. The Baracuta G9 is the original harrington jacket, and they do sell it in dark red, just like in the movie, although there are cheaper alternatives. Just about every clothing line seems to have a harrington jacket.

White t-shirts

If you want to dress like James Dean, buy a bunch of white t-shirts. Not undershirts, t-shirts. They shouldn't be so tight that they show off you pecs and make your biceps look like they're about to burst through the sleeves, but they shouldn't be billowy either.

Blue jeans

In most off-the-set photos I've seen of James Dean, he's wearing Levi's jeans. I'm not sure which model, but I'd guess either 501 or 514. 514 is slim but not super skinny, while the 501 line has a little more room. These jeans shouldn't be baggy. If they drag on the ground, they're too long (feel free to cuff them if you can't return them).

For the filming of Rebel Without A Cause, Dean wore Lee jeans. I like Lee's and in my experience they've been very durable, so feel free to try them on and see if it works for you. The original pair that Dean wore for the movie recently sold at auction for $35,000. Don't expect to pay nearly as much for yours, as Lee jeans are considered more of a discount brand.


Another type of pants that Dean often wore are called chinos. Some people call them khakis, but khaki is actually a color and not a type of pants, no matter what Dockers thinks. Chinos are more casual than your average Dockers "khakis", and they shouldn't be pleated.

Black boots

In most pictures of Dean that were not taken during the summer he was wearing black leather boots. I'm not sure what brand he wore, but there are a lot of good choices. I personally like the Wolverine 1000 Mile boots.

A more casual James Dean shoe

For a cooler and more casual James Dean look, try the Converse Jack Purcell sneaker. These white tennis shoes have a canvas top and can usually be found for under $50. I would say avoid white and go with the "saltwash" instead, as it's more casual and doesn't look as bad when you get a little dirt on them. An alternative casual shoe choice would be PF Flyers. Avoid Converse Chuck Taylors, which look like clown shoes and for some reason are way too popular these days.


Submit a Comment

  • alocsin profile image


    7 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Not that I've ever wanted to dress like James Dean, but I think you've captured his look with the advice. Voting this up and useful.


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