As one of the founding fathers of denim – and with almost 130 years of workwear excellence under our rodeo belts – we have a fair few standout pieces in our archive. But there is none so famous as the Lee® Rider Jacket – the world’s first slim cut denim jacket.
Introduced in 1925, this first denim jacket, called the 91J, was especially loved by early Railroad workers, affectionately becoming known as Lee’s “Loco” jacket. With it’s full-cut and single breast pocket, you can see how much the style has evolved.
1935 – 1939
1934 saw the birth of the 101J Cowboy Jacket, and a year later, the 101LJ, a blanket lined version, first entered the market.
Already popular with blue collar workers and cowboys – legendary Rodeo star Turk Greenough was a fan, but had his girlfriend take the jacket in for a slimmer fit. Inspired by this, the H.D. Lee Company set about designing a brand new slim style of denim jacket with cowboys and rodeo riders specifically in mind.
Introducing the Rider Jacket…
Dubbed the “New Lee Rider Jacket” it was promoted on a first come first served basis for members of the Rodeo Cowboy Association and Cowboy Association of America.
In the advertisement in The Buckboard magazine, you can see some of those iconic details: fitted and waist-length, there’s vertical pleating on either side of the centre front fastening, with the distinctive zig-zag top-stitching down the button placket, and breast pockets on both sides.
By the autumn of 1948 the new jacket was being advertised in rodeo and cowboy magazines with the strapline “Look at Slim in his New Lee Rider Jacket!” with a blurb highlighting the cowboy friendly style, “Pleated Pockets with Button-down Flaps, 2-way Collar, Tailored Sleeves with ample shoulder and elbow room, Adjustable Waistband, Corded Button Holes. Patent Pending.”
Since then, very little has changed – because why mess with perfection? – with those iconic details still there. This is how to spot a Rider:
Lee Rider Buttons
All Lee Cowboy Jackets made after their introduction in late 1948 have the Lee Rider or premium Lee 101 buttons.
The twin chest pockets are slanted for easy access – almost certainly for a pack of Marlboros.
The signature of the new fitted 101J jacket design included the zig-zag topstitching on the center front placket. Not just there for decoration, it reinforces the denim.
Lee’s Cowboy Jacket also featured an adjustable waist with a short tab and two black cats’ eye buttons.
Cut to 2018 – with the revival of 90s fashion trends and authenticity being the most sought-after value for brands and individuals alike – and the Rider jacket has never felt so relevant. A must have this season, and every season after.
Lee 101LJ Cowboy Jacket
1949 – 1950
Lee 101LJ Storm Rider Jacket
1961 – 1965
Lee Rider Jacket