The irony is that James Dean was considered anything but stylish by many of his Hollywood peers of the day. He turned heads and created a legend, not by dressing up– but by dressing down.  Established style icon Humphrey Bogart looked down his nose at Dean, considering him a punk and a slob.  On Jimmy’s passing, Bogart had this to say– “Dean died at just the right time. He left behind a legend. If he’d lived, he’d never have been able to live up to the publicity.” Bogart was right in that Dean was difficult, and definitely not a natty dresser– but his impact on style can never be diminished.

James Dean cemented the rebel uniform for his generation of youth, and for many to come, through his very personal portrayal of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. Immortalized onscreen in Technicolor wearing the now iconic red jacket, white tee, Lee 101 Jeans, and engineer boots, Dean seemed to hold the world breathless, and became the first actor to speak for the silent anguished teen– he gave them a voice they had been lacking. Before James Dean, onscreen you were either a boy or a man. Dean’s influence on countless great actors that followed him created some incredible performances, like Martin Sheen in Badlands, who owes Jimmy everything he knows about acting.

“Jimmy Dean and Elvis were the spokesmen for an entire generation. When I was in acting school in New York, years ago, there was a saying that if Marlon Brando changed the way people acted, then James Dean changed the way people lived. He was the greatest actor who ever lived. He was simply a genius.” – Martin Sheen

James Dean on the set of George Steven’s epic 1956 masterpiece, Giant. It was Jimmy’s last film, and was released after his tragic death behind the wheel of the infamous “Little Bastard'” Porsche Spyder. Jimmy was on his way with mechanic Rolf Wütherich to Salinas to pursue his other passion– racing cars. James Dean received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor posthumously, the only person to this day to ever do so– in 1955 for East of Eden, and again in 1956 for Giant.  — image via Hulton archive


In 2006, the original Lee 101z Rider jeans worn by James Dean (pictured above) were auctioned off for $35,850. Lee Japan has introduced a replica of these same 101Z Rider jeans worn by James dean in Giant for the Lee Archives in 13,25oz narrow loom, Sanforized indigo cast denim with its characteristic one-side selvedge.



James Dean as the surly and misunderstood Jett Rink in George Steven’s epic masterpiece, “Giant.”


The now iconic image of a denim-clad James Dean as Jett Rink in the epic western “Giant.”


Lee Japan is leaning heavily on the James Dean legacy in it’s advertising– promoting that the ultimate onscreen rebel tore up the scene wearing Lee 101Z jeans, as in this iconic image above. There’s a great read here on the Rebel Without a Cause denim legacy.


Iconic shot of James Dean in the rebel uniform that he immortalized– red jacket, white tee, and denim.


Dean in Lee jeans and white tee on the set of the Nick Ray teen angst classic, Rebel Without a Cause. Via


Dean in Lee Jeans, again on the set of Nick Ray’s epic teen masterpiece, Rebel Without a Cause.


Cultural icons Dennis Hopper and James Dean (in Lee Jeans) on the set of  Nick Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause”. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis


James Dean smokes a cigarette beside actor Corey Allen (Buzz)in a scene from “Rebel Without a Cause.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Feb 2009 — The boots worn by actor and cultural icon James Dean in the film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (1955) which forms part of the exhibition ‘Zapatos de cine’ (Cinema shoes), in the Santo Domingo Convent in La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands). The exhibition tells the history of the celluloid through the orignal footwear used by the stars of the main film productions. EPA/CRISTOBAL GARCIA — Image by © CRISTOBAL GARCIA/epa/Corbis









  1. Dear JP,

    excellent post with profound details as always.
    The last photo of the engineer boots reminds me of my uncle. When I visited him in LA in the early 80’s I noticed his small toe on both feet standing oddly upright. He explained that in 1955 when he was 15 living in New Mexico he had seen James Dean wearing such kind of engineer boots and he wanted a pair. But he could only find them 2 sizes too small. Wanting them so badly he bought them too small and messed up his feet. He turned 70 earlier this month. Lives in ABQ and is a very special person. Will send you some pictures soon.

  2. I’ve two pair of those engineer boots… i’ve been alternating their usage for the past 25 yrs…. can’t tell you how many soles i’ve worn out in those awesome boots!!!!!

    My cobbler winces when he sees me walking into his shop. 🙂

  3. Dear JP
    If there were a school for from dressing up and to dressing down I am sure the James Dean would be base for all standards to teach. From Bass Weejun to Engineers Boots, from Suits to Lee 101 z , White t-shirt and RED Jacket, every bit simple classy and strong impression. An impression that after almost half century is as strong as was in 50s.
    I have four Lee 101z , and 2 of them are of LEE Japan 101z 1952 (one is saved for future)
    The LEE 101z 1952 a classic, the silhouette the fabric and the unique fade of these 1952 models, on top of this it was worn by James Dean.
    There is no exact information which Engineers Boots were worn by James Dean, but I have one Pair of REDWING 2268 Engineers Boots.
    I would write my fashion education is over. I have enough for from dressing up to down. If there is more let me know.

  4. James Dean didn’t start or initiate anything. There were way more forces going on than ” Rebel Without a Cause,” or “Giant” could ever persuade or predict. I get sick to my stomach every time somebody with a little bit of influence tries to assign credit to hollywood for shit that has way more to do with white pride, generationalism, and basic culture.

  5. James Dean is the man! I’m gonna look for a pair of those jeans immediately. This is my first time on this blog but this piece on the king of cool will surely bring me back. Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan to even today’s Robert Pattinson has taken a piece of James Dean’s style. He’s my style “role model” if you will because as Neaman said, not only did he dress down like no other could and can’t, but also he knew how to dress up and looked mighty sharp doing it. Not to mention that back then everyone had their hair like Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra(slicked back and to the side). Jimmy brought about the very casual pompadour and revolutionized a whole new style. This guy would’ve easily been one of the best actors of all time, but in his short life he did great things and will always be remembered.

  6. White t-shirt and jeans is all he really needed. When you’re that good looking, I’m only stuck on the face. I stopped at Dean’s memorial junction a few years ago- it was pretty touching.

  7. Pingback: BEFORE ELVIS THERE WAS NOTHING. « The Selvedge Yard

  8. james dean was an actor that was heavely influenced by marlon brando,s classic look in the wild one and on the water front . dean dressed the way he thought marlon brando dressed and in the process created his own myth . james dean was no rebel he was hustler plain and simple just like every actor out there . he was and still is a heroe of mine but this whole schtick of him being a “rebel” is and has gotten old . he was no rebel he was just an actor had he lived paul newman and stevemcqueen would not have had the body work that they both had . by him dying he got turned into a brand cause he looked the part. god bless him though he did more in his young live than most people will do in their entire live . for that he has my respect . it should be james dean the “hustler”.

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