Wearing jeans to work may, in some businesses, raise eyebrows with HR busybodies but it’s worth remembering that originally, jeans were made to work in. Long before Marlon Brando made them a cornerstone of your casual wardrobe, jeans were designed for miners, railway workers and ranch hands – labourers who actually needed to be clad in a hard-wearing fabric.
Granted, there fewer professions like that today. If you’re worried about 501s in the 9-5, chances are you work in an office where tailoring was traditionally the norm. Businesses may be getting more casual, but are jeans smart enough for the modern office? Can they ever make you look professional? Are jeans business-casual?
The short answer is yes, but it comes with a lot of small print. There are some (usually suited-and-booted) professions where denim will only be acceptable on dress-down Fridays. If you’re customer-facing in some way, your employer may not like it, either.
But there are a growing number of sectors where you can, with some clever styling, clock on in your favourite selvedge and still make the right impression. This is how it’s done.
The Rules Of Wearing Jeans To Work
If you work in a bar, or in retail, or as a Calvin Klein underwear model, then wearing jeans to work is a no-brainer. For most of the rest of us, there are guidelines to follow, assuming your boss – like your grandfather – expects you to turn up looking ‘respectable’.
First up, leave your ripped jeans at home. Rips and torn hems are untidy by design so they won’t work if the look you’re going for is Mr Dependable. Pinrolled jeans, on the other hand, can work with the right kind of business-casual shoes, especially in more creative offices. Derbies, Chelsea boots, loafers and minimal sneakers are all team players.
Wearing a blazer with jeans can summon the spectre of Jeremy Clarkson, but it doesn’t have to. Avoid wearing a suit jacket with your denim and instead opt for a more casual, less structured blazer in a coarser material.
Rather than a plain white shirt, try a check or stripe, or try something more casual like a thicker Oxford cloth or even denim shirt. Even better, wear a light knit instead.
How To Wear Jeans At Work
On the one hand, it’s surprising that you can turn up to a corporate job wearing something made popular by punks, but then we’re not talking drainpipes here. Slim black jeans – not skinny and certainly not spray-on – don’t really look like jeans when you style them correctly.
They can work with blazers or big statement overcoats. You wouldn’t wear a tie with them but plain shirts are fine. Black jeans also offer a solid base for something like a suede bomber or trucker jacket which, if plush enough, can also be smart enough for the office.
Keep the accompanying colours muted – greys, creams and more black are your best options, while on the feet, a pair of Derbies (suede, shiny or chunky) are your best bet.
Oh, and if we’re keeping up appearances, your jeans ought to be as black as the nigh sky. Once they start to fade, as they always do, demote them to your casual wardrobe where they should enjoy many more years before retirement.
– Ian Taylor, editor-in-chief
When denim was in its infancy you could only buy jeans that were dark indigo. This is raw denim in its natural state you see, before the jet black dyeing processes and heavy washes that turn them that shade of weathered sky blue.
It, therefore, makes for a natural bedfellow with the smarter, heritage classics of its time – think tweed or cream blazers which contrast nicely with the rich shade of blue, smooth dress shirts and solid-as-a-rock brogues.
Keep it classic with the fit too. Skinny doesn’t translate well to the relative stiffness of raw denim but make sure you’re buying jeans that fit. Nothing can put paid to your hard-earned office attire like spools of fabric at the bottom mopping up the floor. Look for a crop or just turn the hems up – a tidy little trick if you’ve got some spenny minimalist sneakers to show underneath.
– Richard Jones, staff writer
Not as stealthy as black denim and not as obviously off-duty as light wash denim, mid-wash jeans occupy a no man’s land in-between. So the fact that they’re not as failsafe as dark denim and not as risky as pale denim means that the rules for wearing at work are a little broader.
The first thing you’re going to want to consider here is subtlety of design. Choose pairs which go light on the whiskering and fading and don’t even consider rips, splatters, tears or fraying. That should go without saying, but it’s important to reiterate nonetheless.
Fit too is pretty important, your mid-wash leg coverers should be cut in Goldilocks fashion (neither too wide or too slim) with hems that kiss the top of whichever shoes you’re wearing. Pooling denim and bare ankles, both no-nos.
Luckily light wash denim will pair handsomely with other workwear staples. A black blazer and a white shirt and black loafers will work easy peasy. Similarly a camel cardigan, tan suede boots and a palest blue shirt will easily straddle that smart casual divide. If you’re in a creative office too, rejoice, because mid-wash denim is the dream companion for a boxy overshirt and chunky soled boots.
– Luke Sampson, associate editor
Out of all the various washes and colours of denim available, light wash blue jeans may be the least traditionally appropriate for work. This is because they’re largely seen as the most casual thanks to their light shade, and as such lend themselves better to off-duty attire.
For those with a penchant for raw denim, faded jeans are seen as a badge of honour – it basically means they’ve been worn to death and show up lots of lines and crinkles unique to the wearer. Most don’t want to go through with the pain of breaking in stiff denim though, and will choose to buy a pair that have been pre-washed and faded, either by hand or machine.
This is where the high street have dominated over more considered denim brands in recent years, offering up a range of different light washes to suit everyone, at incredibly cheap price points. So, if you want to buy a pair to work, there are plenty of options.
Depending on your work environment, you can’t go wrong pairing light wash jeans with slightly oversized knitwear for a subtle take on 90’s grunge style. Go for a bolder shade – red or burnt orange – and finish the look with chunky Derby shoes.
– Charlie Thomas, senior editor
White & Stone Jeans
White jeans are most commonly associated with philandering playboys and hair-rock bands of the late eighties. If you work at a company where that sounds like the model employee, then perhaps you should be the one doling out the advice.
Sadly, most of us don’t clock in at such forward-thinking businesses, which means you should think very carefully about wearing white jeans to the office. It can be done, but know that it’s an ostentatious look and one that won’t flatter everyone. But if you want to be noticed at the office, white jeans are practically impossible to miss.
The good news is that they pair nicely with more than you might think. Blazers, cable-knit jumpers, tucked-in shirts, cropped jackets and overcoats all get a little sprezzatura when there are white jeans below them.
Avoid the heavy contrasts of black or navy and wear nothing darker than a petrol blue or sage green. A safer option is to stick with warm, neutral colours: a mocha jacket, stone blazer or camel overcoat. On your feet, brown is best, preferably in a chic boot or classy Derby.
– Ian Taylor, editor-in-chief