The New Business Casual: How to Wear Jeans to Work

Over recent years, you may have noticed your office dress code has been changing. The more traditional “business casual” code that called for suits and blazers, dress pants and ties is slowly giving way to a denim-driven casual way of dressing. But even as offices are re-writing the rules in favor of comfort, not just any pair of jeans will do. There are some easy guidelines to doing denim in the workplace, and you’ll find they are very similar to the rules you followed when choosing more formal attire. It is still important (and advantageous) to look your best, polished and put together. It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming all jeans are created equal – light or dark, slim or baggy, new or old – but it’s just not the case.

An easy first rule of thumb is to avoid light denim all together. If you are considering replacing your dress pants with denim (and we suggest you do!), it’s best to start with a pair that will best resemble a nice pair of pants. This means choosing something with minimal fading and distressing, something that is a dark indigo, gray, or black. You’ll find denim in these shades and washes will look the best paired with your current work wardrobe. Tucked in button-down shirts, sweaters, blazers and dress shoes will all look equally at home with a dark pair of jeans.

Another important element when considering incorporating denim into your work wardrobe is fit. Dressed-up denim should fit differently than your casual jeans – the tailoring should resemble that of your suit pants and chinos. Avoid leaving the inseam too long, which causes the legs to pool up on top of your shoes in a sloppy way. Also make sure you are buying jeans that aren’t too loose fitting or oversized. A fit that is initially slightly snug is often suggested, as all denim will stretch and break in with your first few wears. Since you’ll be wearing dress shoes with these jeans, it would be best to go with a style that has a slightly smaller leg opening. Bootcut or wide leg fits will oftentimes dwarf lower profile shoes like dress oxfords or loafers in an undesirable way. A couple of great fit options are the Lee Modern Series Straight Leg and the Modern Series Slim Straight.

Finally, you’ll want to choose jeans that have subtle details. This doesn’t mean your jeans can’t have any character or unique traits, but when it comes to back pocket designs, stitching color, and fabric you’ll want to err on the side of subtlety. You still want your work wardrobe to communicate professionalism and maturity, and nothing can contradict that quicker than gaudy stitching or over-the-top details.

Now that we have hit on a few focal points in your search for the right jeans to work into your office attire, here are a few styling tips to help get you started:

Suit Jackets Don’t Always Work With Jeans
In fact, they usually don’t! Suit jackets are traditionally longer than a lot of blazers, which can be flattering when worn with pants made in the same fabrics with complementary proportions. However, the fabric and design of a suit jacket can come off as too formal for wearing with denim. For that reason, a modern blazer really fits the bill. They are shorter, which looks nice with the lower rise of a pair of jeans, and the casual fabrics that blazers often come in (cotton, heavier weight wool, some polyester blends) tend to work well with the character and feel of denim.

Shoes To Match
Wearing denim certainly opens up some new options as far as footwear goes if you have been wearing suits up until now. You can play with more casual leathers, work some color into your shoe collection, and use footwear as a chance to have fun with a look. However, often times denim is at its best worn with those shoes you had classically reserved to wear with suits.  A great pair of wingtips can really round out a denim-based work wardrobe.

If your office is one of the many places transitioning into a casual dress code, denim can be an excellent base for an easy, functional and comfortable wardrobe. Quality denim will fit and feel better with every wear, and their dark indigo color looks great with virtually everything you own. Here at Lee we have ushered denim from its original home in the fields and on horseback to its new place in the office, and we couldn’t be more excited about it!