Tops to Wear with Jeans to the Office

which tops to wear with jeans to the office

2017 Update: We still stand by our suggestions on tops to wear with jeans to the office, but if you’re building a wardrobe for work for the first time you may want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women and our Wardrobe Essentials for Work.

Here’s a question we haven’t discussed in a while: how to wear jeans to work. Reader E writes in wondering specifically which tops to wear with jeans to the office, particularly because her Midwestern BigLaw office has “jean Fridays” in the summer. Sigh. (FYI, we rounded up all our best tips for summer associates here!) Here’s her question:

Longtime reader here. I have a suggestion for a post – can you do a post on tops to wear with jeans to the office? My (midwest big law) office has “jean Fridays” in the summer, as well as various “jeans days” in connection with fundraisers, etc. throughout the year. I’m always puzzled with what to wear with jeans for the office. Thanks!

We last talked about how to wear talked about how to wear jeans to work in 2015, as well as a post on how to wear jeans to the office in the long-ago days of 2009 (aww, back when bootcut jeans were the fading default and skinny jeans were still relatively new on the scene). I’ve talked in the past about how, if you’re upgrading your weekend clothes, keeping your denim choices fresh is a good way to stay in touch with the styles of “today,” and we recently rounded up the most-loved denim at Nordstrom (the denim brands and styles in the post are sold at lots of places, but Nordstrom has all those lovely customer reviews to help you see the pros and cons of each garment).

(The jeans pictured at top: one / two / three.)

I think a few rules still apply for wearing denim to work:


How to Wear Denim to Work

  • no distressing, rips, or acidic washes or the like for any kind of jean (or rather, know your office VERY WELL before wearing them to work — the usual rule is to wait until you see a mid-level superior wear it)
  • if you’re wearing blue jeans, I still think a dark rinse is best — if you’re wearing black jeans, a stark black rinse.
  • Know your office, but: I’m curious to hear what readers think about colored denim and white denim — yea or nay for the office? (And, does the light blue rinse or light gray rinses that are very popular this year count as a “colored denim,” or have those rinses joined the ranks of acceptable colors?)
  • as for the shape of denim, I’d stick with either cropped or rolled skinny jeans, trouser jeans, slightly bootcut jeans, or possibly even higher-waisted denim like sailor’s jeans. Think structure — avoid slouchy boyfriend jeans or avant-garde denim (like these babies)
  • wear your denim with closed-toe office shoes, such as a comfortable heel or ballet flat

Which Tops to Wear With Jeans to the Office

As for which tops to wear with jeans to the office, some ideas:

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  • Go traditional:crisp dress shirt is always going to be a nice look; a silky blouse or popover blouse is also nice and a very classic, traditional look.
  • I always like to layer a third piece, whether it’s a cardigan, lightweight summer blazer, a statement necklace, or even a gauzy scarf — if your office is freezing in the summer you can also wear a ruana or office pashmina to add a dash of elegance to your look. Try an opaque white t-shirt or a work-appropriate t-shirt as a base layer, or a blousy shell like this, this, this or this.
  • In terms of what not to wear with jeans to the office — again, until you know what flies at your office, I’d avoid graphic/concert tees (although I do like the look with blazers for weekends), shapeless sweaters, and anything too casual/going-out-appropriate like a sweatshirt or anything requiring a special bra (like a halter top or an off-the-shoulder top). I’d consider all of the following details warning flags (they’re not perfect rules, so consider each top by itself): if your t-shirt or blouse has a shirttail hem (such as this one), a marked hi-low hem, a slouchy pocket, or an “exposing more skin” detail like a cutout or slit sleeves, you may want to reconsider wearing it to work.
  • If you’re looking for stand-alone tops to wear with jeans to work, I might look at some of the ones below — each of them is interesting enough on their own that you don’t need to think a lot about what else to wear with them.

Pictured: one ($59) / two ($79) / three ($44) / four ($99) / five ($52)

Readers, what’s your best advice for tops to wear with jeans to work? This summer (at least, until it’s too hot), which style of denim will you be wearing to the office on “jeans days”? What are your thoughts on colorful denim for the office? 

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Social media picture credit: Deposit Photos / fizkes.the best tops to wear with jeans for the office | what tops to wear with jeans to the office | how to wear jeans to the office

If your office has a "jeans Friday" you may wonder: which are the best tops to wear with jeans for the office? How can you look like your usual professional self if you're in denim? We rounded up some ideas... the best tops to wear with jeans for the office | what tops to wear with jeans to the office | how to wear jeans to the office

Comments

  1. There is no way that white top is opaque (you can see the pants through it), yet they have totally photoshopped out any trace of undergarments on the model, which is pretty disappointing.

    • You have a VERY sharp eye! I can NOT see her bra either, and sureley the top is too thin for her to be wearing a cami underneathe it. I think that for white tops like this, we have to be prepared to take the stareing from the men who are ALWAYS lookeing for something to comment on. Because I do like white top’s, all I can say to the OP is thank you for pointing this out, and to the men who like to stare at our boobie’s, FOOEY!

  2. White jeans are my favorite for summer “jeans Fridays.” I also think that gray denim (JCrew’s toothpick jeans in dove gray) is totally fair game. My boss actually doesn’t think I’m wearing jeans in either color – he’ll ask why I’m dressed up! hahahah

  3. OG Monday :

    I don’t understand the warning about shirttail hems. Most of my dressiest blouses have them. How would they be too casual?

    • I came up with those “warning flags” while looking for tops to suggest wearing — it took me a while to figure out why I wouldn’t include this top in the suggestions, and ultimately decided it was the shirttail hem:
      http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/halogen-flutter-sleeve-v-neck-tee-regular-petite/4607076?origin=keywordsearch-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=ROYAL%20DEEP

      • OG Monday :

        Thanks. That shirt looks fine to me, but anyway the ones I have are button-front blouses, which often have shirttail hems in the menswear tradition.

        • Anonymous :

          But men don’t wear them untucked. I agree that shirttail hems are too casual (at least at a more formal office).

          • I agree with this. I can get away with untucked in my business CASUAL workplace (see cold shoulders being acceptable), but I wouldn’t have worn untucked blouses at the law firm where I worked that also purported to be business casual.

      • OG Monday :

        Interesting. I’m thinking that if the office has told you to wear jeans on this day, you can wear an untucked blouse with them. When I’ve worked at law firms with a jeans day I usually wore one of the same shirts I’d wear on dressier days, untucked.

      • This link eventually lead me to a cute Caslon t on sale that was exactly what I’d been wanting for weekends. thanks!

  4. Anonshmanon :

    This is technically a response to this morning’s top (caught up in moderation), but it works for this post as well:

    For all the ‘re11es in Europe (and some other places): I have found the perfect pullover blouse at Esprit.

    It is not too low cut, reasonably priced (even though it adds up if you can’t stop buying them) and seems to come out in a few new colors every season. I think I own for of them now, cream, white with black dots, pine green with dots (my favourite) and navy. With a nude colored [email protected], the cream and white do not need a cami!

    I’ve found that they shrink a bit during washing, so I’ve sized up, and that works fine. Will post a link.

  5. Shopaholic :

    I usually wear work tops (in my case, mostly silk blouses) on top of jeans. Occasionally in the winter, I’ll wear a more casual sweater if I know nothing is happening at the office. I like to layer leather jackets instead of blazers but that’s more because I feel like they’re too casual to wear during the week in most cases.

  6. Anonymous :

    Ooh, can anyone with experience speak to whether #3 is good for hiding a tummy? I’m in early pregnancy with baby #3 and my midsection is already stretching out more enthusiastically than I would prefer, and I don’t want to share with my colleagues yet.

    Also, while we’re on the subject, any favorite tops for hiding a pooch or a little bump? Bonus points if they are nice tops regardless, of course.

    • Maddie Ross :

      IME, yes, that shirt is. I have it in two patterns and think it’s flattering, but the draping and wrap definitely mask the start of a baby bump. I think the patterns did so more than the solids, too.

  7. Anonymous :

    I have to sit in on some regular meetings with someone who spoke up against my promotion. Her objection was based on a complete miscommunication failure that had occurred a year earlier and for which I had fallen on my sword, apologized, and even smoothed over with her colleagues. At no point was there any harm to the client. And yet, she felt obligated to tell everyone who was in the room about her “concerns” about me. Now, we are peers and have the same title and will be in the same room for these meetings. If you were me, would you ignore her, be polite but not particularly friendly, or would you actively try to avoid her? FWIW, we are both in our early 40’s and we work for the same firm, but in different practice areas. She is not senior to me, nor am I senior to her, and we don’t necessarily need to work together on any projects since we have other folks in both groups.

    • OG Monday :

      Option b, polite but not particularly friendly. If you ever do need to work with her, you might as well not be starting out from an additional disadvantage, and for the time being, better not to give her any more cause for “concern.”

    • Anonymous :

      Polite but not friendly.

    • Anonymous :

      Active avoidance always becomes obvious to others and just makes you look childish. I would be polite but not effusive with her in public. Privately (like on emails where others are not copied, or elevator rides) I would not speak to her other than to say hello politely. I wouldn’t go out of my way to snub her or be mean – again, that just makes you look bad. I read a quote once from Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live, in regards to working with someone who had done you wrong, “be perfectly nice and polite, and just never work with them again.” I try to follow that advice in these types of situations. I won’t agree to work with those people unless it can’t be avoided, but taking the high ground in regards to politeness is better optics for me and my career.

    • (b) is really the only option that is appropriate in a professional sense. If you ignore her or actively avoid her, you make yourself look bad and anyone who remembers that she questioned your candidacy will start to think she was right.

    • Anonymous :

      Option C. Address this head on. Go to coffee with her. Let her know that you know she is concerned about historical situation, you have taken full responsibility for it, and taken steps to insure it doesn’t happen again. Since she is so concerned, does she have any additional recommendations for how you should deal with it. Among rational people this should end it and again among rational people can often result in a change in attitude towards you. If not rational–well hey–now you know and you can adopt alternative strategy as necessary. As a follow up, at some point you might want to point out to whoever that you discussed it directly with her and she has no Elsa instincts…can’t let it go…which is it’s own management issue (hers not yours).

  8. cat socks :

    I work in a casual environment and can wear jeans every day. Normally I wear a printed shell with a cardigan. I have several of them from Target. Sometimes I wear a graphic tee with a knit blazer. White jeans are fine in my casual office. I’ll also wear structured knit tops and scarves in cooler weather.

  9. Anonymous :

    I wear what I wear on non-jeans days – silky blouses with blazers, dress shirts, sweaters. White jeans and brightly colored jeans are both fine in my office, although I think if you’re on the fence about it, white jeans (or black/gray jeans) are far more standard and formal than, say, red jeans.

  10. Anonymous :

    I really want to break out my white jeans this Friday because it’s May but it’s still really cold in my part of the country (highs in the low to mid-50s). Suggestions for how to style white jeans for cooler temps? Is a navy blazer too preppy/nautical?

    • I’ve been wearing mine with camel, cream, and light grey.

    • I’ve been wearing mine with brown boots and a camel cashmere turtleneck. Mine are thicker denim as well so it helps them appear more seasonally appropriate.

      I wore mine a few weeks ago when it was actually warm out with blush ballet flats and a silk printed blush shirt.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Cognac boots, navy/white striped sweater, navy blazer, maybe a small silk scarf.

  11. Anon for This :

    My legal assistant has been at my firm for decades and she does small annoying things that are not worth making a fuss about in a review, but are challenging (to me). She is not going to get fired for any of these things and I’m terrible at confrontation (I’m a transactional lawyer), but I’m getting increasingly irritated. Here are some specific examples:
    – She comes in before me and sometimes she is in my office making a personal phone call on her cell.
    – She has access to my calendar and tells people (I don’t particularly like) where I am (i.e., I’m at a doctor’s appointment). For this one, I’ve taken to marking certain appointments private.
    – When I ask her to do something, she pushes back and/or gives it to someone else, even though she is clearly not busy and is on long personal calls all day long.
    – She has a small radio on at her desk, even if she is not at her desk, and it’s loud enough that I can hear the sounds, commercials, etc. from my office.
    I can shut my door (she is right outside of my door), but we generally have an open-door policy. I can move offices but I would be moving away from my practice group colleagues.

    • These all sound like things you should address in the moment when they happen.

    • Anonymous :

      IMO these are all big enough problems that you should tell her or raise in a review. Some are arguably personal preferences (although probably pretty widely shared preferences!), but some are performance related. I would definitely put in a review that she shirks work. The others I would probably try telling her about first and seeing if she changes her ways. If telling her these things are problems doesn’t work, I’d probably request a new assistant. These are all annoying and/or unprofessional behaviors. Maybe don’t confront her with each issue at once, but address issues as they come up next time she does one of these things.

    • Anonymous :

      I think pushing work off is in a different category than the other things. For the appointments, personal calls, and radio I’d tell her you prefer she not do those things, but I probably wouldn’t make a big deal of it if she ignores you and I certainly wouldn’t put it in a written review. The fact that she’s dodging work should be addressed immediately and repeatedly, and put in her written review if it doesn’t improve.

    • pugsnbourbon :

      If you don’t tell her about the things that bother you, she’ll keep doing them. You have to weigh your frustration with her against your discomfort with confrontation.

      I’d want to know if I was bothering my boss with my actions. If she said something in the moment, I’d change course and move on, NBD. I’d feel mortified if I heard about something for the first time at a review.

      • Yes, exactly. The first time you bring these things up should NOT be in an annual review. It’s completely unfair to the assistant. I really doubt you’re paying her to be psychic.

      • Senior Attorney :

        Yes, for sure. In the moment, as they happen:

        “Hey, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use my office for your phone calls.”
        “Please just say I’m out when I’m out. No need to tell people I’m at the doctor or whatever.”
        “I’d appreciate it if you’d handle this yourself so I can be confident it’s done right.”
        “Hey, could you please lower the volume on your radio? The commercials are kind of getting on my nerves!”

    • I would be polite and firm on:
      1) I do not care if she uses my office calling from her cell while I am not using it, unless you have strong feelings against it. My opinion is that it is not a private (your) space but a corporate one and in case it is not used by you, anyone can use it (while not touching your stuff). But I wirk in open space and while I am out of office, anyone can sit in my spot (but rarely anyone dares to, as our top management sits right next to me :) )
      2) Mark things as private and ask her not to share private/personal details with anyone. In case you catch her doing this, call her out on the spot.
      3) Think whether it is really important to you who does the delegated tasks or whether it is about the result. In case you need/want the task to be done by your assistant, specify that when you are assigning the task to her.
      4) Ask her politely to use headphones on her radio and explain that the current sound volume disturbes you. I see no harm in telling her.
      I would not mind asking her for these things at one meeting – in a friendly way with a reassuring smile. Over coffee. At least she will not feel that you come up with some new request every week. But it depends on the person.

      • newbinlaw :

        This. I had major problems with my assistant, both serious and more personal. I also avoided confrontation like crazy, but it ended up hurting me in the end. I eventually was forced to confront it and found that once i started talking, I was able to (gently) go through my whole list of things to get it out of the way.
        Think about if you were being critiqued – you would want it all at once rather than a new complaint every day/week.
        I also think all 4 of these are absolutely reasonable and would say something about all of them.

        • Anonymous :

          I would generally say the same thing, but I think these are kind of disparate items and some of them are work related (the delegating) and some of them are preference (using her office, the radio). And still some are personal (the discussing of personal appointments). If you do it all at once, it almost seems like you’re keeping a running log of what annoys you. Some of these have to be addressed in the moment the next time they happen. The work issue I think is appropriate to set a specific time to discuss.

    • I would definitely tell her that if you aren’t at your desk, you are in a meeting – no exceptions. If I’m in the bathroom, my asst says I’m in a meeting and will be returning in 5.

  12. On what to wear with jeans….I wear jeans pretty frequently (twice a week). We have a pretty relaxed dress code here. I wear skinny jeans in black or dark wash, pointy-toe flats, a flowy colorful top and neutral blazer. It feels pulled together but laid back to me, and if I’m sitting at my desk or at a table, it just looks like a regular work outfit.

  13. My office has a casual dress code, it’s one our stated perks for working here. I wear jeans every day but my policy to avoid getting too schlubby is no sneakers, no sandals​, no t-shirts, nothing with a hood. My uniform is basically a variation on a black or blue blouse with a cardigan, sometimes a scarf, and boots or flats every day. I do agree with sticking to a darker wash jean, but I don’t agree about the shirt tail hem, it’s pretty hard to even find blouses without them. They seem to be considered slimming for those of us with wider bottoms. I feel like they go fine with cardigans.

  14. I love this article so much. This article I found also helped me find ideas of how to dress. https://blog.peoplemaven.com/how-oprah-winfrey-and-the-worlds-best-dressed-female-executives-stay-fashionable-in-less-than-5-66d2c1b55261

  15. stylegirl :

    I think these are great suggestions! Something missing from the list is Canadian designer Pink Tartan’s button downs! Instead of wearing a plain white dress shirt, these have simple colored, grograin ribbon trim! They’re my go-to
    https://pinktartan.ca/collections/womens-button-down-shirts/products/b000309575-w-r

  16. I work for a casual public accounting firm and have found a good rule of thumb is to wear items (excluding the jeans) that I’d wear to the office on a normal (non-casual) work day. This keeps me in flats, heels, sweaters, blouses, and blazers rather than t-shirts, sandals, etc.

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