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I’m a bit excited… denim trousers are back after about 15 years. When they were last in style, they were a natural thing to wear to work on jeans-appropriate days because they’re a bit more polished than other denim. There are a ton cropping up all over the place right now, so let’s discuss how to wear denim trousers (and when you can wear them to work).
What Are Denim Trousers?
Denim trousers are pants that are made from denim but have more in common with trousers than jeans. Instead of the usual 5-pocket setup that jeans have, denim trousers have slant pockets on the side. Back pockets can vary — there may be none at all, they may be welt pockets like you see on trousers (maybe with a zipper, flap, or tab), or they may be patch pockets or pockets with some detail like an inverted pleat.
Denim trousers are almost a wide-leg style — usually the hem is finished (not raw) and there may be a cuff. Like trousers, denim trousers often have a crisp pleat or pintuck detail down the front of the pants; a lot of the ones we’re seeing right now have pleats that start at the waist.
The whole point to denim trousers is that they have a more polished look than regular denim, so most denim trousers do not have distressed features like rips or raw hems.
Denim trousers may be a mix of different fabrics, as well, so the trousers have better drape (or a crisper pleat) than regular jeans.
How Are Denim Trousers Different From Wide Leg Jeans?
The pockets are the main difference between the two kinds of jean styles — denim trousers very rarely have the traditional 5-pocket style, while wide-leg jeans often do have 5-pockets.
Are Denim Trousers the Same as Trouser Jeans?
“Trouser jeans” often have the traditional 5-pocket style but may share traits with denim trousers like pleated legs or a wide leg.
Can You Wear Denim Trousers to Work?
As always, know your office — so don’t assume you can wear denim trousers to work. If your office always allows jeans (or allows jeans on Fridays), I think it’s pretty safe to assume that yes, you can wear denim trousers to work.
Genearlly, dark-rinse denim is the most appropriate denim for work, but a lighter rinse of denim trouser should be more appropriate than a lighter rinse of denim jeans.
Are Denim Trousers Business Casual?
Denim trousers will not fly in every business casual office — it heavily depends on your actual office. Here’s our general rule of thumb: If you’re new at the office, look to a mid-level, not the boss, to see what to wear.
The theory here is that the boss has earned the right to wear whatever the heck she wants to, and a mid-level is a better gauge of fashion trends like this because she has a better sense of what to wear to the office, as well as how her superiors may want the business represented in meetings with clients, customers, and other third parties.
How to Wear Denim Trousers
Denim trousers are really easy to wear, but there are some important parts to get right!
How to Hem Denim Trousers
Denim trousers should be hemmed like other trousers so that the back hem of the pant is about a half inch above the floor, which means that the front should either fall straight to around your toes, or maybe have a slight break in the leg.
Thus, it is absolutely vital that you take the shoes you intend to wear with you to get your denim trousers hemmed. (Note that some stores offer free alterations, including Nordstrom!)
Once you have them hemmed, you generally do have to stick to the same height as the shoes you generally intend to wear with them. That said, there are a few good tricks around this if you want to switch between flats and heels. For example:
- If you mostly plan to wear them with flat sneakers (think Adidas or Veja) but want to occasionally wear them with heels, you’re going to want to go for low heels in the 1-2″ range.
- If you plan to wear them with heels but want something comfortable for your commute, you can switch into shoes with a platform (such as lug-soled loafers or boots), or some of the “comfort” shoes with a wedge heel, as seen on brands like FLY London, Dansko, Eileen Fisher, or Børn. Another option: wedge sneakers.
One more important alteration note for denim trousers: If the pants have slant pockets and you don’t like them, you can ask a tailor to just sew the pockets down. (In fact, they may come from the store already sewn, and you could choose just not to open them.)
What Shoes to Wear with Denim Trousers
I think the most important question here is whether your shoes are playing nicely with the hem of your denim trousers as noted above — not that much shoe should be showing! That said, be wary of stiletto heels, which can get caught in a heavy denim hem — and I always think a pointed toe or almost-pointed toe looks best.
Some sneakers can look OK with denim trousers, but I would say they’re some of the flattest, lowest ones like Adidas. Loafers can be a difficult look with denim trousers, as can round-toe ballet shoes…
What Tops to Wear With Denim Trousers
For my $.02, I think this heavily depends on the waistline and pleat situation of the pants themselves, as well as what look you want. A cropped top would be fine for a casual look. You could elevate that same look in theory by wearing a third piece that is cropped instead, such as a cropped cardigan or cropped Chanel-like jacket, while pairing it with a sleek bodysuit or fitted, tucked-in top beneath that.
If neither the cropped nor “super fitted” look is for you, you definitely can go for a regular, elevated T-shirt or simple sweater with the denim trousers. You may want to consider a half-tuck, but it’s ok to play with it a bit and decide what’s right for you.
Can You Wear Blazers with Denim Trousers?
I see no reason why you couldn’t wear blazers with denim trousers… That said, though, I would probably avoid a matched denim blazer, even though I have seen that look also recently. I also think that if the pleats start at the waist then you really need to watch the proportions — I think you’ll have a much easier time pairing a blazer with denim trousers that have a flat front.
Where to Find Denim Trousers in 2023
They’re really everywhere! Some of my favorites I’ve begun noticing just in the past few weeks:
Specific Styles to Wear with Denim Trousers
Wear Bodysuits with Denim Trousers
If you want a sleek, polished look, don’t miss out on the classic bodysuits for work outfits. Some of our 2024 favorites include Everlane, MangoPop, Paige, Commando, SKIMS, Madewell, and Wolford. You can also try these unusual suspenders to keep shirts tucked neatly!
Wear Chanel-Style Jackets with Denim Trousers
Some of our latest favorite Chanel-style jackets for work in 2024 include these, but in general check brands like Chanel, St. John, IRO, L’Agence, and Sandro. On the budget side of things, check out Mango, Express, and White House Black Market.
Wear Cropped Cardigans and Cropped Sweater Jackets with Denim Trousers
Stay tuned for our roundup — right now the big one that comes to mind is this J.Crew sweater.
Wear Elevated T-Shirts with Denim Trousers
Looking for the best work-appropriate T-shirts? As of 2024, some of our favorite dressy T-shirts for work are from Amazon Essentials, Theory, Everlane, J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Vince — also check our posts on opaque white tees and the best plus-size tees for work!
Wear Simple Sweaters with Denim Trousers
Stay tuned for our roundup of general sweaters for work, but these are some of our favorite cashmere sweaters:
Simple sweater tees are another good option, especially for warmer weather…
Wear Pointy-Toed Shoes with Denim Trousers
Some of our latest favorite pointy-toed shoes include these options (as of 2023):
Wear Sneakers with Denim Trousers
Low-profile sneakers look better with denim trousers compared to stacked sneakers, IMHO…