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).
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:
- Go traditional: A 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.
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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