As any wannabe sartorialist or religious fashion follower knows, the fashion seasons work in advance – so when we have blue skies and sun aplenty outside, fashion designers have already set their sights on what wares they can create and peddle come the winter months. Recently, I have decided to imitate the fashion greats and launch a series of articles detailing the men’s trends and themes for autumn/winter 2012.

One of the recent trends that I have noticed both on the high fashion runways and in the fashion press, and even on the streets themselves, is the increased use of denim within smarter, more tailored looks. Although denim is traditionally associated with workwear and more casual, informal outfits, the fabric is currently being utilised in much smarter combinations.

Denim is undergoing an era of gentrification – and this has been promoted and picked up by designers and high street stores alike.

The Gentrification Of Denim

Back at the AW12 Fashion Weeks across the globe, fashion houses such as Brioni, Dunhill and Givenchy demonstrated support for the gentrification of denim in their collections on the runways. Two of the designer collections which really used denim to its full potential in a smarter, more gentrified manner were Ermenegildo Zegna and J.Crew.

Key Show: Ermenegildo Zegna

Ermenegildo Zegna made frequent use of brown and grey checked suits, which were layered over traditional blue denim-look shirts and completed with matching knitted ties – creating a sophisticated, mature look.

The collection also featured denim shirts under chunky knitwear pieces and the same shirts worn over thin roll-neck jumpers. The pairing of these pieces, along with the colours, tones and fabrics used, had clearly taken inspiration from the 1970s, and could have easily crossed the line into old-fashioned and dated.

Ultimately, however, I think the collection manages to remain chic and refined, with the combinations working extremely well together:

Ermenegildo Zegna Men's AW12 Collection on The Runway

Key Brand: J.Crew

The collection by J. Crew had a slightly younger appeal and featured denim shirts and jackets matched with tailored pieces to create a youthful, gentrified look. In particular, there were some fantastic slim suits in both flecked grey and navy blue paired with light blue denim shirts and matching ties/accessories.

J. Crew also made good use of the normally casual denim jacket; dressing them up by layering them beneath duffel coats, blazers and blousons, which were then paired with tailored trousers. J. Crew excellently demonstrated that denim doesn’t always need to be used within casual looks, and their lookbook images only further emphasised this.

When paired with tailored suiting, there is no reason why denim cannot be dressed up to create a sophisticated, smart look – and although you need to be wary of your own workplace dress code, this isn’t a look that should be confined to the runways:

J. Crew Men's Lookbook AW12

In The Fashion Press

The recent October 2012 issue of Esquire magazine featured an article on this very subject: The Gentrification Of The Denim Shirt. The article consisted of 4 differing looks, which used denim shirting as a base to build a selection of outfits designed for a professional, smart environment.

Tips from the article included favouring darker, indigo hues rather than stonewash tones for a more sophisticated feel, and the encouragement of the use of accessories – such as knitted ties, pocket squares and thin roll-necks layered beneath the denim shirt itself.

The 4 looks, as modelled by British actor Jonathan Bailey, perfectly demonstrated that denim is a versatile enough fabric to be applied to situations which demand a smarter, more professional look. Denim needn’t be discounted in these situations.

How To Wear: Smart Denim

So how can we apply these rules to create a series of looks which utilises denim to its full potential without making you look like an outdoor labourer? Well, look no further…

Men’s Smart Denim Lookbook

Men's Smart Denim Lookbook

Look 1

This look is the smartest of the three and makes use of a 2-piece suit in navy paired with a similar tone navy blue denim shirt. It is a suave and sophisticated look, which is particularly apt as blue is a popular colour this season.

The look also takes inspiration from the current popularity of burgundy, with the inclusion of a burgundy knitted tie and pocket square – working particularly well due to both tones complementing each other perfectly:

  • Spencer Hart Lightweight Denim ShirtSpencer Hart Lightweight Denim Shirt
  • Asos Skinny Fit Suit Jacket In NavyAsos Skinny Fit Suit Jacket In Navy
  • Topman Port Rectangle Pocket SquareTopman Port Rectangle Pocket Square
  • Dsquared2 Mens Knitted TieDsquared2 Mens Knitted Tie
  • Asos Skinny Fit Tuxedo Suit Trousers In NavyAsos Skinny Fit Tuxedo Suit Trousers In Navy
  • John Lobb William Leather Monk-strap ShoesJohn Lobb William Leather Monk-strap Shoes
Look 2:

This look is slightly more casual but still retains an element of sophistication. The denim shirt here has been layered over a thin roll-neck, taking inspiration from the Prada AW12 runway shows.

Again, the popularity of burgundy shines through in the form of a chunky, shawl neck cardigan and the trousers are in navy corduroy for an alternative to the current high street penchant for chinos.

A tan brogues/belt combination finishes the outfit, which I think gives off a refined yet not overly-smart feel, complete with appropriate autumnal hues and textures:

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Jumper With Roll NeckPolo Ralph Lauren Jumper With Roll Neck
  • Lee Western Denim Shirt Slim FitLee Western Denim Shirt Slim Fit
  • Jasper Conran Maroon Shawl Neck Knitted CardiganJasper Conran Maroon Shawl Neck Knitted Cardigan
  • Asos Smart BeltAsos Smart Belt
  • Topman Villain Bowey Cord TrousersTopman Villain Bowey Cord Trousers
  • Grenson Stanley Leather Wingtip BroguesGrenson Stanley Leather Wingtip Brogues
Look 3:

The final look I have suggested here makes use of double denim, a combination which is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. Personally, I think the combination of dark indigo jeans and a paler denim-look shirt works brilliantly, especially as the other aspects of the outfit help to break up the denim rather than letting the fabric overwhelm the whole outfit.

The thin, olive green pullover is a perfect tone for autumn, and when paired with a flecked, grey blazer it immediately smartens up the whole image. The leather desert boots and matching leather iPad case work well together to create a professionally refined look without appearing over-smart:

  • Topman Light Denim Wash Jersey ShirtTopman Light Denim Wash Jersey Shirt
  • United Colors Of Benetton Lambswool JumperUnited Colors Of Benetton Lambswool Jumper
  • Rag & Bone Ellington Slim-fit Flecked Herringbone BlazerRag & Bone Ellington Slim-fit Flecked Herringbone Blazer
  • Paul Smith – Jeans 201m-300r Drainpipe Rinse Denim JeansPaul Smith - Jeans 201m-300r Drainpipe Rinse Denim Jeans
  • Want Les Essentiels De La Vie Narita Zipped Ipad CaseWant Les Essentiels De La Vie Narita Zipped Ipad Case
  • Topman Ben Sherman Ezra Desert BootTopman Ben Sherman Ezra Desert Boot
Men’s Smart Denim Picks
  • Topman Blue Curve Collar Denim ShirtTopman Blue Curve Collar Denim Shirt
  • Reiss Zackery Long Sleeve Denim Look Shirt BlueReiss Zackery Long Sleeve Denim Look Shirt Blue
  • Nn.07 Hans Washed-denim ShirtNn.07 Hans Washed-denim Shirt
  • Cheap Monday Torex Denim ShirtCheap Monday Torex Denim Shirt
  • Asos Denim ShirtAsos Denim Shirt
  • Burton Dark Denim Slim Fit ShirtBurton Dark Denim Slim Fit Shirt
  • Acne Isherwood Button-down Collar Denim ShirtAcne Isherwood Button-down Collar Denim Shirt
  • 1969 Double-pocket Denim Shirt1969 Double-pocket Denim Shirt
  • Topman Blue Curve Collar Denim ShirtTopman Blue Curve Collar Denim Shirt
  • Pure Cotton Denim ShirtPure Cotton Denim Shirt
  • A.p.c. Vintage Denim Shirt 135502A.p.c. Vintage Denim Shirt 135502
  • Paul Smith Chambray ShirtPaul Smith Chambray Shirt

So what do you guys out there think? Do you think denim can ever be incorporated into smart, professional looks or do you think denim can only ever be a casual choice of fabric for a more relaxed look?

Perhaps the history of denim and its traditional association with hardy, durable workwear taints the possibility of it ever becoming a fabric associated with smarter occasions.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.