Dressing Up Your Denim Collection

As far as fabrics go, not too many can rival denim in terms of importance and prevalence.

A material that has transcended time, location and social class, denim is an unequivocal menswear staple that continues to stamp its mark on the fashion industry each and every season.

However, due to the fabric’s workerwear roots, denim pieces are naturally considered to be casual and off-duty-appropriate. But restricting the fabric in this way means that you will never unlock the full potential of your wardrobe. Today we look to rectify this by showing you how you can dress up your current denim collection.

It’s not just jeans that are getting this style upgrade either – we’ll demonstrate how the denim shirt and jacket also have a role to play, slotting them seamlessly into a variety of smart- and business-casual looks…

Denim Shirts

Although we broke down the denim shirt’s rising style credentials late last year, we’re taking a more sartorial approach this time around.

Not only reserved for the weekend, a denim shirt works just as well under a suit to bring a tactile, masculine touch to your office wear.

Style Guidelines
  • Avoid acid washes at all costs. They make for an interesting casual piece but won’t do your formal wear any justice. The same goes for extremely light or washed out hues. Solid mid-blue or indigo shades are the most versatile options and can be dressed up or down effortlessly.
  • For the smartest results, opt for pared-down pieces. Keep detailing to a minimum – so no prominent crease lines, distressing, heavy duty buttons or stitching.
  • During the warm-weather months, swap your denim shirt for a chambray version. The lightweight, breathable fabric helps to maintain the desired aesthetic without causing you to overheat.
Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Smart-Casual and Formal Denim Shirt Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

brunello cucinelli aw13 he by mango ss14 burton aw12 house of fraser aw13 he by mango ss14 he by mango ss12 he by mango aw13 he by mango september 2012 el burgues ss13 he by mango ss14 h&m casual sunday massimo dutti november 2013
Example Look 1: Seasonal Suiting

Your entire wardrobe should shift as the seasons change, including your shirt and suit collections.

Match heavyweight wool tailoring to a suitably thick denim shirt during the autumn/winter months and make the appropriate switch to a linen/cotton blend suit and chambray shirt as the mercury rises.

1a: Cold Weather Option

Blend textures and styles like a pro with a denim shirt and camel coat pairing. This rugged-luxury fusion will instantly upgrade your everyday work attire.

A knitted grey tie (in a shade darker than the suit) complements the shirt’s indigo tones and allows it to take centre stage once your outerwear is removed:

  • River Island Light Grey Skinny Suit TrousersRiver Island Light Grey Skinny Suit Trousers
  • River Island Light Grey Skinny Suit JacketRiver Island Light Grey Skinny Suit Jacket
  • Charvet Slim Knitted Silk TieCharvet Slim Knitted Silk Tie
  • Topman Indigo Button Down Long Sleeve Denim ShirtTopman Indigo Button Down Long Sleeve Denim Shirt
  • Burberry Prorsum Bonded Cashmere-blend Coat 189782Burberry Prorsum Bonded Cashmere-blend Coat 189782
  • H By Hudson Neale Oxford ShoesH By Hudson Neale Oxford Shoes
1b: Warm Weather Option

Give the heavy duty fabrics a rest when the sun begins to shine. Instead, try pairing a khaki suit with a light wash chambray shirt and tonal navy linen tie.

The ideal outfit for a summer wedding, consider going sockless or swapping your Derby shoes for a pair of penny loafers:

  • Boglioli Slim-fit Washed Cotton-chambray ShirtBoglioli Slim-fit Washed Cotton-chambray Shirt
  • Topman Sand Skinny SuitTopman Sand Skinny Suit
  • Reiss Exmouth Plain Linen Tie NavyReiss Exmouth Plain Linen Tie Navy
  • H By Hudson Neale Oxford ShoesH By Hudson Neale Oxford Shoes
Example Look 2: Skip The Suit

Take a smart-casual approach to dress down Friday by ditching your suit jacket for a waistcoat and your trousers for a pair of tailored chinos.

Slot in a denim shirt, substitute your smart Oxfords for loafers and if the weather looks unpredictable, pop a quilted jacket over the top:

  • River Island Light Grey Smart Check WaistcoatRiver Island Light Grey Smart Check Waistcoat
  • Browns Washed Moleskin TrousersBrowns Washed Moleskin Trousers
  • Drakes Slim Silk-grenadine TieDrakes Slim Silk-grenadine Tie
  • Barbour Liddesdale Quilted JacketBarbour Liddesdale Quilted Jacket
  • Asos Denim Shirt In Long Sleeve With Rinse WashAsos Denim Shirt In Long Sleeve With Rinse Wash
  • Bass Weejuns Larson Loafers In BlackBass Weejuns Larson Loafers In Black
Key Pieces
  • He By Mango Classic-fit Ink Denim ShirtHe By Mango Classic-fit Ink Denim Shirt
  • Jean Machine City Chambray Shirt 172816Jean Machine City Chambray Shirt 172816
  • Reiss Denim ShirtReiss Denim Shirt
  • Reiss Demetri Dark Denim Shirt IndigoReiss Demetri Dark Denim Shirt Indigo
  • River Island Dark Wash Denim ShirtRiver Island Dark Wash Denim Shirt
  • Acne Isherwood Denim ShirtAcne Isherwood Denim Shirt

It’s fair to say that every man owns – or, at the very least, has owned – a pair of jeans.

Considered an off-duty essential, the right pair has the potential to transform your professional wardrobe, especially those that work in offices with business-casual dress codes.

Style Guidelines
  • The darker the wash, the smarter they are – the pinnacle being a dark indigo, slim-fit pair. Black tends to offer too stark a contrast during the day, although they work well within evening looks.
  • Rips and manufactured distressing should be avoided at all costs. Opt for clean fits and solid washes.
  • Get the length right. ‘Puddles’ or bunching of fabric at the hem will instantly ruin any outfit, especially the refined aesthetics we are looking to create. Little to no break on your jeans subtly communicates you know about style and will also help take your casual looks up a notch.
  • Avoid super skinny cuts, along with unflattering bootcut or relaxed fits. A slim, straight or tapered leg is much more appropriate within smarter settings.
Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Smart-Casual and Formal Denim Jeans Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

he by mango winter 2013 David Mayer Naman ss13 tate ss12 ramsey aw12 he by mango aw13 drykorn ss13 burton aw13 essentiel antwerp aw12 ramsey onyx aw12 debenhams Hammond AND Co AW13 house of fraser aw13 7 diamonds aw13
Example Look 1: Blazer & Jeans

Dress up your jeans with a timeless navy blazer. Favour a roll neck over a shirt and tie for an unconventional approach that oozes sophistication.

Opt for a double-breasted jacket and patterned pocket square to help individualise your look further and then finish with classic brogues:

  • John Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool JumperJohn Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Jumper
  • Boglioli Dover Double-breasted Wool-hopsack BlazerBoglioli Dover Double-breasted Wool-hopsack Blazer
  • Reiss Macy Straight Fit Jeans NavyReiss Macy Straight Fit Jeans Navy
  • Grenson Stanley Suede And Leather Brogues 186646Grenson Stanley Suede And Leather Brogues 186646
Example Look 2: Casual-Smart Layering

Turn the smart-casual dress code on its head and let the casual pieces take the lead in this layered look.

We recently made a case for the long sleeve polo being arguably more versatile than its short-sleeved counterpart, and here it offers a solid, neutral base for a creative gilet and blazer combination.

Depending on the weather and your own personal preference, you can wear the gilet under or over the blazer. Penny loafers in a burgundy hue complete the ensemble, along with socks if the weather isn’t on your side:

  • Asos Polo Shirt With Long SleevesAsos Polo Shirt With Long Sleeves
  • Reiss Jeffery Brushed Two Button Blazer Soft GreyReiss Jeffery Brushed Two Button Blazer Soft Grey
  • Richard James Regular-fit Selvedge Denim JeansRichard James Regular-fit Selvedge Denim Jeans
  • Uniqlo Men Ultra Light Down Vest / GiletUniqlo Men Ultra Light Down Vest / Gilet
  • Topman Red Twist Boot SocksTopman Red Twist Boot Socks
  • Topman Burgundy Leather Penny LoafersTopman Burgundy Leather Penny Loafers
Example Look 3: The White Option

There is no need to store away all of your denim as soon as summer arrives – the warm weather is a great excuse to give a pair of white jeans a try.

Style yours with a gingham shirt and pastel blazer for a seasonally-appropriate take on smart-casual.

Skip the tie unless the occasion calls for it – in which case a knitted variant offers a more relaxed option:

  • Browns Checked Cotton ShirtBrowns Checked Cotton Shirt
  • Topman Indigo Oxford Skinny BlazerTopman Indigo Oxford Skinny Blazer
  • Ami Five-pocket Straight-leg Jeans 188315Ami Five-pocket Straight-leg Jeans 188315
  • Antoine & Stanley Knox Monk ShoesAntoine & Stanley Knox Monk Shoes
Key Pieces
  • Topman Indigo Wash Vintage Slim JeansTopman Indigo Wash Vintage Slim Jeans
  • He By Mango Straight-fit Dark Bob JeansHe By Mango Straight-fit Dark Bob Jeans
  • Nudie Jeans Steady Eddie Regular-fit Organic Dry-denim JeansNudie Jeans Steady Eddie Regular-fit Organic Dry-denim Jeans
  • Marc Jacobs Straight-leg Jeans 189828Marc Jacobs Straight-leg Jeans 189828
  • Dolce & Gabbana Green-fit Slim-fit Denim JeansDolce & Gabbana Green-fit Slim-fit Denim Jeans
  • Reiss Montreal Slim Fit Twill Jeans NavyReiss Montreal Slim Fit Twill Jeans Navy
Denim Jackets

Although it’s gone through a few rough patches in the past (the early noughties certainly wasn’t kind to this wardrobe mainstay), the denim jacket has become one of the most versatile pieces a man can own.

Making the step up into your smarter looks is a seamless transition for this rugged piece of outerwear, which works well as a makeshift blazer or as an interesting layering option.

Style Guidelines
  • Resist any printed details or statement collars. For smart-casual purposes we need to keep it classic and clean.
  • Colour is less of an issue when it comes to the denim jacket, although traditional indigo shades offer the most versatility. For those looking for something unique, consider a khaki or olive green option this season – both of which complement a wide variety of colours.
  • Boxy, workerwear fits are best left in the past. A slim, almost tailored, version is much more appropriate and can be combined with the smarter pieces in your wardrobe without jarring.
Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Smart-Casual and Formal Denim Jacket Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

ramsey aw13 brunello cucinelli ss14 brunello cucinelli ss14 brunello cucinelli ss14 sisley aw13 he by mango aw13 he by mango ss14 j crew aw11 brunello cucinelli aw13
Example Look 1: Blazer Replacement

Give your suit jacket the day off by swapping it for a denim replacement.

Keep the rest of the look the same as if you were wearing a blazer. However, you could consider adding a waistcoat or tie bar to help take the aesthetic back up a notch.

With your shirt, tie and brogues all present, the denim jacket brings a rough and ready edge to a classic ensemble:

  • Reiss Driver Twill Cotton Shirt BlueReiss Driver Twill Cotton Shirt Blue
  • Allsaints Esuka Denim JacketAllsaints Esuka Denim Jacket
  • River Island Red Tartan TieRiver Island Red Tartan Tie
  • Asos Tie BarAsos Tie Bar
  • J.crew Bowery Slim-fit Prince Of Wales Check Wool TrousersJ.crew Bowery Slim-fit Prince Of Wales Check Wool Trousers
  • H By Hudson Patton Brogue Tan LeatherH By Hudson Patton Brogue Tan Leather
Example Look 2: A Layering Option

The denim jacket is more than just a standalone outerwear option. It makes for a particular adept layering piece, bringing texture and depth to those outfits lacking in it.

In the look below, the denim jacket slips seamlessly between your shirt and suit jacket. Offering an instant upgrade to your commuter style, simply remove when you reach the office:

  • River Island White Poplin ShirtRiver Island White Poplin Shirt
  • Reiss Becks B Two Button Blazer GreyReiss Becks B Two Button Blazer Grey
  • Asos Denim JacketAsos Denim Jacket
  • Navy Grey Stripe Slim Silk TieNavy Grey Stripe Slim Silk Tie
  • Reiss Becks T Wool Blend Formal Trousers GreyReiss Becks T Wool Blend Formal Trousers Grey
  • Officine Creative High-shine Leather Oxford ShoesOfficine Creative High-shine Leather Oxford Shoes
Example Look 3: Evening Alternative

A black denim jacket gives off a biker/rock ‘n’ roll vibe that makes it the perfect addition to any monochrome evening look.

Pair with tailored trousers and smart shoes in the same hue to give the outfit a sharp and refined edge. Keep the colour variations to a minimum and finish with a simple white shirt buttoned up to the top, sans tie:

  • Allsaints Geno ShirtAllsaints Geno Shirt
  • Saint Laurent Dry Denim JacketSaint Laurent Dry Denim Jacket
  • Givenchy Fine Wool And Mohair-blend TrousersGivenchy Fine Wool And Mohair-blend Trousers
  • Poste Giovanni Monk Shoe Black LeatherPoste Giovanni Monk Shoe Black Leather
Key Pieces
  • Libertine-libertine Yield Denim JacketLibertine-libertine Yield Denim Jacket
  • Allsaints Yin Denim JacketAllsaints Yin Denim Jacket
  • Diesel Denim Jacket Jinka Dark WashDiesel Denim Jacket Jinka Dark Wash
  • He By Mango Dark Wash Denim JacketHe By Mango Dark Wash Denim Jacket
  • Topman Dark Red Denim JacketTopman Dark Red Denim Jacket
  • Marc By Marc Jacobs Denim JacketMarc By Marc Jacobs Denim Jacket
Final Word

An iconic and timeless fabric that still plays a huge part within contemporary menswear collections, denim is much more than an off-duty staple.

Able to slot into a wide range of smart-casual and even formal looks, it’s time to unlock the true potential of your current denim collection.

But now it’s time to have your say:

  • How do you integrate denim into your smart-casual ensembles?
  • Is denim ever suitable for the office?
  • Which of the looks above do you see yourself trying?
  • Which is the easiest to dress up – jeans, jacket or shirt?

Let us know in the comments section…