‘How to rock a look’ – it’s an utterly overused phrase in the fashion world and one that often seems out of place, but when it comes to black jeans, the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll wardrobe staple, it definitely applies.
Just like a leather jacket, black jeans come pre-packaged with a certain amount of attitude – perhaps it’s the music connotations or maybe just the colour. Batman, the Terminator, Johnny Cash – they all wore black. Either way, there aren’t many garments that are as versatile or as hard working as a pair of black jeans.
British designer, Oliver Spencer agrees. “Black denim is a staple in any man’s wardrobe. It can be dressed up or down making it super versatile and therefore a basic essential in my eyes.”
Black jeans both embrace trends and transcend them – they’re office-proof and festival-friendly. They’re trans-seasonal. You can wear them as part of a streetwear-inspired get-up or pair them with a blazer and expect to get into a fancy restaurant. There aren’t many utility players like it.
The key is to find a shape that works best for your physique and a shade that helps you create the most appropriate look for where you’re going. Depending on how you style them, you can wear them every day of the week, any time of year – even in summer. Below, we’ll show you how.
But first you need a pair. Black jeans are at their best when they’re relatively slim so look for a cut that hugs your legs without being overly restrictive. Virtually every brand out there produces its own take, so whatever your budget you’re bound to find a pair that works for you. At the lower end you can’t go wrong with Uniqlo, which uses a 12oz selvedge stretch denim for added comfort, or, if your wallet allows, go for an investment pair from A.P.C. or Acne Studios which are both renowned for their jeans.
What To Wear With Black Jeans
Black in Business
As we’re talking denim and ultimately a casual garment by nature, there’s definitely a knack to introducing a level of formality to black jeans. If you want to take them in a smarter direction, stick to a monochrome palette which will ensure you look smart and contemporary (think match-day Pep Guardiola or off-duty Stanley Tucci).
As a base layer, opt for a simple, white Oxford shirt for that perfect contrast with the black jeans, before adding a lightweight, round-neck cotton or wool grey sweater (Uniqlo or John Smedley are ideal opposites on the price spectrum). To up the formality add a tie, but keep it modern and go for a charcoal or black knitted tie (silk or cotton if it’s summer, wool if winter).
Maintain a smarter look with a more formal pair of shoes rather than trainers – black suede chukka boots will work, and will fade and patina in all the right places just like a good pair of jeans. Then, depending on the season, dress down the shirt and tie with a black, grey or dark navy bomber jacket with black trim to tie it all together. For the winter months, a three-quarter top coat or long pea coat will be an ideal warmer layer.
Play It (Smart-)Casual In Separates
Black jeans work well across almost all dress codes, but they shine when used in a smart-casual outfit. With this in mind, keep it simple and maintain the successful monochrome combinations of grey, black and white. Try pairing either a dark grey or clean white T-shirt (depending on skin tone) worn underneath a grey jersey-fabric or cotton blazer, which will complement the jeans below.
A smarter alternative to a T-shirt is a long-sleeve cotton polo sweater, which has a collar for some formality and can be worn in the office without the jacket. The jacket should be a separate blazer rather than taken from a suit, and ideally should have a bit of texture in its fabric to work with the hardiness of denim. A more casual version in jersey material from Uniqlo works well, but for a slightly smarter take opt for non-stretch cotton.
On your feet, go for smart-casual trainers that help you walk the line between comfortable commuting and the 9 o’clock all-hands.
Recruit Some Workwear
If black jeans are a wardrobe workhorse, then it makes sense to pair them with a looser, more traditional workwear look. It’s often associated with dark blue selvedge denim, but it can absolutely be adopted for a black pair. Simply roll the hem of your jeans and pair with a heavy cotton workwear style, double-pocket overshirt worn untucked.
The heavier cotton will help to keep the shirt’s shape, but ensure it’s well-ironed to make the most of its strong lines. For this look, dark blue works best (yes, ignore the outdated rule of not pairing black with blue). You could also opt for an olive or military green shirt to complement blonder hair and skin tones, but both will look great with a white tee underneath.
For shoes, classic lace-up Vans in black and white would be ideal, although black Converse or black Nike Air Force 1s will also do the trick.
Layer Like A Player
To take the jeans in an even more casual direction, try a light grey marl or trusty white crew-neck T-shirt (there’s no such thing as too many) and a light-blue soft brushed cotton casual shirt worn over the top to add some colour. The blue is a nod to a traditional formal shirt, but with a more casual fabric it can be worn open over a neutral tee.
For a jacket over the top, you could be bold and go double denim. The Texas tuxedo ban is another outdated style rule and the boxy shape of a casual blue denim jacket works well with slim jeans. If doing the double is just too much, or you need a smarter version, keep it classic with a grey or navy Harrington, a tan suede bomber or heavy-cotton chore jacket – the latter of which will come in handy for its multitude of pockets.
For a smarter shoe option and a touch of the eighties, a grey suede loafer would certainly elevate the look, especially with the denim jacket. Or, for a casual option to work with a trucker jacket and casual open shirt, a classic sportswear trainer like Adidas’s old school Samba model will keep things cool and comfortable.
To truly embrace the versatility of black jeans, embrace the summer and get the guns out. After all, we’ve finally figured out a way to wear short-sleeved shirts without looking like an undercover cop in Florida.
For the shirt, be bold and pick a patterned dark, Cuban collar shirt. It’s part rock ‘n’ roll, part fashion, all cool. Pick a pattern that eludes to the summer; flora, fauna, tropics and so on. But not full Hawaiian shirt – far from it. Channel Cuban casual chic instead by rolling up the sleeves, and add a trusty white T-shirt or vest underneath for contrast.
If the overall look is out of your comfort zone, stick to a more traditional shape and fabric, but try and choose a patterned black shirt. Navy and black are good bases for pattern, as the dark tones mute things down, whereas plain black is too harsh on its own (and too close to a restaurant-waiter look) in the sun or under those office lights. Open up the neck by unbuttoning an extra button, roll up the sleeves, and rock an all-black summer look, ready for the weekend.
Shoe-wise, keep it casual and pick your favourite trainer, literally anything from a smart Common Projects style luxury loafer to current streetwear darlings, Vans. Or try the old school 80s look of Saucony Originals. The colour-ways are diverse, comfort levels are through the roof and being more under-the-radar they’re a great alternative to the rest of your sneaker collection.
Back to Black
An easy way to wear black jeans is by taking them back to their roots and bringing out the leather jacket. Think David Beckham or Ryan Reynolds and rev up your style with an impressively worn biker jacket with slim-fit black jeans – motorcycle or not.
Celebrity stylist, Christopher Brown gives his personal insight into how to pull it off: “I always like to wear black jeans with a full black look. Usually teamed with a leather jacket or bomber for an effortless but smart feel. For a more casual approach you can’t go wrong with black jeans and a washed grey tee combo, it will always have that rock ‘n’ roll feel”.
With this look you could go full rock-star style and pair with a faded black T-shirt or jumper and work boots – turn to Red Wing if you’re unsure of the latter. And if you’re feeling full rock ‘n’ roll, a hat is a confident finishing touch. Go for a black wide-brimmed flat fedora or a wool beanie during cooler months.
Black Jeans Style Cues
The Colour and the Shape
One of the trickiest things about black jeans is how to add in colour. But if, as a general rule you stick to natural or earth tones, then you can’t go too far wrong. For example, once the autumnal months arrive, a classic sand-colour trench is a great top layer to wear over a white shirt for a smart work look. Alternatively, a tobacco suede jacket offers a rich colour contrast, but somehow still works with the densest of black jeans.
As for shape, avoid going too skinny for fear of looking like you’ve put your girlfriend’s jeans on in the dark. Of course, you want to show off leg-day gains in the gym, but too slim a cut will cheapen the overall look of the jeans. Slim but with movement is about right.
Accessories: Belt up
Belts are always tricky on black trousers or jeans, and you should avoid anything too plastic in texture. Less is more on the buckle, unless you’re jumping on your Triumph motorbike, in which case, heavier buckles are just about acceptable. Try to avoid wearing a smart belt you’d wear with suit trousers; instead, go for a black or charcoal-grey canvas or a woven leather belt with a simple, understated silver buckle, which’ll work with any other garment you wear.
A little natural wear and tear in jeans is normal. However, once a pair of jeans loses shape at the crotch, it’s time to throw them out. Too many rips at the knee and it takes them into teenager territory, sparking witty questions from grandparents about whether you caught your jeans in a bush on the way round for tea. As a general rule, skip the ripped jeans look in the office and save those for the weekend with a tartan check shirt for full, I’m-with-the-band attire.