Come longer days, come light wash denim – as the saying goes. Or, at least it would if there was one.
Pale, lived-in jeans should be your go-to from the moment spring, well, springs until it gets properly cold again. This is because as well as being literally cooler (dark colours, sun, heat absorption etc.) they’re also having a bit of moment, since they sit at the nexus of all manner of fashion trends, from LA surf to dressing like your dad.
It helps that the new breed are more sun-bleached than bleach-bleached, so won’t make you look like a forgotten member of White Snake. At least, they won’t if you stick to these seven ways of wearing light wash jeans.
The Chino Alternative
Dark denim will always be smarter than pale washes, just like your charcoal suit is more funeral-suitable than anything in the Man from Del Monte’s wardrobe. But even though raw denim has become the de facto blazer partner for smart-casual creatives (in fact, precisely for that reason), it’s high time you leaned into a lighter shade.
Maybe it’s because all of menswear’s rules have exploded, but pale jeans can now sub in for chinos, especially if they’re uniformly faded (the more whiskering you have, the noisier things get). Think of them as a slightly more interesting spin on white jeans, which have long been a preppy favourite, then make like JFK with textured blazers, knitted T-shirts, pique polos. The trick is to make sure the entire look steps down a notch – washed jeans won’t jibe with your smartest tailoring, so go lived-in everywhere else, too.
The Other Canadian Tuxedo
These days, getting dressed is essentially an exercise is breaking rules, so here’s two: yes, you can wear the same shade of denim head-to-toe; and yes, you can do it with washed jeans. Again, indigo jeans were the gateway drug to matchy-matchy denim, but especially in spring, it can look – and feel – and bit oppressive. So lighten up.
It helps that light wash jeans feel a touch younger than dark denim, despite their dadcore connotations. Embrace that ’80s high-school movie vibe by adding character – a band tee here, a pair of OG running shoes there. Ideally, not both from the actual ’80s. Air Force Ones are an almost 40-year-old silhouette, but grab a modern collaboration, and your whole look comes back to the future.
Light wash jeans work like a magic wand that turns anything ‘smart’ into something weekend-ready. Beneath pale denim, a pair of chunky Derbies, or even Oxfords, feels far less formal. And the contrast between worn-in jeans and shiny leather creates the kind of code-switching tension that’s the hallmark of all the best outfits right now.
It works above the belt, too. An overcoat with chinos is what you wear to meet your in-laws. An overcoat with light wash jeans (and, why not, a light wash denim jacket) is what you wear for nights that could end up anywhere.
To Anchor Brights
Denim is almost always a neutral, but light wash jeans especially so. They work expertly with bright accents because the lighter tone means a less jarring contrast – if you stick safety orange next to deep indigo it pops hard enough to cause headaches.
How bright you decide to go is up to you, but washed out yellows and greens nod to the natural world and mean you’ve got consistent tones above and below the belt, which pulls the whole look together. If you do fancy neon, then the more you show, the tougher it is to pull off. An orange jumper with light wash jeans is a strong streetwear look, but if you need to dial it down, just add a neutral jacket. Sometimes, less is more.
Beaten All The Way Up
Light wash jeans are distressed jeans, even when they’re not full of holes. They’re jeans that have been worn or washed until all the dye’s leaked out, which gives even an off-the-rack pair an aged feel. So embrace that by slashing them apart. The Swiss cheese look is jarring with raw denim, only highlighting the fact that you’ve bought something brand new that’s full of holes. But light wash jeans look best a little beaten.
If they do show skin, don’t try to dress them up. Stick to other pieces with a rough-and-ready heritage – military jackets, like bombers, are ideal, as is anything with a sportswear heritage, from hoodies to Harringtons. Finish with trainers that aren’t too box-fresh.
As Your Warm-weather Go-To
Don’t be the guy wearing black jeans on the hottest day of the year. Washed jeans, particularly the stuff cut from less-than-9oz denim, is your saviour when the mercury’s bubbling. Take note, the guy who always steers clear of shorts. They’re breathable, they keep you covered up, and they reflect sunlight, so your nethers aren’t all swampy as soon as you leave the house.
Elsewhere, don’t overthink it. As mentioned above, light wash jeans are the perfect foil to brights, so play around with a colourful and patterned T-shirt or a floral Cuban collar shirt. Cuff your hems, flash some ankle, and finish with some obnoxiously bright and chunky trainers.
If falling onto concrete is an occupational hazard, you can’t be precious about your denim. If you want to bite the look of people who fall onto concrete, you should be. As the glut of LA-based brands turning out skate-inspired, washed and distressed denim proves, for authenticity you need jeans that look like they’ve been around the block. That means holes, fades, whiskering – basically, anything that makes them look like you didn’t just buy them and you don’t care about them that much. Even if you do.
The fit is even more important – you can’t kickflip in spray-on skinny jeans. Instead, think loose, slouchy jeans, either cuffed or cropped above the ankle, worn with anything else from the skater wardrobe; hoodies, boxy tees, cross-body bags.