How to Dress up Jeans for Work

If you’re like most of us, casual Fridays are the highlight of your week. After four days of trying to get comfortable in pencil skirts and dress pants, nothing sounds more appealing than simply being able to slip into a comfy pair of your favorite jeans. Unfortunately, jeans are too casual for most workplaces during the rest of the week, right? Maybe not.

Can I Wear Jeans to Work?

While you might not want to show up in a pair of ripped jeans, an oversized graphic tee and flip-flops, that doesn’t mean jeans need to be ruled out of the conversation entirely. By choosing the right pair and knowing how to dress them up correctly, jeans can be a very fashionable and work-appropriate piece of your wardrobe.

Not quite sure how to transform your weekend blue jeans into a workplace staple? We'll help you learn this very skill. From learning to choose the best pair of jeans for work to figuring out the right way to style these jeans, you’ll soon be putting together stylish work outfits in no time.

Finding the Right Pair of Jeans

Some types of jeans are inherently dressier than others. If you’re looking to craft an office-chic outfit with jeans, you’ll need to know how to find the right pair to base your outfit around. First, here's a quick snapshot of the major types of jeans you’ll be choosing between and which ones are the most appropriate for work.

1. Style

Jeans today come in a variety of different cuts that are designed to fit you in different ways. Here are the most common types you’ll likely find:

  • Jeggings: These are almost the same as your average pair of leggings, designed to be stretchy, comfortable and operating with a waistband instead of a zipper and button. The only difference between them and your comfy leggings is that they’re made out of denim instead of cotton or Lycra.
  • Skinny jeans: These jeans are designed to hug your body from the hips to the ankles, creating a form-fitting silhouette.
  • Straight-leg jeans: Straight-leg jeans are still fairly close-fitting, but not as much as skinny jeans. These jeans are designed to have a little extra room particularly around the ankles and calves, but they will still be slim-fitting around the hips and thighs.
  • Boot-cut jeans: These jeans are also form-fitted down through the thighs and upper calves, but they flare out a bit at the lower leg and ankle, creating some breathability around a pair of boots.
  • Flare jeans: Think of these as the next step up from boot-cut jeans. They’re still designed to hug the upper legs and hips, but they flare out below the knees, creating a larger flare than those found in boot-cut styles.
  • Boyfriend jeans: Boyfriend jeans are designed to look like they might have been stolen from your boyfriend, thanks to their looser fit. These are supposed to be more relaxed through the hips and fall straight downward, not hugging any part of your body.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that the looser and baggier a pair of jeans is, the less appropriate it is for work. Most business casual-ware is defined by its tailored and well-fitting nature, so it only makes sense that a pair of baggy boyfriend jeans might not quite fit with this picture. Instead, a pair of skinny jeans will usually be your best bet. Depending on the exact pair, the way they fit and the shirt you wear with them, a pair of jeggings might also work. Straight-leg jeans can be an option, too, although you’ll want to be careful to avoid any that are overly loose-fitting.

2. Wash

The standard color for a pair of jeans is blue. However, there is so much variation even inside this one color. Jeans can come in a blue so light it’s just a hair away from being white, and they can also be so dark, their navy is almost black — as well as anywhere in between. We refer to the exact shade of blue as a jean’s wash, and you can find jeans all along this spectrum from dark to light, depending on your preferences.

When it comes to which jean washes are the most professional, the general rule is that darker shades are better. Light washes tend to be seen as more casual — perhaps something you might wear to the park or to grab coffee with a friend instead of to the office. Dark washes, on the other hand, are better at imitating the black, navy and gray more commonly found in dress pants. This isn’t to say that the goal is to fool people into thinking you’re wearing dress pants. Rather, it's to stick close to colors that are already common in the office and will be less out-of-place.

3. Color

While blue is the most common color for denim, it’s far from the only color. Jeans today can come in every color from purple and green to red, yellow and pink. All of these colors can be striking fashion choices, depending on what you pair them with.

Colored jeans are absolutely acceptable at work. If you add a nice top and just the right shoes, these can often look even dressier than a nice pair of dark-wash jeans. Choose from neutrals like black, white and gray, which can add a touch of sophistication to your outfit, or brighter colors that can add a little extra pizazz.

4. Distressed

Distressed jeans are those jeans you’ll see that have been artfully crafted to look pre-worn-in. They may be brand new and still on the shelf, but they’ll have tears, runs, fraying hems and even long rows of rips running down the front.

Generally, it’s best to leave the distressed jeans for casual social events. Wear these out shopping, or to brunch. They’re less acceptable at work and should generally be traded out in favor of a clean and put-together pair. The reasoning behind this is simple. You wouldn’t wear a ripped skirt to work, would you? Neither would it be appropriate to wear ripped jeans.

5. Rise

A jean’s rise refers to how high or low a pair of jeans rests on your hips. Low-rise jeans will be down at your hip-bones while high-rise jeans will usually be up at your natural waist. Mid-rise jeans will fall somewhere in between, perhaps at your belly-button or a little lower.

A jean’s rise doesn’t matter very much when it comes to how dressy or casual jeans are since many tops will cover the waistline of your jeans anyway. As long as the rest of the jeans are work-appropriate, this will not be a defining factor. However, an easy rule to remember is that low-rise jeans tend to be casual, while mid- to high-rise jeans are often a bit dressier.

6. Length

When we think of jeans, most of us probably think of full-length jeans that reach the ankles or even the floor in the case of some flare jeans. But jeans can also be a cropped length, sometimes known as capris, designed to cut off at the mid-calf point.

If you’re headed to the office, always go with ankle-length jeans. Shorts are a definite no-no, and even capris have a more casual feel that doesn’t fit in the workplace. Avoid jeans that are too long and that feel untailored and ill-fitting as well.

How to Dress up Your Jeans for Work

So you’ve selected a few pair of jeans you think are just perfect for work. They’re not too loose, not too distressed and a good color or wash. Now comes the big question — what do you wear with them? Here are our best tips.

1. Think About Color

If you’re grabbing a pair of dark wash jeans, you have all the color options in the world for your shoes and top. You can choose neutrals like black and gray, or you can add a pop of color by choosing something brighter. If you’re going with neutral-colored jeans, such a black pair, you also have options. A contrasting neutral might work, such as a white shirt. Colored tops are also a great option, though. Think of choosing a violet sweater with black jeans, or a turquoise blouse with white jeans.

If you’re being a bit bolder and going with colored jeans, you’ll want to reign in your colors when it comes to choosing your top. Stick to neutrals for your shirt, any jackets and accessories. Think of a pair of maroon pants paired with a white shirt, a black jacket and black pumps, for instance.

2. Upgrade the Shoes

Shoes can transform an outfit, turning a more casual ensemble fancy and dressing a more upscale outfit down again. If you’re trying to spruce up a pair of jeans, shoes are one of the quickest and easiest shortcuts to doing so. Grab a classy pair of pumps or ankle boots, and your jeans instantly turn from weekend casual to working-woman-chic. Flats are another great choice, and in the summer, you might even be able to get away with a pair of high-heeled sandals. Just avoid any sneakers or street shoes. Otherwise, the whole outfit suddenly becomes much more like weekend-wear.

3. Tuck in Your Shirt

The vast majority of work-appropriate shirts will always look more professional once they’ve been tucked in. Some blouses may be designed to hang loose, but most will immediately look neater and tidier once you tuck them into the waist of your jeans. If your shirt is hanging loose, particularly if it can be seen from the back when you’re wearing a blazer, it’s time to neaten things up and tuck it in. Be careful not to make the tuck too tight, and be sure the fabric is still loose enough that you can raise and lower your arms without disrupting the tuck.

4. Add a Blazer

Blazers are the ultimate staple for any woman in a professional office environment, and it’s not hard to see why. They instantly add a touch of sophistication to any outfit, elevating it to look like it belongs in a workplace. By adding a well-tailored blazer to your outfit, you can easily make jeans looks like they were designed for the office.

5. Try a Long Cardigan

A long cardigan can be a great way to go for work, especially if you’re trying to pull off jeggings at the office. They can help draw attention away from the form-fitting silhouette while also allowing you to stay comfy. They offer many of the same benefits as blazers in terms of dressing up an outfit, but they’re an ideal alternative for a more casual day at the office. When choosing an office-appropriate cardigan, go for something that fits you well, in a solid color such as gray, black, beige or navy, and you can’t go wrong. A perfect example of a work-ready cardigan is this Micah Open Cardigan in Champagne.

6. Choose a Classic Button-Down Shirt

The great thing about a button-down shirt is how universal it is. It instantly looks business-like and commands an air of respect. You can wear it by itself, underneath a blazer or even under a sweater with the collar and cuffs showing. You can also choose from many different shades, thus creating dozens of outfits all while essentially wearing the same shirt. Best of all? It pairs perfectly with jeans.

7. What About a Nice Blouse?

A classic blouse is also a dependable go-to for the office wardrobe. Since these tend to be a bit dressier than the average t-shirt or tank top, these make the perfect choice to elevate a pair of jeans. Wear them on their own or pair them with a blazer or cardigan for an instant business-casual outfit. Something like this Raise the Bar Black Top might be just the thing to dress up your jeans for work.

8. Don’t Forget the Accessories

A few tasteful accessories can make the difference between a work-ready outfit and one that looks trapped between casual and dressy. Why not add a nice watch and a small pair of stud earrings? What about a scarf and a bracelet? Maybe you could try layering two pendant necklaces over your sweater? Accessories such as these work together to create the impression that this is an outfit you put together with intention, instead of just rolling out of bed at the last moment and throwing on jeans.

Shop Timeless Pieces to Build Your Office-Ready Wardrobe Today

Looking for a few new pieces to keeping building that all-important work wardrobe? Whether you’re looking for the perfect pair of jeans or a top to go with them, we’ve got what you need. Browse our online boutique collection today and get started shopping and saving.