Denim: When you Can and Can’t Wear it

Blame (or credit?) athleisure. Workout clothes have exited the gym and can now be found everywhere -- the cafe, the office, the airplane. This is great news for denim lovers: that pair of premium denim looks positively formal compared to your colleague who looks (and possibly smells) like he forgot to change after his last long, invigorating hike.

Raw denims, dark rinses and selvage trim all contribute to both the versatility and sophistication of modern denim, which means denim jeans can be worn almost anywhere and for any occasion. Navigating dress codes can be perplexing when they’re as ambiguous as business casual or ‘picnic formal’ but take note of a few rules and you’ll be sure to be a denim Do. And don’t worry, we’re not advocating conformity; the beauty of denim is that it’s the perfect, er, canvas, to express yourself.

Job Interview

Traditional rules say that women should wear a skirt suit or button-up shirt and trousers while men should be dressed in a suit. That still holds true for most corporate jobs in finance or law, but increasingly, companies are offering more informal environments to attract younger, creative talent. The best rule of thumb is to research the company culture first: check out their website and Instagram for reference. If you’re a candidate in a creative field or tech, chances are jeans are a solid option. Just make sure they’re clean, pressed or wrinkle-free and no holes or distressing. Pair them with a pullover sweater or button-up with a sport jacket or opt for a crisp blouse and cardi. Shoes should be in good condition, polished and free from scuffs.

Business Casual

This category can be open to interpretation and will vary from one industry to another, but for the most part, denim is de rigueur for business casual. Make sure your denim follows the company’s dress code policies which usually means no thread-bare or ripped jeans (and no flip flops). Keep things classy with a well-cut striped t-shirt or chambray button-up or opt for a sleeveless top and linen duster.

Blind Date

Whomever you choose to keep romantic company, unless your first date is a costume party (in which case you may want to reconsider), jeans are always an acceptable option. The best advice is to wear a pair that feels comfortable so you’re not tugging or pulling or worse. Choose a dark rinse for an evening date paired with a dressier shoe. Denim is also the perfect complement to a shoulder-baring top or a fitted tee that shows off your extra time in plank pose. The best part of jeans on a first date? They make for an inconspicuous walk home the next morning.

Cocktail Party

Cocktail hour was originally established to mark the interim between daytime (work) and nighttime (formal). It’s since become a term that indicates a little black dress for women or suit for men; essentially a notch down from black tie. While there’s now some wiggle room for jumpsuits, sport coats and kimonos, jeans are usually a no-no. Unless of course you’re invited to one of the infamous “diamonds and denim” variety, in which case you’ll want to pair your dark denim with a luxe top or jacket: think velvet, brocade or lace and of course, a couple of carats.


No denim, no exceptions. Unless the invite explicitly says to dress like a ranch hand, this is a no-go.

Remember, if you find yourself invited with deepest sympathies, or summoned to appear, err on the conservative side and don’t show up in denim. If there’s one place you don’t want to break the rules, it’s anywhere there’s a grieving widow or a bailiff.

Fashion rules will continue to evolve and take denim with them. If in doubt, take a cue from Vanessa Friedman, style writer for The New York Times who has three tenets for dressing like an adult: Don’t distract: you want people to remember you, not the outfit you’re wearing; think of your clothes as a costume: dress for the job you want and the way you want to be perceived; and keep your clothes in good form: anything can look dapper if it’s clean, fitted properly and free of wrinkles. That’s a dress code that never goes out of style.