A guide to looking sharp in denim jeans

words Alexa Wang

Thanks to its unrivalled durability and unique wear characteristics, denim has left its humble utilitarian beginnings and moved effortlessly into the heights of contemporary fashion. We all have our favourite pair of blue jeans, but if you want to elevate your personal style, do you have to give them up? Certainly not.

Sure, denim jeans may be commonplace among farmworkers and plumbers alike, but they’re also a prominent component of many red-carpet ensembles. It’s simply a matter of which particular jeans you’re wearing and what you choose to pair them with.

And if you’re looking to keep them in your rotation – a sensible choice considering their comfortable and versatile nature – look no further than this guide to looking sharp in denim jeans.

Getting Started

No matter how you style your jeans, your efforts will be to no avail if you’re wearing a pair of battered old work denims. Any sharp and stylish pair of jeans will possess a number of qualities:

  • A deep indigo or deep blue-grey colour. This looks the smartest and works better with more formal outfits.
  • A slim fit with minimal sag. Today, skinny will suffice, but remember to prioritize comfort and avoid choking fits.
  • Straight-legged. It looks more grown-up. Avoid the lazy and outdated bootcut look.
  • Neat and clean with additional design elements kept to a minimum.
  • The simpler the better. Avoid straps, flaps and obnoxious stitch patterns.

Buying Jeans

Another aspect to consider is pricing. There’s a massive difference between a £50 pair of fast-fashion jeans and a £200 pair made by an artisan or specialist name brand. Your average store-bought jeans will fit worse, fade faster, tear easier and simply look cheaper. Men’s skinny jeans from a brand like EDWIN, on the other hand, are vastly superior.

They feature clean designs, comfortable fits and are made in Japan out of premium selvage fabric that lasts. There is also a wider range of sizing options to choose from, thus ensuring that the pair you buy will fit like a glove – and stay that way wash after wash.

With adequate care, you can easily offset the higher cost of buying quality jeans by keeping them in your wardrobe significantly longer than any cheap pair. Another key aspect of looking smart in jeans is footwear. Skip the sneakers and tennis shoes – and definitely anything that exposes your toes.

Brogues, suedes, chelseas, chukkas and anything that falls into the formal to formal-casual category will suffice. If you absolutely have to wear sneakers, a pair of coloured canvas or white leather kicks in a classic style should do the trick.

Classic Looks

Speaking of classic, let’s say you want to elevate your style without pushing all your fashion boundaries at once. In that case, the way men have been wearing jeans for decades is a good way to go. These styles have no place in the office but will keep you looking smart in every pub, club and restaurant you walk into.

T-Shirt: Done right, the jeans and t-shirt look is far from lazy. You just need to be smart with the elements you incorporate. A plain t-shirt (no graphics or patterns), a sturdy belt and some suede chelsea boots or leather work shoes will do the trick. Keep it close to the body and avoid anything too showy for a smart, classic look.

Shirt: A slight upgrade from the above look, a short or long-sleeved shirt with a soft, down-facing collar and buttons up front is great for more formal social settings. The rules here are simple – avoid anything that’s in a tone too close to that of your jeans and stay away from company logos. Tucked or untucked should depend on your body.

Dressing Up

Let’s say you’re feeling adventurous and want to take things a little further. No problem – there are many ways to bring an added sense of sophistication to your denim jeans. If you’re sticking with a t-shirt, then a bomber jacket is a great way to dress up the look and add some night-out-ready warmth while still keeping things casual.

Sports Jacket: These jackets and their “busier” designs can provide a great contrast against the simplicity of your jeans. Think coloured patterns, textured weaves and sometimes, a combination of both. Making it work comes with getting a good fit with the jacket. Ideally, your torso should be defined, with minimal slouch.

Light Blazer: Blazers in solid colours aren’t always a safe bet, but they can work. You’ll want something slim that doesn’t look like it belongs on a country club member. Avoid brass buttons and opt for more casual designs. Make sure that there’s a distance between the colour of your jacket and that of your jeans.

Looking sharp in denim jeans largely comes down to keeping it simple. There’s no harm in experimentation, but in most cases, all you really need to do is relax and avoid overthinking your pairings.


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