Office-Worthy Denim

The closest anyone at Sterling Cooper ever came to Business Casual!

Whether you find it freeing or confounding or a mixture of both, for the foreseeable future Business Casual is here to stay. In many BC offices, denim has gone mainstream, even Monday through Thursday. The upside: a little bit of denim can signal “relaxed” and “approachable” (important especially for those who manage others) and admittedly, many denim pieces are comfortable thanks to a bit of stretch, and washable. But there’s denim and denim, and if Polished and Professional (P&P) is at least as important to your workplace image as Relaxed and Approachable, denim looks for the office should be chosen carefully. 

Ann Taylor Modern Denim Trousers
I just discovered the Ann Taylor trouser jeans pictured above last weekend and LOVE them. (Never would have thought to shop AT for denim, but now they’re on my radar.) This style is insanely flattering as the “Modern” fit is slimmer through the hips and thighs than many wide leg or trouser jeans. The wide waistband is comfortable and doesn’t bunch up or roll even after hours of sitting, and (for those who are shirt tucker-inners) wide enough to accommodate a substantial belt. But those belt loops lie FLAT under a top or sweater, another bonus. The wash is dark and even, again a more polished option. The fabric isn’t as light and silky soft as my Seven’s, but these have a bit more body and structure and are every bit as comfortable.
Ann Taylor Signature Denim Trousers

For those who prefer a looser fit through the hips/thighs, try this style in the Signature fit.

I have my own guidelines for wearing denim in a way that’s office-appropriate, which granted are based on my age and sensibilities, and being an administrative professional in a non-conservative field. Those who work in more conservative or more creative office environments may have different guidelines.

  • Wash – stick with a darker, more even wash. No whiskering, “dirty” washes, very distressed or very light washes. I push this guideline a bit with my Sevens, as they have a bit of a fading on the upper part of the leg. The Notable Exception: white jeans. 
  • Design – simple and straightforward. No super skinnies, no rips, no “elephant” bell bottoms, no cuffed “boyfriends,” no “butt bling.” Colored denim? I’m still not ready to go there at work. Talk to me in a few months; I’ve been known to change my mind.
  • Length – make sure they are hemmed correctly for heel height. No hems dragging on the ground.
  • Except for Casual Fridays, one piece of denim per outfit.
  • Styling – if I’m wearing denim jeans or trousers, I Bring the Business with a jacket, point-toe pumps or flats, or nice loafers. I’m on the fence about jeans tucked into knee high boots. It’s a great look, and still au courrant, but I still haven’t figured out how to make it work at work.
Kut from the Kloth “Victoria” trouser jeans

I did say “no super skinnies,” but a tailored slim leg still looks P&P to me.

Not Your Daughter’s Jeans “Michelle” stretch trousers

For those who want a full rise, check out NYDJ.

“Denim” doesn’t have to mean “jeans,” though.

Lafayette148 denim shirt – look Ma, no boob pockets!!!

Denim shirts are hot right now, though personally I’d save my Double Denim looks for Casual Fridays. I’d wear this blouse in a heartbeat with a printed pencil skirt, or slim trousers in a non-denim fabric.

You could try a denim blazer…

J.Crew Chambray Blazer 
…but NOT with cuffed shorts, at least not for the office!! I may catch flack for this but regardless of fabric and style, shorts for the office just do not read as P&P to me.

Try the blazer instead with a tailored solid or printed pencil skirt or twill trousers.

And speaking of pencil skirts…

Ann Taylor denim pencil skirt

Denim skirt, yes, but not your teenage niece’s version. This could pair nicely with a brightly colored printed top and some bright pumps.

Pour moi, clean, simple styling, and mixing your denim with more structured pieces are key to keeping denim in P&P territory. And then on the weekends, go wild!

Do you wear denim to work?  How do you style it?

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  1. ParisGrrl
    February 2, 2012 / 11:54 am

    Great ideas, but I’m still trying to recover my breath from the term “butt bling.” lol

  2. February 2, 2012 / 1:15 pm

    I can wear denim to work, but still don’t feel comfortable in jeans there, even trouser jeans. I do love the denim pencil skirts and have picked up a cool denim shirt for work wear. I love the look of those AT jeans, and would wear them in a heartbeat to dinner with my husband : >

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:36 am

      Patti, yes, those jeans could certainly work for “date night” too…

  3. February 2, 2012 / 3:21 pm

    I can wear as much denim as I want to work — whether I’m in the classroom, heading to a committee meeting, or in my office researching or meeting with students. But I’d get bored with the jeans and have the opposite problem of wanting to dress up a bit in a denim-Casual environment 😉
    I have a denim skirt I quite like — took a bit of shopping to find a smart enough version. That Ann Taylor one is fabulous and has me thinking maybe it’s time to change mine up a bit.
    Nice roundup!

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:43 am

      materfamilias, I’m really tempted by that skirt as well, but have the Shabby Apple on the way, so need to work on incorporating one item at a time. Like you, I prefer to dress it up just a bit.

  4. February 2, 2012 / 4:00 pm

    It’s dark denim for me and at school I wear a lot of denim, but pair it with cashmere cardigans and tank tops.
    I do have a pair of jeans with “butt bling” which I always cover up so no one can see it!
    I bought the jeans because of their fit (not the tacky bling)
    and wear a long sleeveless vest over top of a jersey knit top.
    The Fashion Police will probably arrest me now 🙂

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:46 am

      hostess, no worry about the “butt bling.” The fit of jeans is the most important thing, and a little “bb” is a small sacrifice to make. 🙂

  5. February 2, 2012 / 4:51 pm

    Ooooh! Just in time, i was thinking about buying denim trousers!! and I love the shirt and skirt too. Great choices!!

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:47 am

      denise, that AT’s are definitely worth checking out. I’m thinking about getting a second pair…

  6. February 2, 2012 / 5:45 pm

    Trouser jeans are marvelous and you have styled yours so well! They are the only jean style I wear, b/c living in a large city, want to look polished. Besides NYDJ, still order them from Talbot’s, who have great sales. (The only thing I buy from them anymore.) And a jean skirt like AT’s is one of my best-serving wardrobe items; can even wear it out to dinner with a low-ish cut v-neck and jewelry.

    Wrinkly thighs or baggy knees spoil the sharpness so that new steamer is your BFF; I just wash and hang to air dry, that seems to work fine too.

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:50 am

      Duchesse, thanks! I agree that the trouser styling does look more polished. Haven’t tried the Talbot’s jeans, but now that you have recommended I will have a look. Yes, will definitely try to keep the trouser jeans looking sharp.

  7. Zuzu*s Petals
    February 2, 2012 / 11:35 am

    Thank you for a dose of Don Draper at this early hour.

    I enjoy my jeans, but whispering is an abomination! What woman in her right mind wants horizontal lines spreading out across her upper thighs where they are typically at their meatiest?

    I often wonder if some marketing kook at a denim design house was having fun with the word “pussy,” given what those whiskers are sprouting from! 😮

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:32 am

      Zuzu’s, glad to oblige with a DD eye-opener! Funny theory about the “whiskers…”

  8. Pam @ over50feeling40
    February 2, 2012 / 1:06 pm

    Since the trouser jean hit the scene, we are able to wear denim safely to work NOT ON FRIDAY!! I wore my trouser jeans to a football game once and a mom asked me why I was so dressed up…she was shocked to find out they were denim. I love the Ann Taylor pieces you have here.

    Make sure you register for the beautiful clutch and necklace I am currently giving away. One follower will win both on Valentine’s Day…you never know, luck might strike twice!!!

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:34 am

      Pam, did you ever imagine when you were younger that anyone would consider jeans “dressed up??”

  9. February 2, 2012 / 9:07 pm

    Metscan, At my certain age (60 in April) I think I could wear a denim skirt if it was the right one. Could you explain your rationale?

    I’m not a career woman, but still have a need to look polished in the city, so I thank you for this post. Very insightful.

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:54 am

      Susan, I don’t think it’s ever *wrong* to look polished, as long as it suits your style and doesn’t go too far into “uptight” (which I could never see you doing, based on your style).

  10. kathy peck
    February 2, 2012 / 2:20 pm

    Can you wear those AT jeans with flat shoes and still have it look good? I know if a woman has very long legs, yes, but I would need a bit of a heel to carry off that much flare I think. I love the denim shirt. Adrienne (The Rich Life) and I have been “co-looking” for the right denim shirt, and have had a very tough time. I love the no boob pockets on the one you chose, might be the perfect shirt!

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:42 am

      kathy peck, I think you could. Or with a low wedge. I just got that shirt and it’s really, really nice. The fabric, the construction, the fit, all top notch. (at that price, I’d hope so.)

  11. metscan
    February 2, 2012 / 3:34 pm

    As I am not working in an office, I only have an outsider opinion.
    The tailored slim jeans with shoes with some heel, might be ok. Some simple, classic denim shirt with NOT a denim bottom wear.
    Off work, jeans in a darker ( not dark ) wash, would be my choice. At this certain age – no denim skirts ; ).

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:44 am

      metscan, do the denim skirts read as young to you? Maybe it’s a US thing, but do see them on women of all ages here.

    • metscan
      February 3, 2012 / 4:17 pm

      You might be right. I don´t see denim skirts over here, not even on younger women!

  12. February 3, 2012 / 1:16 am

    Must check out those AT jean–they look intriguing..

    BC is a denim skirt for me. and not the cargo kind. I love my full denim skirt which falls right above the knee. Looks great with a blazer!

    • February 3, 2012 / 3:15 am

      Paula, I saw your post earlier today. Did you move?

      The jeans are very nice. I was just looking at the care tag and they do have some polyester in the fabric. I know that’s a deal-breaker for some people, but the percentage is small enough that I can tolerate. Do like the denim skirts!

  13. Susan Tiner
    February 2, 2012 / 6:02 pm

    Hmm. If I were to go to back to work I have a feeling I’d rather not wear denim, but if everyone around me was wearing denim I would probably reconsider.

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:52 am

      Susan T., I do think it really depends on the environment, one’s position, and personal style. I have a co-worker for whom khaki’s are as casual as he gets, but jeans (even some pretty ratty, ripped ones) are ubiquitous in our building.

  14. Chicatanyage
    February 2, 2012 / 9:29 pm

    Like the AT trouser jeans. Am having difficulty with jeans at the moment which I am currently writing about. Have always worn NYDJ buts not sure I like their current styles.

    • February 3, 2012 / 2:56 am

      Chicatanyage, looking forward to reading your post. NYDJ seem to be hit-and-miss for me stylewise. I’m not into the super skinny jeans, and they seem to have a lot of those right now. I find the AT’s accommodate my curves just fine, and are actually more flattering than my NYDJ’s…

  15. February 3, 2012 / 5:36 am

    Do you have a denim shirt pic to send me for my HuffPost story?

  16. RoseAG
    February 2, 2012 / 10:39 pm

    I like trouser jeans and straight denim skirts.

    I take to-work denim pants to the dry cleaner. They come out a little stiff and that keeps them looking dressier.

    There is a difference between denim skirts like you see the Duggar women wearing and denim pencil skirts with a blazer/boots/heels.

    Women working outside the home, for cash, who believe a woman’s place is in the House and the Senate don’t wear skirts like the Duggars.

    • Jill Ann
      February 2, 2012 / 11:58 pm

      Pseu, how is the rise on those AT jeans? I am always on the lookout for jeans that come up to my belly button, at least.

    • February 3, 2012 / 3:01 am

      Rose AG, I’m trying to cut down on my cleaning bills, but I can understand the rationale. The Duggars are the people with all the kids, right?

    • February 3, 2012 / 3:03 am

      Jill Ann, they hit right below the waist, but that’s what I find most comfortable these days. They’re not as low as many of the designer jeans. About the only jeans I’ve seen lately with a full rise (all the way up to the navel) other than the more trendy ‘hi rise’ jeans are NYDJ.

  17. Terri
    February 3, 2012 / 12:36 am

    On rare occasions I will wear a denim jean skirt to work. Many of my younger colleagues wear the uniform–jeans (sometimes with holes), top, scarf, and appropriately scuffed boots. In fact, the look is so pervasive that I’ve begun to wonder if I’m “dating” myself by dressing. Love that first pair of denim trousers.

    • February 3, 2012 / 3:09 am

      Terri, that look you describe has become so ubiquitous here too. Sometimes with knit pants instead of jeans, but yeah. It’s almost like a cultural touchpost. With so many different eras now being referenced in current fashion, what is “dated” anymore anyway?

  18. Louise
    February 3, 2012 / 12:36 am

    I found some dark denim trousers that fit me like a dream at WalMart, of all places. They are the Lee Riders plain front strait leg in Fresno wash. (I have no idea why dark blue trousers would be called “Fresno.” Perhaps for WalMart customers, Fresno is a top-notch destination?) Not jean styling (no rivets or patch back pockets), but simple slash front pockets, single button closure and belt loops. Slim through the hip and thigh, good for the wide of hip but slim of waist like myself.

    Just enough stretch to be comfy, but not hot. Am I the only one who gets sweaty if there is too much spandex in the fabric? I had a pair of NYDJ and found them unbearably warm.

    At $18 a pair, a savvy person could overcome their “I never shop at WalMart” snobbery…

    • February 3, 2012 / 3:12 am

      Louise, your trousers sound very nice! Fresno IS the gateway to Yosemite, after all…

      (My issue with WalMart is more about their labor and business practices than about their merchandise, but I’m glad you found something that works for you!)

  19. Mrs. Jenner
    February 3, 2012 / 6:52 am

    I am a teacher so denim is OK (and the uniform of many). I almost never wear jeans but if I do I pair with a tight blazer and a silk blouse or soft gray t-shirt. I love my J Crew high-waisted denim skirt and wear it every chance I get.

  20. February 4, 2012 / 4:05 am

    Yes, I do wear denim on casual Fridays and when cleaning the office. Your post is making me rethink how I wear it. I’m 44 but tend to wear just regular dark wash jeans. After seeing this post, I’m thinking I could be more stylish and sophisticated and save the regular jeans for weekends. Maybe a goal for this year.

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