Denim + Couture The New WorkKit

Cracking the Dress Code: Are Jeans “Business Casual”?

by Lani Kim


By Jorie Mark

For those of us working from home, our only workwear dilemmas may be which necklines are best for that Zoom call. In recent months, however, many companies have summoned remote workers back to the office, and with that summons comes the demand for a more polished wardrobe. Because, let’s admit it: that infamous “Zoom mullet”—formal on top, fuzzy slippers and sweats on the bottom—is no longer going to cut it for that strut from the elevators to your desk.  

So the leggings that might have been a staple of your WFH wardrobe may be out. But what about denim? Surely, there has to be a way to make those soft blues work at work? 

We have good news. For those employed at a company that is “business casual”—which is about half of all American companies, according to a recent report by Indeed—denim is absolutely fine. Jeans can be part of your everyday attire, and not just something reserved for “casual Fridays.”  

However, not just any jeans will do. So that you can put your best foot forward, you still want to look polished and professional. Let’s take a look at the best jeans for a business casual office.

WHAT ARE THE BEST JEANS FOR WORK?

dark wash sculpted jeans are perfect for a business casual office

Any jeans that are comfortable, fit you well, and are flattering should be perfectly fine… if your office’s dress code is relaxed. However, “business casual” doesn’t always mean “relaxed.” Indeed, this dress code has many shades of gray…so, not every shade of blue will work! At a tech company, agency, or company that’s not client facing, you might be dealing with an “anything goes” dress code, and in that case, choose the jeans that fit your body—and your personal style.

What about law and finance firms, or Fortune 500 organizations, which may have adopted a business casual dress code in more recent years, but still are much more “buttoned up” than, say, a 15-person nonprofit? Here, you might want to tread more cautiously with your denim choices, to ensure you’re matching the culture of the organization and putting your best foot forward.

If you’re not sure where your company falls, look around the office. If you see tennis shoes and athleisure, you can safely wear just about any clean, properly fitting denim. But if you notice mainly blazers and button downs, you’ll be looking for pieces that offer the comfort of your favorite jeans–but have the structure and fit of a trouser.

In these cases, your fail-proof work denim choice is a dark wash sculpted jean that has a similar silhouette to a traditional work pant—for example, these White House Black Market High Rise Skinny Flare jeans, which have as much structure as suiting. Added bonus: even though they’ll fit right into a sea of suits and pencil skirts, these jeans happen to be super flattering, with a brilliant smoothing panel at the midsection.

WHAT COLOR JEANS ARE BEST FOR A BUSINESS CASUAL OFFICE?

black jeans are a good choice for a business casual office

Your safest best for jeans that work well in a business casual office is to go for darker denim washes, such as black and the darkest blues. Why? On first glance, a nice pair of black or dark blue jeans don’t look much different from traditional work pants. Black high rise slim jeans have a polished silhouette, especially if you tuck in the blouse and add a colorful skinny belt.

Another work-friendly option is a colorful jean, such as this bright blue denim. Brighter hues offer a punch of personality that’s still got plenty of polish. If you work in a creative field, or just want to show your true colors, you can’t go wrong with this trend. Lighter denim washes, on the other hand, should be reserved for laid-back offices or casual Fridays.

HOW TO MAKE ANY JEANS BUSINESS CASUAL

a blazer can make the most casual jeans work-friendly

If you’re longing to wear your favorite jeans to work but are concerned that they’re too informal, not to worry. With a few styling tricks, almost any jeans will be work appropriate in a business-casual setting. Follow these tips for office-friendly casual jeans.

  • DO cuff jeans with distressing at the ankle–or wear boots that hide this feature.
  • DON’T wear jeans that don’t fit. Bagginess in the rear means the jeans are too loose, and if there’s any straining at the waistband, you’ll look (and feel!) more comfortable if you go for a better fitting pair.
  • DO elevate your look with accessories. A statement necklace, heels and a belt will show you mean business.
  • DON’T go too casual on top. Wear a blouse to take your outfit up a notch, or choose a body-conscious sweater.
  • DO top off your outfit with a blazer that has structure and stylish details. The contrast of laid-back denim with suit-inspired workwear is a timeless look.
  • DON’T get too dramatic with hair and makeup when you wear jeans to work. A natural palette adds a professional note to offset the laid-back look of denim.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMFORTABLE JEANS TO WEAR TO WORK?

Everyday Soft Denim by White House Black Market is perfect for the office

If you’re worried that business casual jeans have to be stiffer, tighter, or otherwise less comfortable than the denim you wear on a lazy Sunday, we have good news for you: they don’t. White House Black Market’s Everyday Soft Denim is made from a luxe, high-stretch denim that feels as comfortable in the conference room as it does on the couch. Go for a bootcut or flare leg rather than skinny jeans if you want a more pants-inspired silhouette, and don’t forget those accessories to amp up the glamour.

Of course, what matters most is wearing jeans that you feel good in—whatever leg shape or fabric type that entails. So it’s worth it to try on a number of different pairs until you find the ones that feel most like “you.” And since we all have multiple facets to our personalities, that likely means buying more than one pair…maybe even a different wash and shape for every day of the work week!

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